Before jumping into this, it’s important to note that a “banned” book is often just a challenged book. In library lingo, this means a parent (usually) or a concerned citizen has filled out a request to have a particular book reviewed and then pulled from the shelves. Most often, a library or book store has a criteria used for selecting works and when a book is challenged, the librarian checks to see if the book in question meets that criteria. If the book is justified, it stays in the library. If it’s not, it’s usually up for the principal and then school board to be banned and then removed.
This process has been developed to keep school boards and principals from removing works without any due process. Of course, even the best laid plans fail – as evidenced in the list below. These twenty titles are among the most amusing “banned” books from 2010 according to various library resources in the US and the UK. As you look at the list of the top twenty banned (or controversial) books, you’ll notice that most are more tame than the song you just heard on the radio – but one person’s obscene is another’s Mark Twain it would seem.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
A popular entry on the banned books since it was written, Maya Angelou’s autobiography seems to hit the wrong nerve with the wrong people year after year. This year the book was challenged in multiple states because some parents felt that the “book’s contents were inappropriate for children.” Of course, if you define high school students as children, you might have a case, but rape, racism and sexuality is certainly not news to most seventeen-year-olds.
Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort
Kansas citizens ordered the Joy of Sex removed from the public library. Apparently it was deemed “harmful to minors under Kansas law.” The illustrated sex manual was later replaced on the shelves without quite as much fanfare, but it’s still on the list as one of the most hotly contested books of 2010.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
A young adult novel, this novel was celebrated for its style and content. Unfortunately some parents weren’t as excited and had it removed from high school classrooms in Indiana. It would seem that the topics explored in the book were deemed unacceptable for high school students. The book deals with the awkward first year of a freshman student in high school struggling with the changing world. Topics like sex, drugs, suicide and masturbation are included.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
An author explores the life of a lowly-paid worker in three cities in three states. Taking on multiple jobs at once, she tries to live off a minimum income and discusses what life is really like for those working at the bottom. The book was challenged by a parent because that parent believes the book promotes “economic fallacies” as well as socialist ideas. It also apparently advocates for illegal drugs and belittles Christians – at least according to one parent.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
A true classic, this memoir is the most taught version of the Holocaust, yet it is always controversial. The book is challenged most often not because it contains horrific images of the persecution of the Jews during World War II, but because there is sexual material as well as homosexual themes. In at least one school where the book was challenged, it was moved to a different age level.
Hills Like White Elephants: A Short Story: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway
One of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century, Hemingway’s short story strikes the wrong chord with some readers. A couple waits on a train and through strong imagery and symbolism, it is clear that the two are discussing having an abortion. No decision is ever stated (an intentional act by Hemingway to leave the reader thinking), but this hasn’t stopped complaints. Hills like White Elephants resonates most strongly with those who oppose it because it deals with abortion, cannibalism, homosexuality and drug use. One parent complained that the story promotes “bad behavior” and that it also includes a “political agenda.”
Kurt Cobain by Michael Martin
A popular biography of one of grunge rock’s most iconic members, Kurt Cobain was found dead of an apparent suicide although mystery and intrigue surrounds his death still. The book details his life including his drug use. One concerned parent asked to have the book removed because it was “very dark and violent.” It also made references to “Ritalin as the precursor of illicit drugs.” Finally, the book discussed mental illness and suicide – which are at the heart of Cobain’s life, making this complaint almost baffling.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Another American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird deals with racism in the south and how one man makes a difference in his town and in the lives of his children by treating his fellow man with true respect. As is the course of many books dealing with the racism of the Southern United States in decades past, strong language in used. In this case, there are endless complaints against the book because it contains the word “nigger.”
Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead
Regardless of your personal feelings about vampires, it’s amusing to note that one school district in the United States banned books that haven’t even been written yet. The Vampire Academy series was under fire for sexual content and nudity throughout the published books. The school district opted to ban the whole series – including the parts of the series that aren’t written yet.
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
A personal favorite, this version of the dictionary was pulled from the shelves of a California school district. Apparently out of the thousands of entries in the book, “oral sex” stood out and caused quite a stir. One parent found the offensive term, the dictionary was pulled, and the school district is forming a committee to talk about a permanent ban on the dictionary. This is where the irony is so rich it’s just ridiculous.
Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
This hit vampire series isn’t that big of a hit in Australia. The books have been removed from the shelves of primary schools and some junior schools. The reason? Not because there are vampires and shape-shifters, but because there is sexual content and the books go against religious beliefs. The best part: schools have asked parents to not allow students to bring their own copies of the books from home to school. So much for encouraging reader’s choice.
ttyl by Lauren Myracle
This fascinating little book is great because the entire book is written in texting or chat language. The book is often challenged for two reasons. It’s challenged because it has some sexual material. It’s also challenged often because it doesn’t use grammatically correct sentences. The lack of proper language skills sets a bad example, it would seem, for impressionable students.
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Snyder
A book for older elementary or primary students, the Egypt game is a childhood thriller full of mystery and intrigue. Apparently it is also full of Egyptian worship rituals. A fourth grader’s father felt that students shouldn’t have anything to do with evil gods or black magic. He vowed publicly that he’s “not going to stop until it’s banned from the school district. I will not quiet down. I will not back down.” It makes you wonder what will happen when he gets a hold of the popular high school literature.
Jubilee by Margaret Walker
A fictionalized version of a grandmother who was born a slave, Jubilee deals strongly with race and human rights. One pastor in Illinois found the book to be offensive and “trashy.” He felt the book promoted whites over blacks. Interestingly, the alleged white supremacy group, Ku Klux Klan, also challenged the novel as well because it promotes racial strife and hatred. Irony, anyone?
And Tango Makes 3 by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
A seemingly adorable children’s book, two male penguins join forces to adopt a baby penguin who has been orphaned. While sending a warm and fuzzy message about belonging and finding a new home, the book also has strong tones of homosexuality and is often contested or banned for this reason.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
A coming of age story, a teenage boy trapped in his own world of isolation grows up dramatically in just a few days. Through his actions and observations of the world around him, the main character grows and changes making this a milestone of literature. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates the book and it’s often challenged or banned for its language and the poor choices of the protagonist. One person was quoted as saying it was a “filthy, filthy book.”
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
A recent book that was made into a movie, a girl is faced with a tough existence. Born to be a donor for her cancer-stricken sister, a young teenager is taking her family to court. The oldest sister is almost ignored and struggles in her own way. While thought provoking and poignant for most readers, some are very concerned that the book includes sexism, homosexuality, tough language, religious views, drugs, suicide and violence.
The Earth, My Butt and other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
This humorous novel about a girl who is overweight, but ready to take on the world anyway is a great read for teenage girls struggling with body image concerns. Some parents aren’t as impressed, however. They are most concerned about the strong language in the book as well as a few sexually explicit scenes in the novel.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A monumental book dealing with any number of race and family issues, strong themes are explored in the book including rape, marital abuse and homosexuality. An iconic book which was also made into a movie by the same name, it’s been challenged and banned from schools and libraries ever since it was written for the sexually explicit content and offensive language.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Set in a boy’s school, the hierarchy of the school is challenged when a boy refuses to sell chocolate bars. By refusing the sale, he’s pitting himself against one of his teachers and the school’s most powerful gang of students. The refusal ends in dejection and violence. Despite the severe beating the student endures, it is the nudity, language and sexually explicit content of the book that draws the most criticism by those looking to ban the book in schools.