Author Lauren Myracle’s young adult series ttyl has topped the American Library Association’s (ALA) Top Ten list of the Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2009. A “challenge” is a formal, written complaint to a library or school, “requesting that materials be removed or restricted because of content or appropriateness.”
Ttyl gives us a look at the lives of three high-school sophomore girls through the instant messages they send to each other. Reasons given for its challenges were Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, and Drugs.
You may remember Myracle from her clash with publisher scholastic last fall, when the book giant decided to remove her young adult novel Luv Ya Bunches from its book fairs because one of the main characters has lesbian moms. Thousands of people, led by Change.org members, came to Myracle’s defense.
Dropping from the top position to number two this year is And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, a picture book based on the true story of two male penguins who raise a chick together.
Two other books on the list were challenged for “homosexual” content, among other reasons. Number three is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, a coming-of-age story in which the protagonist has two gay friends. Number seven is My Sister’s Keeper: A Novel by Jodi Picoult, which explores issues of genetic planning and medical ethics. One of the characters has a lesbian sister.
Also in the Top 10, though not because of homosexual content, were the Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyer; The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler; The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier; and classics To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger; and The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.
In 2009, the ALA received 460 reports of challenged books, but estimates that they reflect only 20-25% of the challenges that actually occur.
The ALA this year also released a new list of the top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the Decade (2000 – 2009). Number one? The Harry Potter series, challenged for various issues including “occult/Satanism” and “anti-family” themes. And Tango Makes Three is number four, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is number 10; other books on the list because of “homosexual” content include picture book King and King, by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, and young adult novel Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez.
Not on either list this year, but a previous Top 10 member, was Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen, a picture book that explores a young, anthropomorphic guinea pig’s concern that her favorite uncle won’t have time to play with her after he gets married. The fact that he is marrying his boyfriend is incidental—though very much on the minds of those who have challenged it.
I mention it here not only because it is a charming book, but because the first two challenges to Uncle Bobby, back in mid-2008, engendered two thorough, considered, and incisive responses from library director James LaRue. (About which more in my earlier piece here.) Among the many points he made (and I urge you to read his first and second posts in full) is that while the patron may have felt the book was inappropriate for her children, other patrons, including gay parents and parents of gay children, may seek it out. “In short,” he wrote, “most of the books we have are designed not to interfere with parents’ notions of how to raise their children, but to support them. But not every parent is looking for the same thing.”
Some may feel it is their parental responsibility to ask libraries to remove or reshelve books they feel have inappropriate content. As a parent, I am very sensitive about the books my son reads. There are certainly some I feel are inappropriate, at least at his current age. It is one of my tasks as a parent to screen them for him, however, or to take the time to discuss them with him should he encounter them anyway. To ask the library or the government to be responsible for such screening would be to shirk my parental responsibilities, not to uphold them.
The ALA list shows, however, that many are still learning this lesson.
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