You guys know what week it is? It’s not just the last week in September, it’s also Banned Books Week! Since 1990, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has received reports of more than 18,000 attempts to remove materials in schools and libraries for content deemed by some as inappropriate, controversial or even dangerous. And every year, both organizations band together to raise awareness about censorship in literature, and, as the ALA puts it, “the threat to freedom of speech and choice.”
Below, a list of the most frequently challenged (and often subsequently banned) books you probably never knew were controversial. Honestly, I considered myself pretty banned books literate and there were books on the most-banned list that shocked the pants off of me.
1. “Captain Underpants” (series), by Dav Pilkey.
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence, partial nudity, encouraging children to disobey authority
Wait, I don’t understand. This book seems like the MOST WELL-SUITED for elementary school kids. It’s about a goofy super-hero who helps little boys play pranks! What’s the offensive language? The word “underpants”? Also, doesn’t every awesome story for kids basically encourage children to disobey authority? Where would all our Pixar heroes be if they just hung with the status quo? I’m so confused about the banning of this book.
2. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
Toni Morrison is our cultural Muse of Epic Poetry. We NEED her. And banning Morrison kind of feels like one sizable step in the direction of keeping high school reading lists limited to books written by dead white guys. There are a couple more books on the most-challenged that are super-important works written by people of color (Sherman Alexie’s gorgeous contribution to the YA canon “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima”) and to deprive students the opportunity to learn from works that deviate from the conventional white dude narrative is, I think, just the height of messed.
3. “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
Did I miss the part where “The Hunger Games” had a religious viewpoint? I’m so confused! Also, I can’t think of a series MORE suited for teenagers. “Hunger Games” has sold a kajillion copies because its such a perfect metaphor for the battleground that is growing up.
4. “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
DON’T BAN JOHN GREEN BOOKS BECAUSE SOMETIMES JOHN GREEN BOOKS ARE THE ONLY BOOKS KIDS READ DON’T DO IT NOOOOO!
5. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
Again, this banning upsets me, because yes, I love this book, but I also think this is an incredibly important book to have circulating around schools. This is a pitch-perfect coming of age tale and a crucial story that deals with the aftermath of a significant character’s sexual abuse. If we ban a book from a high school because it has sex in it, we’re not effectively banning sex from the high school, but rather, we are banning an effective tool to educate young people about sex. Also, homosexuality is not a reason to ban a book. Anyone who bans books for that reason should be banned from making decisions or living among people in the 21st century, because they’re possibly trapped in a homophobic bygone era.
6. “Bone” (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
This is the best graphic novel I have read maybe ever, it’s “Lord of the Rings” meets “Charlie Brown,” it’s about as political as any fantasy novel (which is to say it’s weird looking monsters versus funny looking good guys), also I’m confused about the racism charge, the main characters are bone-people and there are also some rats and humans, but if someone wants to explain this to me, I’m all ears. This is exactly the kind of book that GETS KIDS READING and I get super depressed thinking of all the kids who will never realize how much they like reading because a book like “Bone” doesn’t fall into their hands. Bone’s author is also befuddled by the book-banning. “I learned this weekend that Bone has been challenged on the basis of ‘political viewpoint, racism and violence.’ I have no idea what book these people read,” Smith wrote in a statement back in April. “After fielding these and other charges for a while now, I’m starting to think such outrageous accusations (really, racism?) say more about the people who make them than about the books themselves.”