What do Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, E.L. James's 50 Shades of Grey, and the middle school comic Captain Underpants all have in common? They are all on the list of most frequently challenged books of 2013. In other words, Americans have highly eclectic taste when it comes to trying to ban books. But don't worry, they're still trying to get books off of shelves because threat level: words.
The list, compiled by the American Library Association, defines a challenge as a "formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness." In other words, it's likely that most of these challenges failed, and that kids in these schools are still able to appreciate The Hunger Games and Looking for Alaska, two books that also made the list.
But the real surprise is what tops the list: Captain Underpants is now the most challenged book in America for the second year in a row. So what could this awful, profane, damaging book possibly involve to warrant that kind of backlash? Well, it's something of a mystery because it contains no nudity, no sex or sexual references, no profanity, and no violence — at least none you wouldn't find while watching Saturday morning cartoons. And yet the three most common reasons the book is challenge, according to the ALA, are "offensive language," "unsuited for age group," and "violence."
Maybe I'm remembering very different Captain Underpants books, but I'm pretty sure none of those are correct. Unless someone can think of a book more suited for kids than one about two boys who accidentally give their unwitting, uptight principal a superhero alter ego that runs around in his underwear. 'Cause I'm at a loss.
And Captain Underpants is not alone in being frequently challenged. All of the books on this list receive frequent complaints from parents and concerned parties.
Which is crazy, since more or less the only book on this list I could maybe reasonably agree with challenging would be 50 Shades of Grey in cases where younger kids could find it. Because it's not just the fact that there's tons of sex but because it would be a super unhealthy introduction to sex since it's essentially a book about an abusive relationship. But still, I'm pretty much never a fan of banning books, even books I disagree with or don't like.
And then there are some books on this list that I'm like, You have got to be kidding me. We're still trying to ban Toni Morrison? Really, guys? She has a Nobel Prize for Literature. You think your child wouldn't benefit from reading a Nobel Prize-winner? Really?
The full list, in all its baffling glory is here, along with the reasons behind the challenges that make these our country's most challenged books. In other words, we should all make this our reading list, ASAP.
1. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
4. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
7. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
9. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence