The 10 most frequently challenged books in 2012, according to the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom were:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
- Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
- And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
- Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
- The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The American Library Association reminds us that intellectual freedom requires more than freedom of expression. It also requires unrestricted access to that expression.
“Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate; and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of information. Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication, including the Internet, becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected. Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled.” (Intellectual Freedom Manual, ALA).
The most common rationale for banning books is the need to protect children, especially to protect children from offensive words or sexually explicit passages. The American Library Association reminds us that “parents – and only parents – have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children.” The ALA also reminds us that as parents we only have the right to make that decision for our own children, not to impose our decision on everybody else’s children.
It is an important subject, this need that we have to protect our children from “dangerous” books, but I look at the news accounts and it’s all so very tedious. If I have one regret about my son growing up and moving away it’s that I no longer have someone to read Captain Underpants with.
I guess it could be worse. Last year I had to comment on banning My Mom’s Having a Baby. Do I really need to point out the silliness of banning a book like My Mom’s Having A Baby because of nudity and sexual content? Because we surely don’t need to be honest about nudity or sex if we want our children to understand Mommy’s pregnancy.
But challenging books based on dirty words, nudity or sexual content is probably the least dangerous of such challenges. The really dangerous efforts to restrict access to books are the efforts to ban books because of ideas. I guess I should be grateful that neither To Kill a Mockingbird nor Huck Finn made the top 10 list this year.
It’s wonderful that we dedicate a week to the celebration of Banned Books. But the sad truth is we need to dedicate every week to the twin principles of freedom of expression and the right to unrestricted access.
To the many librarians that I’ve had the privilege to meet at ALA meetings, at local book talks and on social media, thank you.