The ALA (American Library Association) compiles a list every year of the most frequently banned or challenged books in the country. According to the ALA, 5,099 books were challenged just in the first 10 years of the 21st century. The majority of challenges are due to material that is “sexually explicit,” or because of “offensive language”. Not surprisingly, most of the books were challenged in either libraries or school classrooms, which is why so many of the banned or contested books are either young adult or children’s books.
Still, many books that are frequently banned from schools and libraries are considered classics of American literature. The Top 10 Banned Books of All Time include the following books, which were most challenged between the years 2000-2012:
10. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee and The Color Purple, by Alice Walker (tied)
Both books deal with sensitive racial and sexual topics, which some parents and authorities find unsuitable for reading in school. Because they both deal with racism, some of the language has been found to be offensive, as well.
9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Another classic novel that deals with racial issues, Huck Finn has been cited for its excessive use of offensive racial epithets toward its African-American character, Tom. Even though it was written in 1885, the book continues to be one of the most Banned books of all time. The novel has spawned such controversy, that several years ago, one publisher released it with all of the offensive language replaced with more politically correct versions.
8. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Poor Holden Caulfield; he just can’t win. The depressed and cynical main character of Salinger’s most famous work swears too much, expresses his (fairly tame) sexual desires too often, and despite the fact that he is a teen himself, his adventures in life have been deemed unsuitable to read for people of his age group. The book has been challenged at least 30 times since its publication.
7. Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck’s two most well-known and most-read classics both are on the list of the most Banned books of all time, and each have been challenged numerous times; Of Mice and Men has had more than 30 challenges, for reasons as varied as its use of profanity, alleged blasphemy, and because Steinbeck was allegedly not patriotic. The Grapes of Wrath has faced challenges mostly because of its use of profanity.
6. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The story of a school chocolate fundraiser that gets out of control has been banned numerous times. The complaints have ranged from depictions of nudity, sexual explicitness, and offensive language. Like The Catcher in the Rye, The Chocolate War has often been deemed “unsuitable for its age group,” despite being written from a teenager’s point of view.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
One of the more modern novels on this list, Wallflower has been challenged for many of the themes it tackles as it traces the high school adventures of its protagonist, Charlie. The usual offenders are what makes it objectionable: It has been deemed anti-family (presumably because it’s a realistic portrayal of teenagers and the nearly universal feeling of disliking one’s family), sexually explicit, unsuited to its age group – again, because it portrays teens in a realistic way – and because there are instances of homosexuality, drug use, and offensive language.
4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
One of the newer books added to the list of most banned books of all time, it is a humorous, yet poignant look at the life of a misfit who lives on an Indian reservation in Washington. When he leaves his Reservation school and enrolls in a high school where he is the only Indian, he begins questioning his life and his community. Attempts to censor the book revolve around its offensive language, some sexual explicitness, and themes of racism.
3. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
In spite of the series’ rampant success, the millions of novels sold, and the oodles of money made by the movie versions of the series of books, every book in the Harry Potter series has faced challenges from concerned adults. Anyone who has read the fantasy series may question why the books would be some of the most banned books of all time; after all, there’s no profanity, nudity, sexually explicit material, or racism found within any of the pages of the series. The objectionable material is apparently the wizarding world itself; most challengers of the series feel the witches and wizards of Hogwarts exemplify Satanism, or involvement in the occult. Because of that connection, Harry and his pals have drawn the ire of some religious groups.
2. Captain Underpants (series), by Dave Pilkey
This series of books geared toward elementary school kids details the adventures of two fourth-graders who turn their school principal into the comic book character, Captain Underpants. Even with that fairly tame and silly theme, the entire series of books are some of the most banned books of all time. The objections to the book surround offensive language (such as calling a character an “old guy”), and charges that it is inappropriate for the age group for which it is written. Considering it is written for – and usually read by – second-through fourth-graders – the material in the book seems right at their level. Another accusation is that it is sexually explicit, a charge that arises from the title hero, who wears nothing but a cape and a pair of tighty whities.
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1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Never did a book about penguins cause such a stir as this one. The story revolves around the true tale of two male penguins – Roy and Silo – who live in the Central Park Zoo. The two appeared to be in love, and when other penguin couples were laying eggs around them, they apparently wanted to nurture one, too – they even brought a rock that looked like an egg to their nest. Noticing their plight, a zookeeper gives them an egg to “adopt” – and the two male penguins end up caring for the egg, and the resulting baby, Tango. The greatest outcry against the book geared toward preschoolers is that it advocates homosexuality and homosexual adoption. Many religious leaders and anti-homosexual groups have targeted the seemingly innocent book for its positive portrayal of a homosexual animal couple.