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Banned Books Week 2014

banned books week 2014

It’s Banned Books Week! From The American Library Association’s website: “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 307 challenges, here are the top ten most challenged books of 2013.

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

Here’s how the Horn Book reviewed 2013′s most challenged children’s and young adult books.

captain underpantsThe 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

hunger games The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Middle School, High School    Scholastic     374 pp.
10/08     978-0-439-02348-1     $17.99

Survivor meets “The Lottery” as the author of the popular Underland Chronicles returns with what promises to be an even better series. The United States is no more, and the new Capitol, high in the Rocky Mountains, requires each district to send two teenagers, a boy and a girl, to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a reality show from which only one of the twenty-four participants will emerge victorious — and alive. When her younger sister is chosen by lottery to represent their district, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead, while Peeta, who secretly harbors a crush on Katniss, is the boy selected to join her. A fierce, resourceful competitor who wins the respect of the other participants and the viewing public, Katniss also displays great compassion and vulnerability through her first-person narration. The plot is front and center here — the twists and turns are addictive, particularly when the romantic subplot ups the ante — yet the Capitol’s oppression and exploitation of the districts always simmers just below the surface, waiting to be more fully explored in future volumes. Collins has written a compulsively readable blend of science fiction, survival story, unlikely romance, and social commentary. JONATHAN HUNT
reviewed in the September/October 2008 Horn Book Magazine

stone_a bad boy can be good for a girlA Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl
by Tanya Lee Stone
High School     Lamb/Random     227 pp.
1/06     0-385-74702-0     $14.95     g
Library edition 0-385-90946-2     $16.99

“Stupid / humiliated / foolish / stung / heartbroken / pissed off / and a little / bit / wiser.” High school freshman Josie sums up how she feels after falling for an only-out-for-one-thing senior, and she isn’t alone. The three (very different) teen girl narrators in this candid free-verse novel form a chorus of varied perspectives on how a “bad boy” — the same boy for all three — causes them to lose control before they even realize what’s happening. Stone’s portrayal of the object of their (dis)affection is stereotyped, but the three girls are distinct characters, and she conveys the way the girls’ bodies and brains respond to the unnamed everyjerk in electrically charged (and sexually explicit) detail. Finally returning to her senses, Josie decides to post warnings about her ex in the back of the school library’s copy of Judy Blume’s Forever…because “every girl reads it eventually.” Others add their own caveats in a reassuring show of sisterhood. As this scribbled “support group” illustrates, even the most careful and self-aware among us sometimes gets bitten by the snake in the grass. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMAN
reviewed in the January/February 2006 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

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

smith_ out from bonevilleBone: Out from Boneville and sequels
by Jeff Smith; illus. by Jeff Smith and Steve Hamaker
Intermediate     Scholastic/Graphix     140 pp.
2/05     0-439-70623-8     $18.95

When greedy Phoney Bone is run out of town, his cousins, Fone and Smiley, join him. Fone makes friends with a country girl, her no-nonsense gran’ma, and a dragon; Phoney must contend with ferocious rat creatures who are led by a mysterious “hooded one” and who want Phoney’s soul. This graphic novel (originally published in comic-book form) is slow paced but nevertheless imaginative. MARK ADAM
reviewed in the Fall 2005 Horn Book Guide

Are you reading any banned books this week?

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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