Illuminations and Epiphanies
The Most Challenged Books of 2006
during its Banned Book Week celebration, the ALA releases a list of the
most "challenged" books of the year. Throughout the year, it has
a very active program to collect and record these challenges, and it
does an excellent job of documenting each time anyone reports that
someone has requested a governmental authority--including school
boards, teachers, principals, librarians, city councils, etc.--ban
access to a book, restrict access to a book, require a child to have
signed parental permission to look at a book, stop a book from being
read to a class by a teacher, use an alternate textbook, remove a book
from a required reading list, or take any similar action.
Most challenges occur in public
schools, generally either as
objections to the type of material made freely available to young
children in elementary schools or as attempts to have books removed
from mandatory reading lists. While clearly any
prohibition by a governmental authority to keep a book out of a public
setting--including a school--is censorship and is in opposition to the
First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; however, this seldom, if
ever, occurs, and the line simply isn't that clear in most
- When funds are limited and librarians or
others make decisions not to purchase a book, or to purchase one book
instead of another, is that censorship?
- When librarians or others make a
decision to add or not to add a book to the library collection based on
the their professional assessment of the needs or the expressed desires
of their supported communities or schools, is that censorship?
- If a teacher takes the feelings or
beliefs of students into consideration when determining which books to
add or not to add to a required reading list, is that censorship?
- What if a teacher selects only books
that demean a certain race or religion or promote only one particular
brand of political or economic thought for assigned readings, is that
Should these types of questions concern us,
especially in light of the "culture war" that rages today? I
personally think so, even if I don't always agree that they are First
Amendment issues. A teacher's attempt or an instituition's
attempt to mold the thoughts of students into any particular point of
view rather than teaching them to critically evaluate a variety of
viewpoints is a far more dangerous than a wacko parent who objects to a
health text because it fails to recommend "Christian prayer" as a
method of preventing stress.
- What if this occurs and parents
subsequently object, are they attempting to prevent a teacher from
exercising "academic freedom" or First Amendment rights?
(Actually, the extablished law is fairly clear in this instance.
In the United States, school teachers have no claim to "academic
freedom"--and it's related First Amendment rights--as defined by the
"1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure" and
upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court; that "academic freedom" is reserved
for tenured professors at regionally accredited universities.)
So, if we should be concerned about possible challenges to First
Amendment rights as they play out in public schools and libraries, how
big is the actual problem? Well, based on the records maintained
by the ALA, the outright prohibition or banning of a book by any
governmental authority in the United States almost never occurs, and
challenges are incredibly infrequent as well. In the eleven years
between 1990 through 2000, the ALA received 6,364 reports of books
being challenged. That equates to just under 580 challenges per
- As there are approximately 14,500 public
school districts in the United States, this equates to approximately 1
challenge per year for every 25 school districts.
- As there are approximately 85,000 public
schools in the United States, this equates to approximately 1 challenge
per year for every 147 schools.
Clearly, in the United States, very few
citizens are initiating any of the actions that result in the ALA
recording a challenge, much less requesting the out right banning or
prohibition of any book. Still it's worth knowing not only what
books some folks challenge, but also why they the challenge them.
The list below identfies the most frequently challenged books of 2006,
contains a link to the top 100 challenged books in the eleven years
from 1990 through 2000.
- As there are approximately 45,000,000
public school students in the United States, this equates to
approximately 1 challenge per year for every 77,650 students.
Ten Challenged Books of 2006
And Tango Makes
Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. This book
for pre-schoolers to third-graders was challenged for promoting
homosexuality, being anti-family, and being unsuitable for its intended
The book is a true, non-fictional account of a pair of gay penguins at
New York's Central Park Zoo who foster an abandoned egg from another
penguin couple and sucessfully raise the hatchling.
The challenges recorded by ALA included parents at a Missouri school
asking that the book be shelved in the non-fiction section of the
library, parents at an Illinois school asking that the school require
permission slips from parents before being allowed to check out the
book, and a principal at a North Carolina school temporarily removing
the book from library shelves while a comittee considered its content.
|2. The Gossip Girls series by Cecily Von
Ziegesar. This series of books, aimed at middle-school and young
high school girls, was challenged for promoting homosexuality,
promoting teen-age sex, promoting drug use, containing offensive
language, and being unsuitable for its intended age group.
Publishers Weekly has
described the series as follows, "At a New York City jet-set private
school populated by hard-drinking, bulimic, love-starved poor little
rich kids, a clique of horrible people behave badly to one another."
Challenges have come from parents and feminist organizations who have
asked that the books be removed from or restricted within school
libraries. The ALA leadership has aggessively defended making
these books available for young girls because, we should be "happy to
see teen girls reading."
|3. The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds
Naylor. This series of books, aimed at middle-school girls, was
challenged for its sexual content and offensive language.
The series follows the coming of age of a middle-class girl and
addresses a myriad "true-to-life" controversial subjects including
masturbation, inter-racial marriage, pre-teen sex, problem
mensturation, parental death, stalking, underage drinking, pre-teen
suicide, gynocological exams, mean stepmothers, abusive boyfriends,
casual oral sex, and many more.
Challenges have come from parents who have asked that the books be
removed or restricted within school libraries.
|4. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round
Things by Carolyn Mackler. This book, aimed at
middle-school girls, was challenged for its sexual content, having an
anti-family bias, use of offensive language, and being unsuitable for
its intended age group.
The book follows the life of a privileged overweight New York City girl
including her problems with self-mutilation and her difficultly in
adjusting after her older brother rapes another college student.
Challenges have come from parents who have asked that the book be
removed from or restricted within school libraries.
|5. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
This book was challenged for its sexual content, its offensive
language, its depiction of the black community, and for being
unsuitable for the age group to which it was assigned as a mandatory
Morrison's first, and possibly best, novel is a complex and
sophisticated examination of the tragic self-loathing that destroys a
young girl growing up in a poverty-stricken, amoral African-American
community during the 1940s. It includes descriptions of
incestuous pre-teen rape and depicts black males as irresponsible and
Challenges have come from parents who have asked schools to remove the
book from mandatory reading lists.
|6. The Scary Stories series by Alvin
Schwartz. This series, intended for middle-school students, was
challenged for referring to the occult and Satanism, containing
violence, being insensitive, giving children nightmares, and being
unsuitable for the intended age group.
Alvin Schwartz was a first-rate folklorist who collected and compiled
America's scariest ghoststories and urban legends. The
well-researched and annotated stories are both terrific and
terrifying. The books have been expertly illustrated as well by
Stephen Gammel, and I suspect that his macabre drawings have as much to
do with these books being challenged as the stories themselves.
Challenges have come primarily from parents who have asked libraries to
restrict these books so that they are available only to older patrons
and students. Some challenges from religious fundamentalists have
requested they be removed from libraries.
|7. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher.
This collection of short stories aimed at middle school and high
school students has been challenged for being sympathetic toward
homosexuality and containing offensive language.
Chris Crutcher has attempted to single-handedly destroy the myth that
high school athletes are nothing more than stupid, unsensitive
egotists. His stories feature athletes confronting and coping
with issues like parental abuse, racism, disabilites, poverty, and
homosexuality. One of the stories in Athletic Shorts is
undoubtedly the reason for most challenges. In it a high school
runner becomes close friends with a young man dying from AIDS.
Challenges have come from parents who have requested this title be
removed from libraries.
|8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by
Stephen Chbosky. This MTV-hyped book, aimed at high school
students, was challenged for being sympathetic to homosexuality, being
sexually explicit, using offensive language, discussing incestuous
child abuse, and being unsuitable for its intended age group.
The book is narrated through a series of letters written by a
highschool freshman that discuse child molestation, gay highschool
couples, suicide, and other similar issues.
Challenges have come from parents who have requested the title be
restricted so that it is only available to older students. Some
challenges have requested that it be removed from libraries.
|9. Beloved by Toni Morrison.
This book was challenged for using racially offensive language,
incorporating sexual content, discussing infanticide, and and being
unsuitable for the age group that was required to read it.
Tony Morrison's very complex, Pulitzer Award winning novel is loosely
based on a true narrative of an escaped slave, Margaret Garner, who
murdered her two young children to prevent them from the possibility of
being captured and returned to slavery. In Morrison's tale, a
daughter, whom the mother murdered with a hacksaw to "save" her from a
life of slavery, returns to seek revenge and dominate her mother's life.
Challenges have come primarily from parents who have requested the book
be withdrawn from mandatory reading lists.
|10. The Chocolate War by Robert
Cormier. This book was challenged for including sexual content,
offensive language, and violence.
The central themes of this coming-of-age novel are that all of society
is corrupt, everyone is either amoral or cowardly, and it is futile and
dangerous to buck the system. For my money, it the most
depressing Young Adult novel in print today.
Challenges have come primarily from parents who have requested the book
be withdrawn from mandatory reading lists.