September 30, 2020 | Caroline Few
Children’s Books and Censorship
Since 1990 the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has been keeping track of attempts to ban books in libraries and schools, and every ten years since, they release a list of the 100 most challenged/banned books of the decade. This week the ALA published its list of the 100 most challenged book from 2010-2019.
If you’ve never looked at a list like this before, perhaps it surprises you to see so many children and young adult books. In fact, the top 7 most challenged/banned books on this list were all written for children and teens
1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Young Adult)
2. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (Juvenile Fiction)
3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Young Adult)
4. Looking for Alaska by John Green (Young Adult)
5. George by Alex Gino (Juvenile Fiction)
6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Early Book)
7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier (Juvenile Non-Fiction)
But if you take a look at past years (here), you’ll see that children/teen books always top the lists. This includes classics (challenged year after year) that are often read by teens in school like Huckleberry Finn, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, To Kill a Mockingbird, and 1984.
The ALA cites the three most common reasons for challenging library materials are:
1. the material was considered to be “sexually explicit”
2. the material contained “offensive language”
3. the materials was “unsuited to any age group”
The source for who challenges these books can be just about anybody – parents, teachers, librarians, concerned citizens – and the reason often comes from a good place, that is, a desire to protect people, particularly children, from material deemed harmful or misinformative.
While good intentions are admirable, some of the main jobs of a library (as stated in the ALA’s Code of Ethics) are to protect the intellectual freedom of its patrons, to provide equitable and unbiased access to information, and to resist efforts to censor library resources.
If the list of challenged books is any indication, the desire to protect our children is strong. However, the choice to remove a particular book to protect one child might be considered a harmful removal to another child. That choice is not the library’s; it is the right of parents and guardians. The ALA maintains that “[l]ibrarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.”
Here is a virtual bookshelf of available Juvenile Fiction and Non-fiction from the ALA’s List of the 100 Most Banned/Challenged Books of the Decade. Click on the book jackets for more information.