American classics among most ‘challenged’ books of the decade in US

Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird among works protesters have tried to get removed from schools and libraries

Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Harper Lee might be three of America’s most beloved authors, but they have all made it on to a list of the country’s 100 most frequently banned and challenged books of the last decade.

Marking the start of Banned Books Week, the American Libraries Association (ALA) has reviewed all of the censorship reports it has received over the last 10 years to come up with the 100 books that readers and parents have most frequently tried to have removed from libraries and schools in the US.

The list is topped by Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which won the Native American author the National Book Award in 2007. About a boy who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school, Alexie’s young adult novel has been attacked for reasons including “sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint”.

EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey series, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series and Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s picture book about two male penguins raising a chick together, And Tango Makes Three, also make the top 10.

Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is in 15th place, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men 28th, and Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 33rd. Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel was challenged over the violence it contains and its use of the N-word; Of Mice and Men drew protests over “offensive language, racism [and] violence”, and Twain’s story has long been criticised over its use of racial slurs.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is in 31st place. The acclaimed graphic memoir about the author’s coming out has recently been removed from a Nevada high school’s reading list, with free-speech organisations currently calling for it to be reinstated.

The ALA said that the list included books challenged for reasons such as LGBTQ+ content, sexual references, religious viewpoints, content that addresses racism and police brutality, and profanity.

“Although the reasons differ, the censorship of literature in libraries shares a common result: the violation of our first amendment rights,” said the organisation, whose Office for Intellectual Freedom has been documenting attempts to ban books in libraries and schools for the last 30 years. The OIF estimates that about 82-97% of challenges remain unreported, meaning the list only provides a “snapshot” of book challenges.

Banned Books Week was launched in the US in 1982, with libraries and bookshops holding a series of events celebrating the right to read – mostly virtually this year – over the next seven days. Events are also being held in the UK, from a British Library discussion featuring authors including Elif Shafak and Jacqueline Woodson taking on “what ‘freedom’ means in the culture of traditional publishing, and how writers today can change the future of literature”, to a Royal Society of Literature look at whose voices are still being censored today.

The ALA’s top 20 most-challenged books of the decade

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

  2. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green

  5. George by Alex Gino

  6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

  8. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

  9. Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle

  10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

  12. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  13. I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel

  14. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

  15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  16. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith

  17. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

  18. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

  19. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss

  20. Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sharp rise in parents seeking to ban anti-racist books in US schools
The American Library Association’s annual Top 10 ‘most challenged’ books is usually dominated by LGBTQ+ reading, but 2020 registered other anxieties

Alison Flood

06, Apr, 2021 @12:01 PM

Article image
To Kill a Mockingbird removed from Virginia schools for racist language
Accomack County has suspended Harper Lee’s novel, as well as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from classrooms and libraries after parent’s complaint

Danuta Kean

05, Dec, 2016 @1:07 PM

Article image
Virginia teachers may have to warn parents of any 'sexually explicit' reading
Free speech groups have expressed alarm at proposal that ‘risks reducing a book to something that is a mere decontextualised fragment’

Danuta Kean

04, Jan, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
Virginia rejects attempt to make schools warn parents of 'explicit' books
State’s board of education throws out measure that would have required warnings to be issued of ‘sexual content’ in texts such as Romeo and Juliet

Danuta Kean

30, Jan, 2017 @3:48 PM

Article image
American Library Association releases its 10 most challenged books of 2013

As a fresh controversy arises in Delaware over whether parents should censor school reading lists, Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants series tops the list of books which received the most complaints

Alison Flood

14, Apr, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Bible makes most challenged books list in US for first time
American Library Association’s annual list of frequently challenged books places Bible alongside transgender picture book and erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey

Alison Flood

12, Apr, 2016 @10:25 AM

Article image
'Hurtful' Harper Lee and Mark Twain dropped from Minnesota curriculum
To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn to be dropped from Duluth area classes because of ‘uncomfortable atmosphere’ their use of racial slurs creates

Alison Flood

12, Feb, 2018 @10:33 AM

Article image
Brave New World among top 10 books Americans most want banned

Huxley's vision of a totalitarian future comes third on American Library Association's list of 2010's 'most challenged' books

Alison Flood

12, Apr, 2011 @2:44 PM

Article image
Thirteen Reasons Why tops most challenged books list, amid rising complaints to US libraries
The American Library Association has recorded an increase in ‘direct attacks on the freedom to read’, made by parents objecting to sex, profanity and LGBT characters in YA and children’s books

Alison Flood

11, Apr, 2018 @7:23 AM

Article image
Florida lifts library ban on Fifty Shades of Grey
EL James's bestselling erotic novel is returning to library shelves in Brevard County after public outcry over its ban

Alison Flood

29, May, 2012 @10:40 AM