The Most Challenged Books of 2011

The American Library Association’s annual count of the books that people most frequently tried to get removed from school libraries and classrooms is out, and of 326 reported challenges, these were the books that raised hackles most frequently:

1)ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

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

Of course we’ve got the old favorites in there. We’ll probably know we’re a healthy, mature society when people stop calling for To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most well-rounded, humane explorations of racism that exists, stops getting challenged. Brave New World‘s an illustration of how anxiously people can react to science fiction, in part because of discomfort it inspires about what the world might end up looking like. And calls to get Sherman Alexie out of classrooms always strike me as inspired by the same sentiments that suggest Bully might not be appropriate for teenagers—we have to protect children in fiction what other children and the world at large inflict on them in real life.

Of the more recent additions, some of the rationales for challenges are amusing. The challenges to The Hunger Games, for example, suggest that the series is “Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence.” Almost all of those allegations are significant misreadings of the novel, which makes pretty clear that it would be delightful for its main characters to grow up in a world with an economy that allowed all parents to support their children without taking on extremely dangerous work, or people weren’t divided into districts that restricted their social and economic brutality. And I’d actually love to know what challengers interpreted as occult or satanist sentiments in the book, which depicts a world in which any form of religious belief is actually conspicuously absent.

I’d also suspect that Lauren Myracle’s Internet Girls series, Sonya Sones’ What My Mother Doesn’t Know (which is one of the most challenged books of the last decade) and the Gossip Girl books are challenged not just for their content, but because of what they suggest about how the Internet has changed children’s and young adult’s lives. If I were a parent, I might be anxious about the possibility that my child’s life was essentially unmonitorable, and that there was a whole frontier beyond the real world where they could get into trouble (and as someone who grew up in the beginning of that era, I know what I’m in for). Removing one source of inspiration may delay a discovery, but there’s no way to prevent it completely. Kids will poke around and get themselves in trouble online whether or not they’re inspired to start trashy gossip blogs or pick screen names that will haunt them in adulthood. Open channels of communication, whether it’s on books, or on bullying, will probably prove more effective in the long run than panics about individual books.