Last week a bill that would let parents in Virginia prevent their kids from reading sexually explicit books in school narrowly missed becoming a law.
Censoring books seems like an antiquated act, but this near miss shows the great lengths parents will take when it comes to keeping books out of their kids’ hands.
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles an annual list of frequently challenged books. The list from 2015, which includes the Bible, Fifty Shades of Grey, and two books about the transgender experience, was released this morning.
“The overarching trend we’re seeing when books are challenged is because they depict a life that is foreign, or someone who is perceived as an outsider or an outside group,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the OIF.
Though the list relies heavily on schools and libraries’ voluntary reporting of requests for removal, Caldwell-Stone believes it provides a snapshot of the country’s concerns. She estimates her office captures about a quarter of total requests.
See the 2015 list in full:
Synopsis: The teenaged “Pudge” leaves his “safe” life for a boarding school and falls in love.
Reasons for challenge: sexually explicit, offensive language, drugs/alcohol/smoking
A lot of challenges are made to young adult (YA) novels, or those aimed at 12-to-18-year-olds, because coming-of-age stories often depict teens having sex, says Caldwell-Stone. Looking for Alaska, by the author of The Fault in Our Stars, appeared on the OIF’s 2012 and 2013 lists.
Synopsis: The first in a series of erotic BDSM novels, or those depicting bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism, about Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.
Reasons for challenge: Sexually explicit
The bestselling book made the 2012 and 2013 lists as well.
Synopsis: The book, aimed at four-to-eight-year-olds, is about Jazz, a transgender girl.
Reasons for challenge: religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group.
Based on the life of 15-year-old transgender girl Jazz Jennings, the book was challenged last November at an elementary public school in Wisconsin. Mount Horeb Primary Center canceled a reading of the book after parents threatened to sue. In December the town’s public library held its own reading in response, drawing a crowd of about 600 people.
Synopsis: A collection of interviews and photographs of six transgender and gender-neutral teens.
Reasons for challenge: religious viewpoint, sex education, homosexuality, offensive language, anti-family
Synopsis: 15-year-old Christopher is on the autism spectrum and stands accused of killing his neighbor’s poodle. He tracks down the real killer.
Reasons for challenge: offensive language, unsuited for age group, “atheism.”
A high school principal in Tallahassee, Florida removed the book from a summer assignment reading list after parents protested.
Synopsis: The cornerstone of Christian scripture
Reasons for challenge: religious viewpoint, violence, “illegal.”
“Like Huckleberry Finn, it comes around every few years,” says Caldwell-Stone. She says that in schools and libraries, the Bible is often challenged by people who believe no public funding should be spent on religious materials. In other cases, she says, in a community where a different book is being challenged for violence, a second party will respond by challenging the Bible for its violent depictions, “to make a point.”
Synopsis: An autobiographical graphic novel that follows Alison and her closeted funeral home director father.
Reasons for challenge: homosexuality, graphic images, nudity.
Last June a student from a California community college protested Bechdel’s book along with three other graphic novels she was required to read to get her degree in English, calling them “shocking.” She asked that the professor place a disclaimer on his course syllabus, but the requested was denied.
Synopsis: A graphic novel about the love between refugee child slaves Dodola and Zam.
Reasons for challenge: sexually explicit, nudity.
Graphic novels are often challenged because they’re, well, graphic. Says Caldwell-Stone, “What might pass by somebody in words won’t pass by when it’s illustrated.”
Synopsis: A children’s story about Nasreen, who lives in Afghanistan and whose grandmother secretly enrolls her in school against the policies of the Taliban.
Reasons for challenge: religious viewpoint, violences, “references to Islam.”
In July parents petitioned the Florida-based Duval County public school system to remove Nasreen’s Secret School from a supplemental reading list for third graders, but it remained on the list.
Synopsis: A novel about teenagers Harry and Craig, who are trying to beat the world record for time spent kissing.
Reasons for challenge: homosexuality, “condones public displays of affection.”
Last year the National Book Award-finalist was challenged in school libraries and classrooms, and in one instance the complaint read, “jacket considered unsuited for the community,” says Caldwell-Stone.
(Disclosure: David Levithan edited Quartz reporter Thu-Huong Ha’s latest book, Hail Caesar.)