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Banned Books Week: Banned BOOKS in the Library

Celebrate the freedom to read! Learn more about Banned Books Week, book bans or challenges, and censorship.

Banned/Challenged Definitions

In 1986, in response to inquiries from librarians facing book or material challenges for the first time, the Intellectual Freedom Committee developed the following list of definitions to clarify terminology associated with challenges:

  • Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.
     
  • Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material in question.
     
  • Written Complaint. A formal, written complaint filed with the institution (library, school, etc.), challenging the presence and/or appropriateness of specific material.
     
  • Public Attack. A publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.
     
  • Censorship. A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

 

Selected list of Challenged/Banned titles available in the Albright College Library

A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.

Source: Banned Books: Challenging our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle, ALA 2010.


The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. The ALA compiles lists of challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools. The ALA condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information.

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 classics were challenged visit the Banned Books Week Web site.

 

Beloved Book Cover

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Beloved, by Toni Morrison
"Inappropriate topics of bestiality, racism, and sex"


In 2005, the New York Times conducted a poll of writers and literary experts, asking them to choose the greatest works of American fiction from the past quarter century. Toni Morrison's "Beloved" achieved the top spot on the list. This story of former slave Sethe and her love for her children has been challenged on the basis of sex and violence in many school districts. After being on the Madawaska, Maine, required advanced placement reading list for six years, "Beloved" was unsuccessfully challenged in 1997 by a member of the school committee for language. In 2007, school administrators in Louisville, Ky., removed the book from senior advanced placement English classes after two parents complained about what they termed "inappropriate topics" -- namely bestiality, racism and sex. The principal at that school told teachers to teach "The Scarlet Letter" instead. "Beloved," which won a 1987 Pulitzer Prize, was also part of the previously mentioned Arlington Heights, Ill., school board member's battle to use her Christian faith to get books banned, based on summaries and passages she had read on the Internet.

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Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
"Lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society”

A favorite among book challengers for nearly 80 years, Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel was banned in Ireland shortly after publication. With its themes of sexual promiscuity, drug use and suicide, "Brave New World" tells a story in a bleak future where the populace is manipulated and controlled by the state. Schools in Miller, Mo., banned "Brave New World" in 1980 because of its characters' acceptance of promiscuous sex.

The book was challenged as required reading in the Corona-Norco, Calif., Unified School District in 1993 because it "centered around negative activity". The challengers cited the school's health curriculum, which taught sexual abstinence, and said the characters of "Brave New World" went against those teachings. A challenge in Mercedes, Texas, on the basis of adult content, resulted in the school board's ruling that school principals must offer alternate reading selections if parents challenge a book on a reading list.

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The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger

"Excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence"

Published in 1951 as a novel for adults, “Catcher in the Rye” gained popularity with young adult readers for its consideration of teenage disillusionment and rebellion. Controversy around the book – particularly its vulgar or “blasphemous” language, sexual content, and references to alcohol and cigarettes – began soon after its publication and has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2001, “Catcher in the Rye” was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC who believed it to be “a filthy, filthy book.” The same year, it was challenged by a Glynn County, GA school board member because of profanity, but was retained. “Catcher in the Rye” remains a classic of American literature and is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the 20th century.

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The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
"Sexual and social explicitness" and "troubling ideas about race relations"

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been challenged dozens of times over the past 25 years in high schools around the country. In 1984, “The Color Purple” was challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, CA high school honors classes due to the work’s “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.” After nine months of haggling and delays, a divided Oakland Board of Education gave formal approval for the book’s use.

In 1992, "The Color Purple" was banned in the Souderton, Pa., Area School District for 10th graders on the grounds that it was "smut". The battle over "The Color Purple" raged for months in Junction City, Ore., after the book's "inappropriate language, graphic sexual scenes and negative image of black men" made it the object of a challenge, even though the students did not have to read the book and could choose an alternative. At Ferguson High in Newport News, Va., students can only borrow the book from the library with parental permission.

Parents Against Bad Books in Schools challenged "The Color Purple" and 17 other titles in school libraries in 2002. They cited incidents of drug abuse, sexual activity, torture and violence as their objections. In 2009, a proposed Alabama law would have removed "The Color Purple" -- along with many other works of literature -- from public school libraries, on the basis that it has characters who engage in homosexual acts. The bill ultimately failed to pass the state legislature.

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Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
"Have a serious tone of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil"
 

Beginning with “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” published in 1997, this series of seven novels dominated both bestseller lists and the imaginations of readers across the globe. At the same time, controversy over magic and witchcraft in the stories prompted frequent book banning attempts, and even book burnings. In 2002, the books were proposed for removal, along with more than fifty other titles, by a teachers’ prayer group at the high school in Russell Springs, KY because they dealt with ghosts, cults, and witchcraft. That same year, a federal judge overturned restricted access to “Harry Potter” after parents of a Cedarville, AK fourth-grader filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement that students present written permission from a parent to borrow the books. The novels were originally challenged because they characterized authority as “stupid” and portrayed “good witches and good magic.”

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
"Homosexuality, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group"

In 1983, four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” claiming the work preaches “bitterness and hatred toward white people and encourages deviant behavior because of references to lesbianism, premarital sex and profanity.” Maya Angelou’s autobiography, published in 1969 and nominated for a National Book award in 1970, details the poet’s early years and illustrates the power of literature in surviving trauma and adversity. Angelou’s numerous awards and honors include the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

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In The Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
"Nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit"

In Sendak’s picture book, a young boy named Mickey falls out of his clothes as he travels through his dreams to the magical kitchen of the title. In addition to being challenged, “In the Night Kitchen” has been frequently defaced by those who object to Mickey’s nudity and draw diapers or pants over Sendak’s images. In 1985, “In the Night Kitchen” was challenged at the Cunningham Elementary School in Beloit, WI because the book was believed to desensitize children to nudity.  In 2007 it was challenged in the Wake County (NC) schools where parents are getting help from Called2Action, a Christian group that says its mission is to "promote and defend our shared family values." The book was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1971.

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Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
“Worthless, profanity-riddled book”


Published in 1937, “Of Mice and Men” was the target of numerous complaints in 1991. The novella was challenged as curriculum material at the Ringgold High School in Carroll Township, PA because it contains terminology offensive to blacks. It was deemed “indecent,” removed, and later returned to the Suwannee, FL High School library. At the Jacksboro, TN High School, it was challenged for containing “blasphemous” language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones. The book was also challenged as required reading in the Buckingham County, VA schools that year because of profanity. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and “Of Mice and Men” is one of his most widely-known and acclaimed works.

 

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Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
"Just plain filthy"


Challenged in many communities, but burned in Drake, ND (1973). In 1982, a sharply divided Supreme Court found that students’ First Amendment rights were violated when Slaughterhouse-Five and 8 other titles were removed from junior and senior high school libraries. The Island Trees (NY) School District School Board removed the books in 1976 because they were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.” In Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, the Court found that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Vonnegut’s satirical novel, published in 1969, considers themes of war and human nature, and is widely regarded as his most influential work.

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To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
"A filthy, trashy novel"


Published in 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” ranks among the true classics of modern American literature and explores complex themes of justice and compassion. It has also faced significant controversy due to its consideration of challenging issues such as rape and racial inequality. In 1995, the book was challenged in Moss Point, MS and at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools because of its racial themes. It was removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA that same year, because its language and content were found objectionable. “To Kill a Mockingbird” received the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.