Today, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom posted their annual list of the ten most-challenged books. The 2013 list has many of the “usual suspects” and one not-so-usual suspect: Jeff Smith’s Bone secured the rank of tenth most challenged book of the year for “political viewpoint, racism, violence.”
Bone author and CBLDF Board Member Jeff Smith was stunned by the book’s inclusion on the top ten. “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,” said Smith. “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.”
This week is National Library Week, and ALA OIF released their State of America’s Libraries Report 2014, which includes the list of most challenged books in 2013. This is Bone’s first appearance on ALA’s annual list of challenged books, but it isn’t the first time it’s run affoul of censors. In 2012, it was banned in Texas at Crestview Elementary and moved to the junior high library because it was deemed unsuited to the age group. In April of 2010, a Minnesota parent petitioned for the series’ removal from her son’s school library, when she discovered images she believed to be promoting drinking and smoking. A letter from Smith decrying the ban attempt was read aloud at the committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and CBLDF.
The complete list of the ten most challenged books in 2013:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violenc
- 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
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
- A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
Some of the books on the list are “repeat offenders” — Captain Underpants and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian have appeared on the list almost every year they have been in publication. With one exception, the 2013 most challenged books list is dominated by literature for children and teens: books that are common on high school reading lists and that are popular among preteen and teen (and even adult) readers. The trend of attacks against YA literature has been noted by both the Kids’ Right to Read Project and CBLDF, and this year’s list from ALA seems to confirm our worries.
CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein comments, “This year’s list of the most frequently banned and challenged books shows that, unfortunately, censorship is alive and well, and that right now censors are targeting young people’s freedom to read. Bone and Captain Underpants are titles that have helped kindle a passionate love of reading among many young people. Authors like John Green, Stephen Chbosky, Suzanne Collins, and Sherman Alexie keep that fire burning. This year’s list appears to be targeting the books kids are most likely to read on their own time. It recalls the words of Mad Magazine founder William Gaines, who, speaking before the US Senate Subcommittee investigating comics and juvenile delinquency sixty years ago this month said, ‘Are we afraid of our own children? Do we forget that they are citizens, too, and entitled to select what to read or do?'”
Over the last year, CBLDF also signed letters in support of several books on this list: Bless Me Ultima, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and The Bluest Eye. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
Until there are no more challenges against books, you can bet CBLDF will remain hard at work defending the right to read!