Captain Underpants Leads ALA’s Top Banned or Challenged Books of 2012

absolutelytrueNational Library Week is here, and that means it’s time for the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom to release its annual list of the books most frequently banned and/or challenged in public libraries and schools in the previous year. Read on to find out what they were, and perhaps make some additions to your reading list!

OIF received 464 reports of book challenges or bans in 2012, 138 more than in 2011, but the organization believes that the increase is at least partly due to the success of a campaign encouraging librarians to report challenges to ALA rather than an actual increase in challenges.

There are no comics or graphic novels on the 2012 list — unlike 2011, when the Korean manwha The Color of Earth made a surprise appearance — but the children’s picture book And Tango Makes Three has returned after a brief absence from the list. Barring 2011, the book based on a true story of two male penguins who hatched and raised an adopted chick together has been on the list every year since 2006. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which CBLDF and several other organizations defended against one of the 2012 challenges, also appears to have settled in as a regular, appearing on the list for the third year in a row.

At the top of the list is Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, which had been absent since 2005. (Its sudden reappearance can likely be explained by the 2012 publication of a new title, Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Re-Turn of Tippy Tinkletrousers.) Other blasts from the past include Beloved by Toni Morrison (published 1987, off the list since 2007) and the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz (first book published 1981, off the list since 2009). Here is the complete list, along with the reasons for challenges or bans as reported to OIF:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey. Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group

  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group

  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group

  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit

  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group

  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group

  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz. Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence

  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit

  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

Check out ALA’s Frequently Challenged Books page for a list of banned and challenged classics, all of the top 10 lists back to 1990, and much more. We’ve also compiled a list of frequently banned or challenged comics over here.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.