Every time I look up the ALA Top Ten Challenged/Banned Books lists, I love to check the reasons for the challenges. It’s often the same old, same old with some variations, the most prominent of which tend to be “unsuited for age group,” “violence,” “sexually explicit,” “LGBT” or “homosexuality,” “offensive language,” and “religious viewpoint.” Sometimes we get a fun one thrown in such as “inaccurate” or “occult/satanism.” (Believe it or not, the latter of those two reasons was used to challenge Bridge to Terabithia.) Challenged books often have more than one reason listed.
Why would these reasons be the most prominent? The answer may be multifaceted: more people are offended by them, people are more deeply offended by them, and/or louder people take offense to them. A couple of reasons, namely “violence” and “offensive language,” are to be expected. That doesn’t mean that the books should be challenged or removed, but violence and offensive language are so common in rating and censorship that you can’t really be surprised. Not all of the most prominent reasons make as much sense, though.
I’ll start with “sexually explicit.” Again, this doesn’t mean books should be challenged or banned, but I know from ratings given to movies and TV shows that concerns about sexual imagery and innuendo are abundant. Some of the challenged books this reason is assigned to, however, don’t always fit the bill in my opinion, at least not to the point that they should be removed from shelves.
Take The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The Chocolate War has made the Top Challenged/Banned Books lists for decades, even snagging the #1 slot in 2004. The Hunger Games made its debut appearance on the list in 2010. Both books/book series have been marked as “sexually explicit,” among other things. Now, it’s been a couple of years since I last read either book, but I do not recall seeing anything overly sexual in those books. Yes, sex and teenaged sexuality are addressed in the books but as a part of the confusing time which is puberty. They’re teenaged/young adult books, not children’s books or even middle grade books; they’re ready to approach more adult subjects. If you don’t think your teenaged kids are ready, sit them down and talk to them about it. Others don’t have to suffer just because you won’t be a more involved parents or you don’t want to have a heart-to-heart with your own children.
Even the health book It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris has made the list many times over the years for being “sexually explicit” just because it provides sex education for its readers. Sometimes you have to push past your own embarrassment to help your kid become well-informed or at least let them know why you don’t want them reading a certain book.
Now I want to lump together “LGBT/homosexuality” and “religious viewpoint.” I know that both reasons are hot-button topics around the world, but I can only speak from an American point of view. Here are some of the books which have landed on the Top Ten Challenged/Banned Books lists for “LGBT” or “homosexuality” over the years: And Tango Makes Three, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looking for Alaska, I Am Jazz, Heather Has Two Mommies, Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, George, and too many others for me to list here.
Fun fact: the first of those books is a children’s book about two male penguins adopting an orphaned penguin. It was also challenged for being “anti-family.”
Pretty much, if a book has a character who’s a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s bound to get challenged for “LGBT” or “homosexuality.” You can probably bet on an additional reason of “unsuited for age group” if it’s for young adults or younger audiences. The people who challenge these books, therefore, are challenging them for the diversity they show.
“Religious viewpoint” can be seen as a related reason because many objectors to the LGBTQIA+ community claim to come at it from a religious perspective. A funny turn-about occurred with these reason, though. In 2015, The Holy Bible snagged #6 on the list of Top Ten Challenged/Banned books for that very reason. I still don’t think that any books should be banned or removed from shelves and I think that anyone who wants access to the Bible should have it, but I find bittersweet humor in the situation.
Last, but not least, we have “unsuited for age group.” This reason has been use to challenge books from The Catcher in the Rye to Where’s Waldo? I’ll discuss this reason more in-depth in a video later this week but I still wanted to mention it here due to its prominence. When in doubt, say it’s unsuited for the age group. This can encompass everything from sex to a differing worldview. It’s a catch-all, one which both amuses me and pisses me off.
No matter how ridiculous it may seem, book challenges always have some sort of reason attached to them. Whether those reasons are truthful or justify removing the book, that’s for you to decide. I think you can tell that my answer is a resounding “no.”
For more information on this subject and the statistics, please go to the American Library Association’s website.
What do you think about these reasons for challenging books? Are they ridiculous or justified? Do you think books should be removed from public shelves for these reasons, or should people take responsibility for what they and their children read? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
If you have any topics related to Banned Books Week you wish to discuss, be sure to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.