Tomorrow marks the beginning of this year’s Banned Books Week, which runs through October 4. According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged last year.
In honor of Banned Books Week, here’s the 10 most challenged titles last year and the reasons why. It is plainly an appropriate time to familiarize yourself one or more of these works, whether for the first time or once again.
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. This illustrated children’s book is based on a true story of two male penguins who adopted an abandoned egg at New York City’s Central Park in the late 1990s. Reasons given for its challenge include anti-ethnic, sexism, homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint and unsuited to the age group.
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. The tale of a high school freshman who challenges a secret society at his all-male boarding school is claimed to be sexually explicit and contain offensive language (such a broad, all-encompassing term) and violence.
- Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. Claims of being sexually explicit and containing offensive language have prompted the challenges to this coming of age story of a 12-year-old girl that focuses on a journal entry of a classmate killed in a car accident.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. This fantasy novel is claimed to be anti-Catholic. (You may recall the Vatican condemned and a U.S.-based Catholic organization called for a boycott of the film of the same name when it was released last winter.)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Racism is the justification for challenging this American classic.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Forget the fact this novel about a young black girl growing up in the South during Reconstruction won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. Some dislike the fact it refers to homosexuality, is sexually explicit and uses offensive language.
- ttyl by Lauren Myracle. Using only instant message texts among three 15-year-old girls, this is a 21st century coming of age story challenged because it is sexually explicit, contains offensive language and is unsuited to the age group.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. This autobiography is challenged for being sexually explicit.
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. This book for young people about puberty and sex is, not surprisingly, challenged as sex education and sexually explicit.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Another tale of adolescence in high school that looks at the issues boys face at that age, including sex, drugs and not fitting in. Naturally, then, it is challenged because of references to homosexuality, being sexually explicit, containing offensive language and being unsuited to age groups.
Sadly, it seems we haven’t come far in our history. While the Nazis were burning books in Germany in 1939, our country was banning The Grapes of Wrath for containing “profanity, lewd, foul and obscene language unfit for use in American homes.”
Burning a book means more than giving up a part of one’s possessions: it means selling one’s soul to an evil spirit.
Paul Verhaeghen, Omega Minor