The Catcher in the Rye
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A decade after its 1951 release, it became the most challenged book in schools and libraries and held that position until 1982. It’s currently number 19 on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of books with the most challenges or calls for bans between 2000 and 2009. Reasons for banning included its use of profanity, references to sexuality and debauchery, and the fact that Holden Caulfield is a poor literary role model for young kids.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
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Controversy surrounding this novel began in 1885 when a public library in Massachusetts removed it from the shelves for “coarse language.” Over 120 years later, it’s still a hugely controversial book, mainly because of its exploration of race and society. Mark Twain’s extensive use of the “n-word” and the terrible treatment of a slave named Jim have the public fiercely divided on whether the book is racist or not.
Harry Potter (Series)
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J.K. Rowling’s series about a young wizard’s coming of age set the literature world afire with each new installment. Readers young and old devoured the tales and proponents gave the author credit for renewing America’s love of reading. Critics vilified the focus on wizardry and claimed that the books encouraged witchcraft in children. The ALA lists it as the number one challenged series from 2000–2009.
A Light in the Attic
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The tongue-in-cheek humor of Shel Silverstein’s poems hasn’t always been appreciated or understood by everyone. As of 2000, the ALA named it the 51st most challenged book, with objections ranging from its promotion of suicide (in “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony,” Abigail kills herself because her parents won’t buy her a pony) to encouraging rebellion in children because of a poem entitled “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes.”
The Color Purple
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Published in 1982, this book immediately won critical acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. However, its graphic nature (violence and sexual content) and frank exploration of racism and slavery prompted calls for censorship across the nation. Despite its critical success—both the novel and film version—The Color Purple is still one of the most challenged books to date.
The Bluest Eye
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Toni Morrison’s first novel about a young girl and her violently dysfunctional family was released in 1970, but continues to stir up controversy because of its detailed descriptions of rape, incest, and racism. In fact, many of Morrison’s other works (Beloved, Song of Solomon) are frequent targets of petitions to be banned from school curriculum.
Of Mice and Men
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Though it holds a consistent spot in many high school reading lists, John Steinbeck’s book was still one of the top five challenged books in the U.S. from 2000–2007 because of its use of racist language and obscenities. People have also claimed that it encourages assisted suicide because (spoiler alert) one of its main characters kills someone else before a mob murders him.
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In my opinion, this is one of the best novels of all time—few works can match its successful mingling of satire and the heartbreaking realities of war. Unfortunately, some people still can’t look past its colorful language and sexual references, particularly in regards to prostitutes. This book is no longer in the ALA’s top banned books, but the fact that there were even attempts to censor the contents (mostly occurring in the 1970s) of one of my favorite books saddens me to no end.
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health
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This was the most challenged book of 2005. It discusses physical attraction, sex and sexuality, and offers detailed information for adolescents entering puberty. The guide is factual and not opinion-based, but people still accuse its author of promoting sex among youth and decry the drawings of naked bodies and body parts used for educational purposes.
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This classic Orwell novel is one of the most culturally significant books of all time. Despite this, it sometimes generates controversy because of its explicit content and language. It was even deemed “pro-communist” by petitioners in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 who were uncomfortable with (or more likely confused by) its political messages. It was completely banned in the USSR.
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Ironic that a book exploring the dangerous consequences of censorship is so often challenged within schools and libraries—ALA lists it at number 72. In Ray Bradbury’s world, firemen burn books (the title refers to the degree at which books burn) because they could potentially offend another person. Most recently, it was challenged at a school district in Texas in 2006 for blasphemy and inappropriate behavior, like smoking and drinking.
Top 20 Challenged Books 2000-2009
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Wondering how your favorite books stack up on the list of most controversial titles? Check out these top 20 rankings from 2000-2009. Visit the American Library Association to see the full list.
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
Top 10 Challenged Books of 2013
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Every year, new books make the most challenged or banned list. Below are the top 10 books challenged in 2013 out of 307 total challenges reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence