ALA’s frequently challenged books of the 21st century

Each year, the American Library Association’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.

A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. It is estimated that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. As such, the findings are not comprehensive.


Out of 464 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
    Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher.
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

What was so fascinating about the top ten books listed are the reasons why these books are being challenged. Consider that the most common challenges are due to “offensive language”, which appears six times and “sexually explicit” content which appears seven times. “Homosexuality”, “Violence” and “Religious Viewpoint” all tied appearing twice. Although the data is not exhaustive, it is interesting to ponder the reasons books are being challenged and how that might intersect with current trending news stories. Consider more recent news stories about gay marriage, violence and religious viewpoint, for example. Then consider popular television shows, beauty and fashion advertisements and popular music that promote either offensive language and sexual explicitness or both. In a more general sense, it is equally interesting that some categories appear at all but there they are.

Below are some graphs courtesy of the ALA website:

Do you agree or disagree that some books should be censored or banned in schools because of the reasons listed? Would you add categories or take some away? What are your thoughts?