Did you know that not only have most of the the top 10 most frequently challenged or banned books in the United States in 2016 been challenged because of sexual content of one type or another, but also that an entire series on the list has been challenged because of the alleged sexual improprieties of its author?
It’s true–author Bill Cosby’s “Little Bill” series of children’s books (illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood) has been challenged for removal from a library or libraries in the United States in 2016, the most recent year for which such data has been collected. This raises interesting questions about whether a work should be restricted or censored not because of the books content, but because of the allegedly unsavory (and potentially criminal) actions of its author.
What is a “challenged” or “banned book,” you may ask? Here’s how the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom defines both in paragraph 4 of its Banned and Challenged Books page:
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. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.
To counteract these threats amounting to censorship, The American Library Association (ALA) sponsors Banned Books Week every year to encourage readers to check out challenged or banned books and make their own decisions about the books they read. This year Banned Books Week is being celebrated from September 24-30, 2017, and is focused on First Amendment rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
In celebration of Banned Books Week, Hackney Library has put on display copies of print books in our collection (just look for the bright yellow “Caution!” tape around the display near the library’s Technology Classroom on the first floor) that have made Banned Books lists in the past; although this year’s top 10, listed below include titles that Hackney Library does not own, except for #6, John Greene’s Looking for Alaska, which we have in e-book format only.
All the books in the display are meant to be read, so please feel free to grab a title–or several!– off the display to check out and read for yourself!
The ALA, which tracks challenges to various books in libraries and school curricula each year, recorded 323 challenges to books in 2016, 48 more than those challenged or banned in 2015. Following is ALA’s list of the top ten “banned” or challenged books for 2016 (numbers 4, 5, and 6 in this year’s list were also challenged the previous year), and the reasons cited for their challenges:
- This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki This young adult graphic novel, winner of both a Printz and a Caldecott Honor Award, was restricted, relocated, and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes.
- Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Parents, librarians, and administrators banned this Stonewall Honor Award-winning graphic novel for young adults because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.
- George written by Alex Gino
Despite winning a Stonewall Award and a Lambda Literary Award, administrators removed this children’s novel because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”
- I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.
- Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book, this young adult novel was challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content.
- Looking for Alaska written by John Green (available in e-book format through Hackney Library)
This 2006 Printz Award winner is a young adult novel that was challenged and restricted for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.”
- Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Considered to be sexually explicit by library staff and administrators, this compilation of adult comic books by two prolific award-winning artists was banned and challenged.
- Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
This collection of adult short stories, which received positive reviews from Newsweek and the New York Times, was challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive.”
- Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
This children’s book series was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.
- Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
One of seven New York Times Notable Children’s Books and a Printz Honor recipient, this young adult novel was challenged for offensive language.
Although the 2016 top-ten list represents books challenged for their sexual content, sexual orientation, or profanity, challenges to books can run the gamut, sometimes coming from both the liberal and the conservative ends of the cultural spectrum; ironically, sometimes the same reason is cited by both extremes but in relation to completely different books. It’s not unusual for books we now consider classics to have been challenged or banned.
The most frequently-cited reasons for book challenges include the following:
- Sexually explicit content
- Offensive language
- Content unsuited to the targeted age group
- Expression of religious viewpoint
- Drug use
Words do, indeed, have power, so feel free to come by to check out and read for yourself as many “banned books” from our Banned Books display as you’d like, and defend your, and everyone else’s, inherent First Amendment right to read!