Most Challenged Books 2016 - ALA: Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association

Click for larger image. ALA: Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association,

The top five books in the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) annual list of the most challenged books in the U.S. are there because of their LGBTQ content, among other reasons.

“Each book was threatened with removal from spaces where diverse ideas and perspectives should be welcomed,” explained the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

The list, released as part of the ALA’s annual State of America’s Libraries Report during National Library Week, includes the top 10 most challenged books of 2016. “Challenges” are documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, calculated from censorship reports submitted through the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) as well as media mentions of challenges. On average, OIF finds that 10 percent of challenges result in the removal of the book.

Here are the top five, as described by the ALA:

  1. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. This young adult graphic novel, winner of both a Printz and a Caldecott Honor Award, was restricted, relocated, and banned because it includes LGBT characters, drug use, and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes. [Also check out the author’s Saving Montgomery Sole,about a small-town teen with two moms. —DR]
  2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier. Parents, librarians, and administrators banned this Stonewall Honor Award-winning graphic novel for young adults because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint.
  3. George written by Alex Gino. Despite winning a Stonewall Award and a Lambda Literary Award, administrators removed this children’s novel because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”
  4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.
  5. Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan. Included on the National Book Award longlist and designated a Stonewall Honor Book, this young adult novel was challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content.

The Top Ten list is not a complete, national roundup of all challenges, since not all of them are reported or covered by the media. As the ALA noted last year, however, “Our goal is not to focus on the numbers, but to educate the masses that attempts to ban books is happening within our country, and the themes that are suggested by those challenges.”

Themes that stood out for the OIF this year include the continued challenges to LGBT material and the rise in challenges to “sexually explicit” content. The latter, they speculate, “suggests that parents are transitioning from ‘helicopter parents’ to ‘Velcro parents’”—increasingly overprotective and clingy. “These are the parents who cannot accept the idea that a 17-year-old Advanced English student is reading a book in which there is a frank discussion of sex, or of racism.” Parents, they tell us, are the largest single category of persons initiating challenges, comprising 42 percent of all challenges.

Sigh. As I’ve said before, it’s one thing to want to restrict what your own kids read (rightly or wrongly), but quite another to try and prevent other people’s kids from reading something. And nothing beats sitting down and talking with your kids, even about issues that may be difficult for you. The Internet is full of wonderful resources that can help—and librarians can often recommend materials in person.

And if you need even more reason to love librarians, here’s what the ALA said in announcing this year’s State of America’s Libraries Report:

The term “fake news” is recent, but the skills needed to evaluate information are not. Librarians provide users with expertise and the training needed to evaluate the quality of information in all formats….

Libraries of all types play a vital role in supporting early childhood literacy, computer training and workforce development. In addition, they provide a safe place for everyone, reflecting and serving the diversity of their communities in their collections, programs and services.

The report documents the library community’s proactive support of its core values, which include equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as its response to actions of the new administration that threaten to undermine the nation’s progress towards cultural unity.

Watch this video that takes a deeper look at censorship and the power of words and ideas.

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