Every September, librarians, teachers and book lovers take a moment to celebrate the books that cause an uproar â€” the books that contain “anti-family messages,” “offensive language” or even “graphic depictions.” They’re the banned books. And all of those reasons, and more, have been given for banning them.
For Banned Books Week, which first kicked off in 1982, bookstores and libraries around the country make their pitch for why “The Bluest Eye,” “Harry Potter” and even “Hop on Pop” deserve to the stay on the shelves. (Yes, Dr. Seuss’s whimsical book came under fire in Toronto in 2014 for “promoting violence.” That complaint was later quashed.)
In Minnesota, the city of Henning, which sits 90 miles from Fargo-Moorhead and has a population of under 1,000, came under fire for trying to remove a book from its school library this spring. With the city’s size, the public school serves all grades, kindergarten through senior year, with one library.
After a parent complained, the school removed “This One Summer,” a Caldecott Honor book and New York Times bestseller, from the shelves. The book tells the story of two girls perched on the line between childhood and their teen years, who brush against topics like sex, drugs and suicide.
After the controversy spread to include coverage from The Guardian and elsewhere, the school board voted to put the book back â€” but only in a section for 10th through 12th graders, and only if students brought a permission slip to read it.
That’s just one of the hundreds of banned book incidents that the American Library Association analyzes each year in coming up with its list of most frequently banned books. Here are the books that hold that currently hold that distinction, from the ALA.
Notably, the theme of this year’s Banned Books Week is diversity. A disproportionate number of books that land on the annual list feature characters of color, LGBT characters, and characters with disabilities.
The most frequently challenged books of 2015
1) “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
Reasons challenged: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
As the author of the bestselling “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns” â€” both of which have been adapted into films â€” Green is a young adult lit phenomenon. “Looking for Alaska,” which will also be adapted into a film next year, tells the story of a boy who enrolls at a boarding school, and encounters a force-of-nature girl who lives down the hall.
2) “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James
Reasons challenged: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
James’ erotic romance novel follows the steamy relationship between recent college grad Anastasia Steele and a wealthy and controlling young business man, Christian Grey.
3) “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
Reasons challenged: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
This illustrated children’s book is based on the true story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender child who helped pen the story.
4) “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin
Reasons challenged: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
Kuklin interviewed six transgender young adults about their experiences establishing their identities. Their stories are collected here, in their own words, and accompanied by photographs from Kuklin.
5) “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon
Reasons challenged: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
Haddon’s critically acclaimed novel is narrated by Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic boy falsely accused of killing a neighborhood dog.
6) “The Holy Bible”
Reasons challenged: Religious viewpoint.
This marked the first year the religious text has landed on the ALA’s list.
7) “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
Reasons challenged: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
Bechdel’s graphic novel autobiography tells the story of Bechdel coming to terms with her sexuality, coming out as a lesbian and finding out that her father was gay.
8) “Habibi” by Craig Thompson
Reasons challenged: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
Thompson’s graphic novel presents an epic tale, set in the Middle East, of two child slaves fighting to find their place in the world.
9) “Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan” by Jeanette Winter
Reasons challenged: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
This children’s book tells the true story of a girl in Afghanistan whose grandmother risks everything to send her to school, despite being forbidden by the Taliban.
10) “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan
Reasons challenged: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).
Levithan’s young adult novel is based on the real-life story of two 17-year-old boys who attempt to set a Guinness World Record with a 32-hour marathon kissing session.