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Why These English Class Staples Are Also Some of the Country's Most Banned Books
Have you ever read a book by Toni Morrison, one of Oprah's favorite authors? Or escaped into YA classics like The Hunger Games and Gossip Girl, or romances like 50 Shades of Grey? Did you dutifully read staples of high school curricula, like The Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men?
Well, all of those books—and many more—made the American Library Association's (ALA) list of the top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books between 2010-2019. "Banned books" refers to works that have been removed from the shelf of a library or a school, thus restricting students' access, per the ALA. A challenged book is one that members of a school district—including parents, students, board members, teachers, librarians, or board members—think should be removed from a curriculum or library, but has not been. According to the ALA, parents challenge books more than any other group. "Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information," the ALA website explains. Most challenges do not result in the book being banned from a district by a school board.
What compels someone to challenge a book? "They're not afraid of the book; they're afraid of the ideas," Krug, the former director of the ALA, told NPR in 2011, while speaking about The Grapes of Wrath, which was banned and burned in California after its release. "The materials that are challenged and banned say something about the human condition."
With that in mind, the list of 2020's frequently banned and challenged books display the fears, anxieties, and concerns in school districts around the country. 2020's list includes classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird, and newer reads, like the social justice-centric children's book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. (Reynolds's other book, The American Boys, also made the list.) While the genres range, books are most commonly banned or challenged for containing profanity, sexual content, nudity, violence, racism, LGBTQIA+ references, and anti-police viewpoints, to name a few categories.
Though 2021's list has yet to be published, here's a selection of the most famous banned books in the U.S. of all time.
See what the fuss is all about.