Banned Books Week: Celebrating 30 Years of Liberating Literature

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, the national book community’s celebration of the freedom to read. To commemorate this landmark anniversary, we are pleased to share this collection of significant banned and challenged books. For each year from 1982 to 2012, we have highlighted one book banned or challenged in that particular year. In most cases, these books faced significant controversy that spanned numerous years. The timeline presents only a sample of particularly notable challenges to particularly notable books during this period. All information sourced from the 2010 Banned Books Week resource guide, Banned Books: Celebrating Our Freedom to Read, edited by Robert P. Doyle (ALA, 2010); the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom; and additional content supplied by Angela Maycock, Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

For more information about Banned Books Week, please visit ala.org/bbooks

The Satanic Verses, By Salman Rushdie

Published in 1988, “The Satanic Verses” sparked worldwide controversy for its religious content and alleged blasphemy. The novel was banned in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Qatar, Indonesia, South Africa, and India in 1989 because of its criticism of Islam. Sales of the book were restricted or criminalized in Venezuela, Japan, Bulgaria, and Poland. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or religious edict, stating, “I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of ‘The Satanic Verses,’ which is against Islam, the prophet, and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, have been sentenced to death.” In the U.S., the novel was also challenged at the Wichita, KS Public Library in 1989 as “blasphemous to the prophet Mohammed.”

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson

Paterson’s novel for young people was challenged in 1986 as recommended reading for 6th grade students in the Lincoln, NE schools. Parents objected to the book’s “profanity” including the phrase “Oh, Lord” and use of “Lord” used as an expletive. “Bridge to Terabithia” won the Newbery Award for children’s literature in 1978. It tells the story of two 5th graders’ creation of a magical world far removed from their daily lives, and details the joys and sorrows of childhood, particularly the power of friendship and imagination.

And Tango Makes Three

“And Tango Makes Three” is a picture book based on a true story of two male penguins that adopted an egg at New York City’s Central Park Zoo in the late 1990s. In 2006, it was moved from the children’s fiction section to children’s nonfiction at two Rolling Hill’s Consolidated Library branches in Savannah and St. Joseph, MO, after parents complained it had homosexual undertones. It was also challenged at the Shiloh, IL Elementary School library, where a committee of school employees and a parent suggested the book be moved to a separate shelf, requiring parent permission before checkout. The school’s superintendent, however, rejected the proposal and the book remained on open library shelves. “Tango” ranked as ALA’s most frequently challenged book for a record four years in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010.

It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris

“It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” was published in 1994 and has faced intense criticism for its frank discussions and illustrations of the changes young people experience during puberty. In 2005, it was challenged but retained at the Holt Middle School parent library in Fayetteville, AR, despite a parent’s complaint that it was sexually explicit. It also topped ALA’s list of frequently challenged books in 2005. Two years later, the book would make national news when a woman objecting to its content in Lewiston, ME checked out copies of the book and refused to return them, prompting such headlines as, “Grandma Refuses to Return Library Book, Could Face Jail Time.”

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

In 1993, “Go Ask Alice” was removed from the Wall Township, NJ Intermediate School library by the Superintendent of Schools because the book contains “inappropriate” language and “borders on pornography.” Responding to an anonymous letter, the superintendent ordered the book removed from all reading lists and classroom book collections. It was also removed from an English class at Buckhannon Upshur (WV) High School because of graphic language in the book. At the Johnstown, NY High School, “Go Ask Alice” was challenged as a required reading assignment because of numerous obscenities. Published in 1971, the book is presented as the diary of a teenage girl and details her troubled life, particularly emphasizing the reality and perils of teen drug addiction.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Since its publication in 1884, “Huck Finn” has been the subject of intense criticism and also acclaim. Initially dismissed by some for its “coarse” vernacular language, the book faced new objections in the twentieth century to its racial language and themes. In May 1996, a class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, alleging that the district deprived minority students of educational opportunities by requiring racially offensive literature (including “Huck Finn”) as part of class assignments. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating he realized that “language in the novel was offensive and hurtful to the plaintiff,” but that the suit failed to prove the district violated students’ civil rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that requiring students to read literary works that some find racially offensive is not discrimination prohibited by the equal protection clause or Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Montecito v. Tempe Union High School District). Today, “Huck Finn” remains a classic contribution to American literature and is often ranked among the truly great American novels.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Published in 1937, “Of Mice and Men” was the target of numerous complaints in 1991. The novella was challenged as curriculum material at the Ringgold High School in Carroll Township, PA because it contains terminology offensive to blacks. It was deemed “indecent,” removed, and later returned to the Suwannee, FL High School library. At the Jacksboro, TN High School, it was challenged for containing “blasphemous” language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones. The book was also challenged as required reading in the Buckingham County, VA schools that year because of profanity. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 and “Of Mice and Men” is one of his most widely-known and acclaimed works.

Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Published in 1951 as a novel for adults, “Catcher in the Rye” gained popularity with young adult readers for its consideration of teenage disillusionment and rebellion. Controversy around the book – particularly its vulgar or “blasphemous” language, sexual content, and references to alcohol and cigarettes – began soon after its publication and has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2001, “Catcher in the Rye” was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in Summerville, SC who believed it to be “a filthy, filthy book.” The same year, it was challenged by a Glynn County, GA school board member because of profanity, but was retained. “Catcher in the Rye” remains a classic of American literature and is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the 20th century.

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

In 1982, a sharply divided Supreme Court found that students’ First Amendment rights were violated when Slaughterhouse-Five and 8 other titles were removed from junior and senior high school libraries. The Island Trees (NY) School District School Board removed the books in 1976 because they were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.” In Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, the Court found that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Vonnegut’s satirical novel, published in 1969, considers themes of war and human nature, and is widely regarded as his most influential work.

Forever, by Judy Blume

In 1987, “Forever” was challenged at the Moreno Valley, CA Unified School District libraries for “profanity, sexual situations, and themes that allegedly encourage disrespectful behavior.” It was challenged in the same year at the Marshwood Junior High School classroom library in Eliot, ME because the book “does not paint a responsible role of parents;” its “cast of sex minded teenagers is not typical of high schoolers today;” and because the “pornographic sexual exploits (in the book) are unsuitable for junior high school role models.” Blume’s 1975 novel offers a frank consideration of teenage relationships and sexuality that was unprecedented for its time. Beyond the significant controversy over “Forever,” Blume became a frequently challenged author for her many works exploring difficult subjects – including menstruation, bullying, and divorce – that face young adults.

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