"Banned Books" in the Archives and Rare Books Library

Cover of Huckleberry Finn

By Janice Schulz

In observance of Banned Books Week, celebrated this year from September 24 through October 1, 2011, the Archives & Rare Books Library has compiled a list of Rare Book titles that have appeared on the American Library Association’s (ALA) most challenged books lists. Each book on our list is presented with an image, challenge incidents, and reasons for challenges.

Banned Books Week celebrates each individual’s right to decide what they want to read and to have that material available to them. The first Banned Books Week was observed in 1982 and it is sponsored jointly by the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, and the National Association of College Stores.

The most common reason for a challenge is the appearance of sexually explicit material, followed by offensive language, violence, and unsuitability for the age group. Nearly two-thirds of the challenges reported to the ALA have been from parents who object to their child reading a book as part of a school’s curriculum or a book’s placement in a school library. Public library patrons and institutional administrators make up the bulk of the remainder of challengers.

2010 Most Frequently Challenged Books

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
  7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Frequently Challenged Author: Judy Blume

Generations of girls have grown up with Judy Blume’s books, yet she consistently ranks at the top of the American Library Association’s (ALA) most frequently challenged authors lists. Five of her books appear on ALA’s lists of 100 most challenged books for both 1990-1999 and 2000-2009: Forever, Blubber, Deenie, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and Tiger Eyes. Blume’s characters deal with real issues of adolescence and the genuine ways that pre-teens deal with this time in their lives, providing the very reasons that most of her books are challenged. Most challenges to Blume’s books cite offensive language, and sexual content.

Frequently Challenged Author: Toni Morrison

Ohio-born Toni Morrison has three books on the most 100 challenged list: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Song of Solomon. Reasons for the challenges are numerous, including offensive language, sexually explicit, violence, and racism. Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning Beloved, which is frequently found on high school reading lists, has been challenged many times as unsuited to the age group. Likewise, Song of Solomon has been challenged as required reading in schools.

Frequently Challenged Author: John Steinbeck

Most people cannot make it through high school without reading a book by John Steinbeck. His books mostly deal with social and economic issues of the underclasses.  Of Mice and Men has been continuously challenged since at least 1953 for the reasons of offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group, and violence.  Steinbeck’s books are often placed on required reading lists.

Most of the books in the Archives & Rare Books Library have appeared on the ALA’s Banned and Challenged Classics list. Ernest Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence tie for the most titles on the list, each with three, and John Steinbeck is next with two titles. ARB owns several books from these authors. The ALA’s website offers most challenged lists for the decades 1990-1999 and 2000-2009 and by year and author.  For more information about Banned Books Week and intellectual freedom, please visit the ALA’s website.

A bibliography of Banned Books found in UC Libraries is available online.