In celebration of Banned Books Week, Clarksville Online will offer our readers articles, and Best Books lists — yes, lists — of the best in literature for both adults and children. Have you read a banned Book? We hope so!
Apart from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter phenomenon, the most challenged books of the 21st century (2000-2005) include a number of books taught as classic and “relevant” books in terms of content and history.
In celebrating Banned Books Week (September 23-30, 2006), the American Library Association (ALA) compiled the top 10 most challenged books from 2000-2005, with the Harry Potter series of books leading the pack. The 10 most challenged books of the 21st Century (2000-2005) are:
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
- Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
- “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers
- “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
- Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
- Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
- “Forever” by Judy Blume
All but three of these books also were in the top 10 of the most challenged books of the 1990s. The ALA reports there were more than 3,000 attempts to remove books from schools and public libraries between 2000 and 2005. Challenges are defined as formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.
I scan this perpetually developing list, and am continually confounded by the titles that emerge. Start with John Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize-winning Of Mice and Men. Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers in Great Depression-era California.
Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a bindle stiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns’s poem, To a Mouse, which is often quoted as: “The best-laid plans of mice and men/often go awry,” though the phrase in the original Scots of the poem is “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley.”
Required reading in many high schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for what some consider offensive and vulgar language. Yes in high school, reading this text, along with The Pearl and Cannery Row, charted a new course in reading and in the understanding of the human condition.
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a story about the pressures of living in a thoroughly racist society and how profoundly such a society shapes the character of an individual and the dynamics of a family. It is a story of how one girl strived to surmount such pressures in rural Arkansas. Her story is representative of many African-Americans in the South at that time.
One out of 5,718 challenges reported to or recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, as compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom does not claim comprehensiveness in recording challenges. Research suggests that for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five which go unreported.