Banned Books Week emphasizes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.
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Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. See Censorship and Challenges and Notable First Amendment Cases.
Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” — On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
According to the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, the top three reasons, in order, for challenging material are the material is considered to be “sexually explicit” contain “offensive language,” and be “unsuited to age group.” See Background Information, below.
Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions than you might first suppose, who, for all sorts of reasons, have attempted—and continue to attempt—to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs.
In his book Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, Nat Hentoff writes that “the lust to suppress can come from any direction.” He quotes Phil Kerby, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, as saying, “Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.”
According to the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, parents challenge materials more often than any other group. See Background Information, below.
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. The positive message of Banned Books Week: Free People Read Freely is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.
The American Library Association (ALA) collects information from two sources: newspapers and reports submitted by individuals, some of whom use the Challenge Database Form. All challenges are compiled into a database. Reports of challenges culled from newspapers across the country are compiled in the bimonthly Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom (published by the ALA, $40 per year); those reports are then compiled in the Banned Books Week Resource Guide. Challenges reported to the ALA by individuals are kept confidential. In these cases, ALA will release only the title of the book being challenged, the state and the type of institution (school, public library). The name of the institution and its town will not be disclosed.
The following books were the most frequently challenged in 2006:
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 546 challenges last year. 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. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.
The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2006” reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:
Off the list this year, but on for several years past, are the “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
Between 1990 and 2000, of the 6,364 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom (see The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books):
Other reasons for challenges included “nudity” (317 challenges, up 20 since 1999), “racism” (267 challenges, up 22 since 1999), “sex education” (224 challenges, up 7 since 1999), and “anti-family” (202 challenges, up 9 since 1999).
Please note that the number of challenges and the number of reasons for those challenges do not match, because works are often challenged on more than one ground.
Seventy-one percent of the challenges were to material in schools or school libraries.2 Another twenty-four percent were to material in public libraries (down two percent since 1999). Sixty percent of the challenges were brought by parents, fifteen percent by patrons, and nine percent by administrators, both down one percent since 1999).
1The Office for Intellectual Freedom does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges.
2Sometimes works are challenged in a school and school library.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2005 were Judy Blume, Robert Cormier, Chris Crutcher, Robie Harris, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Toni Morrison, J. D. Salinger, Lois Lowry, Marilyn Reynolds, and Sonya Sones.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2004 were Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Robert Cormier, Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, Chris Lynch, Barbara Park, Gary Paulsen, Dav Pilkey, Maurice Sendak, and Sonya Sones.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2003 were Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, J. K. Rowling, Robert Cormier, Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson, John Steinbeck, Walter Dean Myers, Robie Harris, Stephen King, and Louise Rennison.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2002 were J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, Robert Cormier, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Stephen King, Lois Duncan, S.E. Hinton, Alvin Schwartz, Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, and Toni Morrison.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2001 were J. K. Rowling, Robert Cormier, John Steinbeck, Judy Blume, Maya Angelou, Robie Harris, Gary Paulsen, Walter Dean Myers, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Bette Greene.
The most frequently challenged authors in 2000 were J.K. Rowling, Robert Cormier, Lois Duncan, Piers Anthony, Walter Dean Myers, Phylis Reynolds Naylor, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou, Christopher Pike, Caroline Cooney, Alvin Schwartz, Lois Lowry, Harry Allard, Paul Zindel, and Judy Blume.
Please note that the most frequently challenged authors may not appear in the list of most frequently challenged books. For example, if every one of Judy Blume’s books was challenged–but only once–not one of her books would make the top 10 list, but she herself would make the most challenged author list. Five of Judy Blume’s books are on the list of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: Forever (8), Blubber (32), Deenie (46), Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (62), and Tiger Eyes (78).
1. Alvin Schwartz
2. Judy Blume
3. Robert Cormier
4. J.K. Rowling
5. Michael Willhoite
6. Katherine Paterson
7. Stephen King
8. Maya Angelou
9. R.L. Stine
10. John Steinbeck
1Out of 8,332 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, as compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges. Research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported. This report can be found at Top Ten Challenged Authors, 1990–2004.
Links to non-ALA sites have been provided because these sites may have information of interest. Neither the American Library Association nor the Office for Intellectual Freedom necessarily endorses the views expressed or the facts presented on these sites; and furthermore, ALA and OIF do not endorse any commercial products that may be advertised or available on these sites.