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Friday, October 2, 2015

Banned Books Week 2015

Artwork courtesy of the
American Library Association

A few weeks ago, while preparing for this post, I looked through the American Library Association's "Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books Lists of the 21st Century".  I focused my attention on the lists from the past 5 years or so and then picked a few of those frequently challenged books to share with you here. Some of these books are ones that I had read previously and others are books that were new to me, that I specifically read for this post. There was only one picture book listed (And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell), but I have already written about that one in a previous post, so the following are all books for older children and teens.

Middle-grade fiction:

Captain Underpants (series), 
written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey, 1997

George and Harold love to play pranks and also create their own comic books about super hero, Captain Underpants. However, their school principal Mr. Krupp does NOT appreciate the comic books or the boys' pranks. Finally, Mr. Krupp comes up with a plan to stop George and Harold's shenanigans. Unfortunately for him, the plan backfires in a most uproarious way!

I have seen this book (and the rest of the series) before -- and I've heard people talk about it -- but no one in our family had ever read it before I brought it home from the library last week. The other day I was sitting in my living room, reading the book and laughing out loud at some of the very silly humor inside. My ten-year-old Ben walked in to see what was going on -- apparently, the sight of his mother reading Captain Underpants was hilarious. He fell to the floor in a fit of giggling that lasted several minutes. :) I told him he should read the book when I was done. He did and the giggling resumed! We are both eager to read more books from the series and see what wackiness Captain Underpants gets up to next.

This series has been challenged due to offensive language, being unsuited for its age group, and violence.  I'm thinking that the people who want to ban it must have no sense of humor....


Bone (series),
written and illustrated by Jeff Smith, 1991

When three cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone) are run out of town, they get lost in the desert. A storm of locusts sweeps through, separates the cousins, and deposits them in a strange land. Soon the three find themselves in the middle of an epic adventure complete with dragons, rat creatures, and ghost circles.

At the beginning of this year, I committed myself to a set of book challenges that involves reading about 65 different books. Over the summer I asked friends and family for suggestions for a graphic novel so that I could complete one of the challenges. My daughter Emmalie (19) recommended Bone. She and my son Nick (16) had both read the series before and really liked it. I checked all 9 books out from the library -- then ended up "fighting" for each issue because all 3 of my kids decided to read (or reread) them, too! 

I'll admit, I was a bit skeptical about this story at first and wasn't sure it would be something I'd enjoy. I was wrong. Towards the end of the series, I could not put the books down. I just had to find out what would happen next. At the time I read it, I had no idea that it had ever been challenged and when I found it on the lists recently, I was surprised. I don't remember being at all concerned that my 10-year-old was reading it. (By the way, at our library this series can be found both in the juvenile section and the young adult section.)

 "Political viewpoint, racism, and violence" are the reasons cited for challenging this series.


Young adult fiction:

The Chocolate War,
written by Robert Cormier, 1974

Jerry Renault is a freshman at Trinity, a private Catholic school, with a poster in his locker that reads: Do I dare disturb the universe? Jerry begins disturbing his universe and making waves when he refuses to participate in the annual school fundraiser, selling chocolates. But then, when he challenges The Vigils (a secret society of bullies at school), his actions lead to all-out war.

This book has been around since I was a young girl, but I had never read it until this week. I found it to be a powerful, haunting book about the evil that can be found in the world. It reminded me somewhat of Lord of the Flies, which is another frequently challenged book that I reviewed here. Parts of the book made me uncomfortable -- but I believe that was Cormier's intention, and that we should feel uncomfortable about cruelty towards others.

This book has been challenged for the following reasons: nudity, offensive language, being sexually explicit and unsuited to its age group.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,
written by Sherman Alexie,
with art by Ellen Forney, 2007

Junior is a young adolescent living on the Spokane Indian reservation. He loves to draw cartoons, he lives with a variety of medical issues, and is picked on by almost everyone. Determined to receive a good education, Junior decides to transfer to an all-white school in a nearby town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Now considered a traitor by others on the reservation, he must learn to navigate a world that's very different from the one he calls home.

Nick was assigned this book for an English class back when he was a freshman. He read it, then told me that he found it "interesting" -- which is pretty high praise from a guy who normally only reads non-fiction. :) I decided to give it a try myself, and am very glad that I did. Alexie wrote this book beautifully, somehow managing to make it both funny and heart-breaking at the same time.

This book has a long list of reasons that it's been challenged for: being anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, being unsuited for its age group, violence, and depictions of bullying.


Looking for Alaska
written by John Green, 2005

Eager to escape a dull existence in Florida and seek his "Great Perhaps", Miles Halter (who has a fascination with famous last words) transfers to a boarding school in Alabama. Suddenly his boring life becomes anything but -- thanks mostly to a girl named Alaska who steals his heart.

This, his first novel, has been out for ten years now, but I only discovered John Green's works fairly recently. I am a big fan. I read Looking for Alaska about a year ago now, when I was systematically checking out book after book of his from the library. As he often does, Green weaves a tale here that not only made me laugh out loud but also wipe tears (many tears) from my eyes. The story is both silly and profound. It's hard to believe that a 200-page novel can contain so much truth about loss, suffering, and the meaning of life, but it does -- something I've come to expect with Green's writing.

Offensive language, being sexually explicit and unsuited for its age group are among the reasons cited for this novel being challenged.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower,
written by Stephen Chbosky, 1999 

Charlie is a freshman, a shy, socially awkward boy trying to navigate his way through high school. As the blurb on the cover of the book says, "Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor."

As a wallflower myself, I've been wanting to read this book for many years now. I finally had my chance this week. I found it to be a thought-provoking, poignant read and now I'm hoping to watch the movie sometime!

Some of the reasons why this book has been challenged over the years include homosexuality, drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, being sexually explicit and unsuited for its age group.


The Hunger Games (trilogy)
written by Suzanne Collins, 2008

Frequently challenged for "anti-ethnic" and "anti-family" themes, insensitivity, offensive language, and violence, this series (one of my favorites!) was featured earlier on Blue Sky, Big Dreams in this post.


Have you read any of the challenged books above? If so, what did you think of them? What are some of your favorite challenged books?

If you're looking for more banned or challenged books to read, please check out the following links to some of my previous posts:


  1. My son LOVES the Captain Underpants series. This was a great introduction to chapter books for him in 2nd grade. My reader at the time was on a 4th grade reading level with a 7yr olds interest level. Now he is about to be 9 and reading on a 6th grade level, finding books for him to read is a real challenge.

    1. I can definitely relate to that -- all 3 of my kids have been the same way! Finding books at their reading level that are still appropriate for their age level is difficult.