Why are Books Challenged?
Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information.
Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” — On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
According to the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, the top three reasons, in order, for challenging material are the material is considered to be “sexually explicit” contain “offensive language,” and be “unsuited to age group.”
Who Challenges Books?
Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions than you might first suppose, who, for all sorts of reasons, have attempted—and continue to attempt—to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs.
In his book Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, Nat Hentoff writes that “the lust to suppress can come from any direction.” He quotes Phil Kerby, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, as saying, “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.”
According to the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, parents challenge materials more often than any other group.
What’s the Difference between a Challenge and a Banning?
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. The positive message of Banned Books Week: Free People Read Freely is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.
How is the List of Most Challenged Books Tabulated?
The American Library Association (ALA) collects information from two sources: newspapers and reports submitted by individuals, some of whom use the Challenge Database Form. All challenges are compiled into a database. Reports of challenges culled from newspapers across the country are compiled in the bimonthly Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom (published by the ALA, $40 per year); those reports are then compiled in the Banned Books Week Resource Guide. Challenges reported to the ALA by individuals are kept confidential. In these cases, ALA will release only the title of the book being challenged, the state and the type of institution (school, public library). The name of the institution and its town will not be disclosed.
The Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2003
The following books were the most frequently challenged in 2003:
- Alice series, for sexual content, using offensive language, and being unsuited to age group.
- Harry Potter series, for its focus on wizardry and magic.
- “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, for using offensive language.
- “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture” by Michael A. Bellesiles, for inaccuracy.
- “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers, for racism, sexual content, offensive language, drugs and violence.
- “Go Ask Alice” by Anonymous, for drugs.
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris, for homosexuality, nudity, sexual content and sex education.
- “We All Fall Down” by Robert Cormier, for offensive language and sexual content.
- “King and King” by Linda de Haan, for homosexuality.
- “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, for offensive language and occult/satanism.
As compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association. The Office for Intellectual Freedom does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges. Research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five which go unreported.
Between 1990 and 2000, of the 6,364 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
- 1,607 were challenges to “sexually explicit” material (up 161 since 1999);
- 1,427 to material considered to use “offensive language”; (up 165 since 1999)
- 1,256 to material considered “unsuited to age group”; (up 89 since 1999)
- 842 to material with an “occult theme or promoting the occult or Satanism,”; (up 69 since 1999)
- 737 to material considered to be “violent”; (up 107 since 1999)
- 515 to material with a homosexual theme or “promoting homosexuality,” (up 18 since 1999)and
- 419 to material “promoting a religious viewpoint.” (up 22 since 1999)
Other reasons for challenges included “nudity” (317 challenges, up 20 since 1999), “racism” (267 challenges, up 22 since 1999), “sex education” (224 challenges, up 7 since 1999), and “anti-family” (202 challenges, up 9 since 1999).
Please note that the number of challenges and the number of reasons for those challenges do not match, because works are often challenged on more than one ground.
Seventy-one percent of the challenges were to material in schools or school libraries.2 Another twenty-four percent were to material in public libraries (down two percent since 1999). Sixty percent of the challenges were brought by parents, fifteen percent by patrons, and nine percent by administrators, both down one percent since 1999).
1The Office for Intellectual Freedom does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.
2Sometimes works are challenged in a school and school library.
The Most Frequently Challenged Authors of 2003
The most frequently challenged authors in 2003 were Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, J. K. Rowling, Robert Cormier, Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson, John Steinbeck, Walter Dean Myers, Robie Harris, Stephen King, and Louise Rennison.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2002 were J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Robert Cormier, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Stephen King, Lois Duncan, S.E. Hinton, Alvin Schwartz, Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, and Toni Morrison.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2001 were J. K. Rowling, Robert Cormier, John Steinbeck, Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, Robie Harris, Gary Paulsen, Walter Dean Myers, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Bette Greene.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2000 were J.K. Rowling, Robert Cormier, Lois Duncan, Piers Anthony, Walter Dean Myers, Phylis Reynolds Naylor, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Christopher Pike, Caroline Cooney, Alvin Schwartz, Lois Lowry, Harry Allard, Paul Zindel, and Judy Blume.
Please note that the most frequently challenged authors may not appear in the list of most frequently challenged books. For example, if every one of Judy Blume’s books was challenged—but only once—not one of her books would make the top 10 list, but she herself would make the most challenged author list. Five of Judy Blume’s books are on the list of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: Forever (8), Blubber (32), Deenie (46), Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (62), and Tiger Eyes (78).
Top Ten Challenged Authors 1990 to Present
- Alvin Schwartz
- Judy Blume
- Robert Cormier
- J.K. Rowling
- Michael Willhoite
- Katherine Paterson
- Stephen King
- Maya Angelou
- R.L. Stine
- John Steinbeck
The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books
- Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
- Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
- Forever by Judy Blume
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
- My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
- Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
- A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Sex by Madonna
- Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
- The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
- Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
- Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
- In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
- The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
- The Witches by Roald Dahl
- The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
- Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
- The Goats by Brock Cole
- Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
- Blubber by Judy Blume
- Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
- Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
- We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
- Final Exit by Derek Humphry
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- The Pigman by Paul Zindel
- Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
- Deenie by Judy Blume
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
- The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
- Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
- A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
- Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
- Cujo by Stephen King
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
- The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
- Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
- Ordinary People by Judith Guest
- American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
- What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
- Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
- Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
- Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
- Fade by Robert Cormier
- Guess What? by Mem Fox
- The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
- The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Native Son by Richard Wright
- Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
- Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
- Jack by A.M. Homes
- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
- Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
- Carrie by Stephen King
- Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
- On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
- Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
- Family Secrets by Norma Klein
- Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
- The Dead Zone by Stephen King
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
- Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
- Private Parts by Howard Stern
- Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
- Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
- Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
- Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
- Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
- Sex Education by Jenny Davis
- The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
- Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
- How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
- View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
- The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
- The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
- Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
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