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Sex, God, and the Series: The Top 10 Book Challenges of 2011

The American Library Association yesterday released its list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2011. At first blush, this year’s list appears to have few surprises, and in fact, 8 of the 10 books have been on the list before. Half of the titles have been on the list at least three times in the past 11 years.

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle
  2. The Color of Earth (series) by Kim Dong Hwa
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy by Dori Hillestad Butler
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  6. Alice (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
  9. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily Von Ziegesar
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The biggest surprise comes from a title that isn’t in the list this year: And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. This picture book, which tells the story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who become parents to a baby girl penguin, has held court at #1 or #2 on the banned books list since 2006. Yet this year the title has dropped off the top 10 entirely.

Graph of Trends in Challenged Books

There are also some more subtle shifts in this year’s list that shed light on some interesting trends in book challenges over the past decade:

  • Where are all the gays? The number of books in the top 10 challenged due to “homosexuality” peaked at four in 2006 and has been slowly dropping since. This year, it reached zero for the first time since 2001. These stats combined with the disappearance of And Tango Makes Three from the top 10 list could signal that patrons are becoming more accepting of having LGBT literature in libraries.
  • Scares over series books. Half of the titles on the 2011 challenge list are for popular series books—a greater number than any year in the past decade. The Hunger Games‘s presence for a second year is no surprise; there is a long history of banning the popular series of the moment (Harry Potter, Twilight, Golden Compass, etc.) The ttyl and Gossip Girl books have also made a few appearances in recent years. But an interesting surprise is the reappearance of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, which clocked in at #6 after not appearing on the list since 2006. But this could perhaps be because Atheneum has started rereleasing the series with new packaging to appeal to a new generation of readers.
  • Sex on the rise. Challenging books due to “sexually explicit” content is certainly nothing new, but the number of books on the top 10 list that were challenged for this reason has steadily increased over the past decade. Only three books on the top 10 were deemed “sexually explicit” in 2002, yet that increased to six in 2004 and a high of eight in 2009. The number has remained steady in 2010 and 2011 at seven books banned due to “sexually explicit” content.
  • Religious fervor heats up. The number of books on the top 10 list challenged due to “religious viewpoints” has been holding steady at three or four since 2008 after being negligible at zero or one from 2001-2006. And this trend holds if you add to that “occult/satanic” challenges.
  • Offensive language and violence hold steady. No list is complete without challenges due to “offensive language” and “violence,” and 2011’s top 10 is no exception. Both types of challenges have gone up and down in two- to three-year cycles over the past decade. This year was a relative up year for “offensive language” with seven books in the top 10, and a down year for violence with only one book in the top 10. But neither of these challenge types seem to be consistently moving up or down at this point.

ALA’s top 10 challenged books list always gives librarians a lot to think about. It would be great to hear thoughts and opinions about these or other trends in the comments.

— Annie Schutte

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  1. Great post! I especially like the graph as a way to view the changing trends over the years. (Did you make it yourself? *super-impressed*) I hadn’t caught that Tango was missing…very interesting. I wonder what in HG is seen as “occult/satanic”?

  2. Annie Annie

    Yes. I did create the graph. I’m glad to hear it was useful to you. I think it’s way easier to see what’s going on that way.

    I thought the occult/satanic label on HG was really interesting, too. There are a lot of things you can say about the series, but satanic seems to be a stretch.

  3. Michelle Blank Michelle Blank

    I also don’t understand the challenge for ‘satanic/occult’ to HG. While I don’t like my 6th grader having it read to him in class, I think it’s an excellent book.
    Remembering these were ‘challenged’ books help me better understand the ‘unsuitable for age group’ category. Otherwise, how can a book be banned based on this? Is it unsuitable for everyone? I appreciate the post. The books we as a society challenge provides some interesting insight into our collective identity.

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