Graphic novels made a big splash in 2014, including first ever Caldecott and Newbery honors. But they also made their way into one of the places we hate to see them most: ALA’s 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books.
This week is National Library Week, and along with the celebration of libraries, we also get a reminder of ongoing opposition to the freedom to read. The American Library Association just released the 2015 State of America’s Libraries Report, which includes the list of the most frequently challenged books in 2014. 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 acclaimed graphic novels: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier.
Persepolis was listed as the second most banned book in 2014. The book is an autobiographical account of Satrapi’s teenage years in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In 2013, administrators and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools tried to ban the book from the entire system without going through the appropriate channels (a revelation only recently made due to the sleuthing of library sciences graduate student Jarrett Dapier). In 2014, the book was challenged again in Illinois and Oregon (during Banned Books Week of all times). Would-be censors challenged the book for language, scenes of torture, and political viewpoint.
Saga is one of the most acclaimed new series in comics, dominating both best of and bestseller lists. The series focuses on something that is rarely featured in comics: a married couple and their newborn child. Despite the intergalactic setting of the series, it depicts a fairly realistic relationship among the parents and their newborn daughter, featuring bickering, tense family relationships, breastfeeding, and much more. It was challenged in 2014 for sexual content, nudity, and language, earning it the number six spot on the most challenged list.
Rounding out the top ten challenged books in 2014 is Raina Telgemeier’s Drama, which focuses on a middle school girl who is working on her school play. It explores friendships, crushes, puberty, and other topics that might make some adults uncomfortable. It also features a gay character and was challenged for sexual content.
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
In examining the trends that dominated library services in 2014, ALA noted that in addition to ongoing concern over the diversity of books for young readers, both in content and among creators, books that reflected that desired diversity were the ones most likely to be targeted:
A current analysis of book challenges recorded by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) from 2001 – 2013, shows that attempts to remove books by authors of color and books with themes about issues concerning communities of color are disproportionately challenged and banned. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.
In 2014, the OIF received 311 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves. Eighty percent of the 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books reflect diverse authors and cultural content.
It should also be noted that many of the books in ALA’s most frequently challenged list are books that kids would likely read in their free time, so the list is further evidence of the ongoing attack on the freedom to read.
You can read ALA’s 2015 State of America’s Libraries Report here.