It’s Banned Books Week! The American Library Association’s website says, “Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles a list of the top ten most frequently challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information.” Based on 464 challenges, the top ten most challenged books of 2012 were:
- Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
- And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
- Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
- The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence
I don’t know about you, but Stephen Gammell’s illustrations for the Scary Stories series still scare me silly — not that being scared stopped me from checking the books out of the school library over and over. (That was the whole point!) Do you have any fond memories of banned books? Are you reading any banned books this week?
Here’s how the Horn Book reviewed 2012’s most challenged children’s and young adult books.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants: An Epic Novel and sequels
by Dav Pilkey; illus. by the author
Intermediate Blue Sky 124 pp.
09/97 0-590-84627-2 $16.95
Best friends and fellow pranksters George and Harold create a comic book superhero, Captain Underpants, and hypnotize their school principal into assuming his identity. Clad in cape and jockey shorts, Principal Krupp foils bank robbers and a mad scientist until the boys “de-hypnotize” him. Written in a tongue-in-cheek style and illustrated with suitably cartoonish drawings, the story is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. PETER D. SIERUTA
reviewed in the Spring 1998 Horn Book Guide
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie; illus. by Ellen Forney
Middle School, High School Little 232 pp.
9/07 978-0-316-01368-0 $16.99 g
The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally — and hilariously and triumphantly — bent in this novel about coming of age on the rez. Urged on by a math teacher whose nose he has just broken, Junior, fourteen, decides to make the iffy commute from his Spokane Indian reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small town twenty miles away. He’s tired of his impoverished circumstances (“Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands”), but while he hopes his new school will offer him a better education, he knows the odds aren’t exactly with him: “What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” But he makes friends (most notably the class dork Gordy), gets a girlfriend, and even (though short, nearsighted, and slightly disabled from birth defects) lands a spot on the varsity basketball team, which inevitably leads to a showdown with his own home team, led by his former best friend Rowdy. Junior’s narration is intensely alive and rat-a-tat-tat with short paragraphs and one-liners (“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs”). The dominant mode of the novel is comic, even though there’s plenty of sadness, as when Junior’s sister manages to shake off depression long enough to elope — only to die, passed out from drinking, in a fire. Junior’s spirit, though, is unquenchable, and his style inimitable, not least in the take-no-prisoners cartoons he draws (as expertly depicted by comics artist Forney) from his bicultural experience. ROGER SUTTON
reviewed in the September/October 2007 Horn Book Magazine
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Middle School, High School Penguin/Razorbill 288 pp.
10/07 978-1-59514-171-2 $16.99
After classmate Hannah’s suicide, Clay receives a box of cassettes she recorded, each side relating the story of a person who figured into her decision. Clay, though he’s not sure why, is one of those people. Told through the voices of angry Hannah and anguished Clay, this quietly suspenseful novel believably conveys their pain, perhaps inspiring readers to self-reflection. RACHEL L. SMITH
reviewed in the Spring 2008 Horn Book Guide
And Tango Makes Three
by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; illus. by Henry Cole
Preschool, Primary Simon 32 pp.
06/05 0-689-87845-1 $14.95
Two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo court, build a nest, and raise their (adopted) daughter Tango. Highly anthropomorphized to maximize the sentimental but noteworthy lesson on family diversity, the story gains depth from the biological reality of same-sex penguin partnering. Gentle illustrations of the smiling penguin family add appeal, if not scientific accuracy, to this book based on a true story. DANIELLE J. FORD
reviewed in the Fall 2005 Horn Book Guide
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
High School Dutton 237 pp.
3/05 0-525-47506-0 $15.99 g
A collector of famous last words, teenage Miles Halter uses Rabelais’s final quote (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) to explain why he’s chosen to leave public high school for Culver Creek Preparatory School in rural Alabama. In his case, the Great Perhaps includes challenging classes, a hard-drinking roommate, elaborate school-wide pranks, and Alaska Young, the enigmatic girl rooming five doors down. Moody, sexy, and even a bit mean, Alaska draws Miles into her schemes, defends him when there’s trouble, and never stops flirting with the clearly love-struck narrator. A drunken make-out session ends with Alaska’s whispered “To be continued?” but within hours she’s killed in a car accident. In the following weeks, Miles and his friends investigate Alaska’s crash, question the possibility that it could have been suicide, and acknowledge their own survivor guilt. The narrative concludes with an essay Miles writes about this event for his religion class — an unusually heavy-handed note in an otherwise mature novel, peopled with intelligent characters who talk smart, yet don’t always behave that way, and are thus notably complex and realistically portrayed teenagers. PETER D. SIERUTA
reviewed in the March/April 2005 Horn Book Magazine
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Collected from American Folklore and sequels
by Alvin Schwartz; illus. by Stephen Gammell
Intermediate Lippincott 111 pp.
10/81 0-397-31926-6 $8.25
For those children who are always clamoring for “really scary” stories, the book may be just the answer. The collection is grouped within sections, such as traditional ghost tales, contemporary folklore, and chilling stories with surprise endings; included are rhymes and songs as well as prose tales. Almost exceeding the horror of the text are the superb black, white, and gray illustrations featuring staring eye sockets, hands dripping threads of blood, and an assortment of mad-eyed animals. All the material is carefully documented as to source and background; the author’s notes add information on variants, and there is a bibliography of both books and articles. ETHEL R. TWICHELL
reviewed in the February 1982 Horn Book Magazine