Banned and Challenged Books



September 27-October 3, 2015  is Banned Books Week.

The American Library Association sponsors Banned Books Week and provides excellent information and resources.

“Each year, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom records hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries shelves and from classrooms.  See Frequently Challenged Books for more details.  According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts.  The titles below represent banned or challenged books on that list ( see the entire list here). For more information on why these books were challenged, visit challenged classics and the Banned Books Week Web site.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
9. 1984 by George Orwell

Frequently challenged books of the 21st century– According to the ALA:

“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….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. We estimate that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. Therefore, we do not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.

Background Information from 2001 to 2010

Over the past ten years, American libraries were faced with 4,660 challenges.

  • 1,536 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,231 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 977 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 553 challenges due to “violence”
  • 370 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 121 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 304 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

1,720 of these challenges (approximately 37%) were in classrooms; 30% (or1,432) were in school libraries; 24% (or 1,119) took place in public libraries.  There were 32 challenges to college classes; and 106 to academic libraries.  There are isolated cases of challenges to materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and student groups.  The majority of challenges were initiated by parents (almost exactly 48%), while patrons and administrators followed behind (10% each).”  American Library Association

Take a look at the ALA list of the lists of books banned by year, starting with the report for 2011-2012 ALA Books Challenge Banned 2011-2012

As you consider these lists of banned and challenged books, ask yourself these questions:

How many of these books have you read?

Were they part of school requirements or did you read them on your own?

Why were the ones you have read banned or challenged?  Do you agree/disagree with the reasons for banning/challenging?

As you read Milton’s Areopagitica, do you agree/disagree with his argument about the nature of books, about the consequences of censoring, banning, or destroying books?

You might also read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty.  This is one of the most important, influential, and enduring works arguing against restrictions on speech and other forms of human activity. Mill’s arguments are still used today.

September 30, 2014  

On Monday, September 29, 2014, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was banned in the Riverside Unified School District, Riverside, California.


As the The Los Angeles Times reports, “One of the most popular young adult novels of recent times has been banned in Riverside. The Riverside Unified School District has forbidden John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ in its middle school libraries. The school board voted to remove three copies of John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ from the library shelves of Frank Augustus Miller Middle School and to forbid its inclusion at other middle school libraries in the district. Even donations of the book are not to be accepted. The ban comes after a complaint from a parent that the book contains profanity and references to sex. ”  According to the the Riverside Press Enterprise, ” The Riverside Unified School District’s book reconsideration committee voted 6-1 to pull all three copies of John Green’s 2012 novel from library shelves. The book will be allowed at high school libraries, said committee chairwoman Christine Allen, librarian at Arlington High School. The vote was taken after parent Karen Krueger made her case to the committee and asked its members – teachers, parents, a principal, librarian and instructional services specialist – to remove the book or make it available for checkout only with parental consent. Krueger said she didn’t want to “come off as a prude” or block anyone’s freedom to read. But she questioned whether the book should be available at the middle school library because the subject matter involves teens dying of cancer who use crude language and have sex.  ‘I just didn’t think it was appropriate for an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old to read,’ she said. ‘I was really shocked it was in a middle school.’ Some committee members agreed.”

Here is author John Green’s response on Tumblr.


July 24, 2014

Ringgold School Board in Pennsylvania banned Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale from the summer reading list. The book was banned for its “graphic language” and “sexual content.” One member of the board called the book “garbage” and another member commented that the book “uses language that, if used by students, would get them expelled.” When it was pointed out that some members of the board objecting to the book had not read it, one member responded, “I don’t read Penthouse and I won’t read this.” The American Library Association lists The Handmaid’s Tale as number 37 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000. 



Margaret Atwood is an award winning novelist and poet. The Kid’s Right to Read Project (KRRP) of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a letter to the Ringgold High School President and members of the Board of Education detailing the constitutional and educational reasons for retaining the book. You can read the letter here.

September 16, 2013

North Carolina school board bans Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  According to the Asheboro, NC Courier-Tribune,  “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison is now banned from the shelves of Randolph County Schools libraries. ” By a 5-2 margin, the Randolph County Board of Education voted Monday night, at its regular meeting held at Eastern Randolph High School, to remove all copies of the book from school libraries. The action stems from a Randleman High School parent’s complaint about the book. Committees at both the school and district levels recommended it not be removed…”


The board action was is response to a complaint about the book from the parent of an 11th grader. In her complaint, the parent said,  “The narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.” From Asheboro, Courier-Tribune 9-16-13.

Read more about Ralph Ellison from the Library of Congress