A Day in the Life of… ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books

ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books, National Library Week

By: Kristin Pekoll, Office for Intellectual Freedom Assistant Director

National Library Week is one of the biggest library holidays in our profession. This is a time when we shine a light on our biggest accomplishments to prove our value to stakeholders and users. Promotional graphics, products, hashtags and even spokespeople proclaim the theme. This year after many libraries closed due to the pandemic, ALA successfully managed a huge pivot from the theme “Find Your Place at the Library” to “Find the Library at Your Place.” Libraries even found love from Jeopardy and Seth Meyers.

The Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) collaborates with multiple ALA units to publish the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in the State of America’s Libraries report. The State of America’s Libraries report is an annual summary of library trends released during National Library Week that outlines statistics and issues affecting all types of libraries during the previous calendar year. This is when OIF releases the Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2019.

8:00 A.M. CST – The Press Release

There’s a lot of content that needs to go into this one press release. It highlights not only the Top Ten but includes sneak peeks into what is in the report like, “According to a recent Gallup poll, visiting the library is the ‘most common cultural activity Americans engage in by far.'”

After the press release goes live, ALA social media channels and emails begin to distribute the report. Twitter begins to light up with #NationalLibraryWeek tweets, and this year we added #BannedBooksList.

Now that everything is live, we need to make sure all of our webpages are updated, colors are changed, and slides are uploaded. There were more than 30,000 page views of the ALA Top Ten Most Challenged Books webpage during National Library Week. In case you’re wondering, here it is:

Of the 566 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

  1. George by Alex Gino
    Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
  2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
  3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
    Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
  4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate” 
  5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
    Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
  6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
  8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
  9. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
    Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
  10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
    Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content

Since National Library Week, the hashtag #BannedBooksList has been used on Twitter over 700 times. Check out some of the responses and observations from readers and authors or watch the video.

7:00 P.M. CST – Bedtime Story with Prince and Knight, Facebook Live

Monday was a busy day. So we were tickled to be able to end the day with such a fun bedtime story reading of one of the newest titles on the Top Ten List. On Facebook Live, author Daniel Haack and illustrator Stevie Lewis read from their book Prince & Knight, published by little bee books in partnership with GLAAD.

Expending on Trends

Not everything is captured in the Top Ten Most Challenged Books list or in the infographic and statistics. Throughout the week, Intellectual Freedom Blog writers expanded on trends observed throughout 2019.

Wednesday, 12:00 P.M. CST – Banned Books Week Theme

On Wednesday of National Library Week, the Banned Books Week Coalition hosted a live-streamed conversation on Facebook with banned author Laurie Halse Anderson about censorship attempts and the new 2020 Banned Books Week theme. At the end of the 30 minutes, the coalition shared an exclusive statement from David Levithan (author of the challenged novel Two Boys Kissing). Spoiler alert: he talks about supporting Banned Books Week and queer kids. And I really love his “Read with Pride” t-shirt.

The new theme for Banned Books Week (Sept. 27 – Oct. 3) is CENSORSHIP IS A DEAD END. FIND YOUR FREEDOM TO READ! Censorship limits exploration and creates barriers to access information. The path toward the freedom to read starts at the library. Learn more about this year’s theme in the Banned Books Week Coalition press release.

Every year we make available free digital graphics and activities (like coloring sheets, mazes, and word finds) to spotlight recent censorship attempts and promote the freedom to read! In addition, you can find new posters, bookmarks, bracelets, mugs, and t-shirts in the Banned Books Shop. I love the new colors and designs on our products.

While we traditionally offer a print Banned Books Week poster for purchase, this year we’re also offering a digital poster file bundle that comes with graphics and logos. Many libraries, universities, and schools are looking for resources they can use in their custom posters, newsletters, banners, etc., especially if you need to print multiple copies. We are excited to be able to meet that need.

“Banned Books Uncensored” Webinar Series

Beyond just releasing the Top Ten Most Challenged Books, OIF also wanted to create free professional development opportunities. The “Banned Books Uncensored” series takes a deep dive into the frequently cited reasons why books are challenged and offers front line stories and subject area experts to prepare library workers and educators for censorship attempts.

  • Health, Sex & Growing Up! features frequently challenged authors Cory Silverberg (Sex is a Funny Word) and Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer), and library directors Jackie Mills (Mt. Angel Public Library) and Buzzy Nielsen (Crook County Library) who have defended books that address health, sex, gender identity, and adolescence. 
  • LGBTQIA+ Stories and Gender Identity features GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis and banned illustrator Stevie Lewis (Prince & Knight), joined by censorship experts (Office for Intellectual Freedom Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone and associate professor Shannon Oltmann) and library directors who have defended LGBTQIA+ titles (Stephanie Beverage and Tom Taylor).

September 27, 2020

For most, the first day of Banned Books Week is just another day. But for some, it’s a time to spotlight current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas.

Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.

In 2020, Banned Books Week may look a little different. Instead of physical #BannedAuthor visits, libraries may host virtual author visits. Instead of big events, like read-outs, libraries may encourage readers with a Banned Books Challenge. (I love this idea from the Toronto Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge.) Instead of physical book displays, there may be more virtual book displays and e-book highlights on social media channels. I encourage you to think outside the box and find ways that you can champion the freedom to read in your community, in this reality.

How can OIF help you celebrate Banned Books Week? Were you surprised by the Top Ten #BannedBooksList?

Kristin Pekoll

Kristin Pekoll is the Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and is the first contact for support to librarians and educators who are experience censorship. Kristin communicates with state library associations on current book challenges and publications that deal with censorship, privacy, ethics, and internet filtering. She organizes online education and training on the freedom to read and how to navigate reconsideration requests and media relations. Kristin started her career as a youth librarian in West Bend, Wisconsin where she experienced a book challenge to over eighty YA LGBTQ books. This summer she will be publishing her first book with ALA Editions titled Beyond Banned Books: Defending Intellectual Freedom throughout Your Library. In her free time she enjoys watching the Green Bay Packers and working on jigsaw puzzles. Find her on Twitter @kpekoll.

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