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Library association tracks book challenges nationwide

Thursday, July 19, 2012 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:14 a.m. CDT, Monday, October 8, 2012

This story is part of a larger project on book challenges in Missouri and the U.S. Find the full project here.

COLUMBIA — Placed against a national backdrop, Missouri’s library book challenges hit many common themes. Sexually explicit descriptions and offensive language are two of the top drivers of book challenges, which typically are initiated by parents, according to the American Library Association.

Children’s books are frequently included in the library association's top 10 list of banned books, which is compiled annually. “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for example, made the list five years in a row, beginning in 2006. It was the most challenged book in the country in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Challengers cited anti-family values and homosexual themes in the book and said it was unsuitable for its targeted age group. It generated challenges in Missouri, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, California, Maryland and Minnesota.

The young adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, which has received wide critical acclaim, made the association's list twice, in 2010 and 2011. Challengers have cited sexual situations in the book as the reason for opposing it. It was banned by the Stockton School District in Missouri in 2010. It has also been challenged in Illinois, Oregon and Montana.

The novel “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, which made the library association's top 10 list in 2008, was removed from the curriculum at Camdenton High School in 2009. It also generated challenges in North Carolina, Florida and Illinois, as parents complained of a graphic rape scene.

Classic novels such as “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck have been challenged for offensive language and violence. While both novels are considered to be among the top 100 novels of the 20th century, they also have been frequently challenged, according to the library association. 

From 1990 through 2010, parents outpaced other groups in initiating book challenges. The library association listed 6,103 book challenges by parents. Other listed groups, including administrators, patrons, elected officials and pressure groups, filed a total of 5,112 challenges.

Since 2001, the library association has recorded a total of 4,986 book challenges nationwide. That's an average of 453 per year. Only 326 books were challenged in 2011, however.

While most of the book challenges have come from parents, the most wide-scale ban occurred in the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, where the state legislature passed a law that prohibits ethnic studies in school districts. In January, the Tucson school district removed history and literature books by Latino authors from its schools. According to a district news release, the books were removed from the curriculum but retained in school libraries.

As a response to the ban, the Librotraficante Caravan of Houston formed in March to smuggle banned books into Arizona through an underground library.

Among the banned books the Librotraficante has listed are “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros and “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya. The latter was challenged in 2008 for references to the occult and for violent and sexual content, according to the library association.

The library association does not support book banning and embraces intellectual freedom, which is defined as “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular." It strives to raise awareness of censorship by encouraging the public to read banned books during Banned Books Week, Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.

Supervising editors are Scott Swafford and Charles Davis.


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