I get giddy about Banned Books Week. Books + free speech awareness. It just swells my little book loving activist heart.
In previous years, I’ve written blogs about the most ridiculous reasons for banning books.
This year, in honor of Banned Books Week, I compiled a list of my favorite books that have made the “Top 10 Most Challenged Books” according to the American Library Association (ALA). Books on this list are the most consistently challenged/banned for that year based on data from media articles and censorship reports submitted to the office. The ALA has been publishing the list since 2001.
What is Banned Books Week?
For anyone who has not heard about Banned Books Week, which this year runs from September 23-29, it is sponsored by an international alliance of diverse organizations, including the ALA, committed to increasing awareness of the annual celebration of the freedom to read.
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries… it highlights the value of free and open access to information.
Feel free to read more about it at these sources.
My Favorite Books on the ALA Most Challenged Books List
Several of my favorite books have made the ALA’s Most Challenged Books List. More importantly, not only are these banned books great reads, but many have expanded my understanding of the world and humanity. While it upsets me to see these books on this list, I’m thrilled Banned Books Week heightens awareness regarding the dangers of banning books.
Below are my favorite books that have made the dreaded banned books lists (thank goodness they were not banned for me!)
The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2017)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
Side note commentary: My guess is that the real reasons schools banned this book were never articulated, instead they hid behind claims of “offensive language”….
To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2017, 2011, 2009)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2014)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions.”
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2005, 2006, 2013)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues.”
Side note commentary: Controversial issues? Sounds like a code word for real reasons they don’t have the guts to say/write.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2006, 2012)
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
Side note commentary: I love Toni Morrison. Her writing was so brave. Just had to write that since she made the list for two different books!
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2007, 2004, 2002, 2001)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: sexually explicit.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2006, 2011)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: insensitivity, nudity, racism, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
Side note commentary: This book is still being banned? Seriously…?
Forever, by Judy Blume (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2005)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: offensive language, sexual content.
Side note commentary: Oh, come on!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2017, 2014-2010)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2002, 2003)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: Reasons: occult/Satanism, offensive language.
Side note commentary: Giant eye roll.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor (One of the top 10 most challenged books of 2002)
Reasons given for banning according to ALA: offensive language.
Side note commentary: Giant eye roll x1000.
Other Interesting List-Maker Superlatives
Here are a few additional books that made the list, which I think deserve some attention. I’ve made them into superlatives, for fun.
Most Ridiculous Banning: Captain Underpants, which made the list 5 times since the list began in 2001!
Banning Most Likely to Make People REALLY Angry: Harry Potter fans, check out the 2001, 2002 and 2003 lists. Mr. Potter and his friends were apparently on some banned book lists for “satanism.”
Most Surprising Frequent “Offender”: I was surprised to find the The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky made the list 7 times. The reasons (they’re long): drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Having not read this book, I cannot comment, but really it seems a bit excessive. Perhaps we should try to focus on the violent video gaming industry targeted at kids rather than thought-provoking, mind-expanding books….Just a thought.
Most Shocking Entry: The Holy Bible (2015). This definitely shocked me, mostly because, to be honest, I associate extreme religious Christians with book banning, so I wondered how this could possibly make the list. (Please note, I am not putting all Christians into this category! There are many wonderful Christians out there who do not believe in book banning.) Also, my opinion does have a significant amount of support… example…example...example… Oh, there are so many more…
In reading more about this, the potential reasons the Holy Bible made the list (only 1 year, unlike the 5 for Captain Underpants) are political and complicated. If this interests you at all, feel free to read up on it here….here…here…and there are many other articles out there as well.
As an aside, the last article linked above, from NPR, touches on how banning books can actually have positive effects because it sparks discussion and ultimately increases awareness and understanding of different viewpoints. This is my favorite way of looking at the banned books list.
In fact, last year, the children’s book about a transgender girl called I Am Jazz (No. 3 on the list) sparked controversy, discussion, and ultimately, more inclusive school policies in Mt. Horeb, Wis.
So, what are your favorite banned books? Or which “bannings” do you think are the most ridiculous? Are there any circumstances under which you think book banning is justifiable?