Reading & Literacy

Captain Underpants, Bluest Eye, Top ALA List of Most Challenged Books

By Catherine Gewertz — April 14, 2014 2 min read
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The American Library Association has issued its annual list of books most frequently targeted for removal from library shelves because of claims that they’re inappropriate reading for young people.

The list is part of the ALA’s annual “State of America’s Libraries” report. The most-challenged-books list is in the intellectual freedom section, which also details some fascinating fights over books that were resolved without yanking them from the library.

Here’s the list, along with the reasons typically cited in a challenge:

1) Captain Underpants (series), Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
2) The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
3) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
4) Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
5) The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
6) A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
7) Looking for Alaska, John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
9) Bless Me Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
10) Bone (series), Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

In a statement issued by Captain Underpants’ publisher, Scholastic Inc., Pilkey said he was surprised “that a series with no sex, no nudity, no drugs, no profanity and no more violence than a Superman cartoon has caused such an uproar. Of course, only a tiny percentage of adults are complaining. Kids love the books, and fortunately most parents and educators do, too.”

The ALA’s office of intellectual freedom defines a challenge to a book as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school” that requests that reading material be “restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.” In 2013, that number was 307, far fewer than the 464 such challenges filed in 2012, and far lower than the number of challenges filed in the 1980s and 90s, according to the ALA.

The “State of the Libraries” report, released as National Library Week begins, outlines other trends in the library world that have resonance for educators. One, of course, is the ever-tightening fiscal belt that has led to school library scale-backs and closures. Another is the rise of ebooks and its attendant copyright complexities.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.