CBLDF Executive Director Responds to Most Frequently Challenged List

Over the weekend, ALA released their list of the most frequently challenged books in 2014. Disappointingly, that list included three highly acclaimed graphic novels, so CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein took a moment to discuss this troubling development with The Washington Post‘s Michael Cavna.

The American Library Association’s 2015 State of America’s Libraries Report lists the most frequently challenged books in 2014, and among the usual suspects, such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (gaining the top spot once again and subject to a ban just last week in Iowa) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (also a recent ban victim), were three graphic novels: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier.

For Brownstein, this year’s list of challenged books reflects how important comics have become in libraries and schools and how their increasing popularity has led to attempts to censor comics:

“Comics are clearly a vital aspect of the current culture,” Brownstein tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “As libraries respond to the needs and desires of their communities by bringing in more comics, it’s not uncommon to find some patrons who may be new to the medium raising questions about the place comics should occupy in libraries.

“What’s unfortunate,” Brownstein notes, “is seeing how frequently dialogue escalates to attempts at censorship, particularly when it comes to material of clear value to communities.”

Notably, the challenged graphic novels are all created or co-created by female artists and many of the other books on ALA’s list reflect a diversity that is otherwise missing in books for children, a fact that Brownstein notes motivates some censors:

“This year’s list of frequently challenged books reflects many of the conflicts happening in the culture at large,” he says. “The books on this list address issues of race, sexuality, sexual preference, religion, substance abuse and many other concerns related to contemporary life. That’s the job we charge our authors with: using art to provide a safe place for audiences to engage with topics of substance in a way that allows them to make their own conclusions.

“Unfortunately, many [people] would prefer to remove those discussions altogether rather than trust that each individual is capable of making the best decisions possible for themselves or their children.”

ALA’s list of challenged books reflects a disturbing trend that CBLDF has noted over the last few years: The books that kids read in their free time are increasingly coming under attack. Books that would otherwise inspire lifelong reading are being removed from libraries and classrooms, actions that could discourage reading among kids and teens. While the people who challenge books in libraries and schools may be well-meaning, their actions interfere with the rights of other parents, as Brownstein notes:

“In total, I think the list reflects a sad fact we know all too well at CBLDF: that the freedom to read is increasingly under fire from many different directions. We think dialogue is very healthy, and that the people who were offended by the books should absolutely engage with their community about why they are concerned about their contents. What they shouldn’t do is presume to be the arbiters of what is appropriate for their neighbors, or their neighbors’ children, to read by attempting to remove these books from public libraries.”

You can read the full interview with Brownstein and Raina Telgemeier’s response to ALA’s list at The Washington Post website. Here’s ALA’s complete list of the most frequently challenged books in 2014:

1) “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2) “Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3) “And Tango Makes Three,” Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4) “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6) “Saga,” by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

7) “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8) “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9) “A Stolen Life,” Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10) “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

CBLDF remains adamantly dedicated to the fight against censorship. Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!