Last week was the 25th anniversary of “Banned Books Week,” and to mark the occasion, the American Library Association announced the top 10 most challenged books from 2000 to 2005:
1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
2. “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
3. The Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
4. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
5. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
6. “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers
7. “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris
8. The Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
9. The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
10. “Forever” by Judy Blume
Challenges are defined as formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. William Zieske, an expert on the First Amendment, said book challenges tend to highlight the most polarizing issues in America.
“The scope of reasons for book challenges underscores basic principles Americans simply cannot agree upon. Book challenges are rarely brought based upon political issues but rather on more personal, visceral issues like sexual language and obscenity,” said Zieske, a Chicago-based lawyer.
Zieske acknowledged that book banning at libraries does not destroy the First Amendment rights of patrons, but he said that “limiting free access reduces the level of free expression and has a chilling effect on individual freedom.”
The First Amendment does not guarantee the right to read whatever one chooses, Zieske said, but the Supreme Court has ruled that public school libraries should be afforded greater protection from book bans than classrooms, because libraries represent areas of “voluntary inquiry.”
The most challenged books of the 21st century do not share a common reason for being targeted. Each book has been challenged for particular content, including racial and sexual language and witchcraft. None of the books has been formally challenged on the basis of political beliefs.