Next year I will be part of a panel on censorship in children’s literature, so I decided now would be a good time to read everything I can on the subject. I’m sure I was invited to participate because I am an attorney (liberal!) who is Catholic (conservative!) working as a librarian (screwed!). They have no idea what to expect. I do. I expect I won’t have a word to say until three days after the fact, alone, probably in the shower. Then, and only then, will the witticisms, quips, and profound statements issue forth.

I’m in the research phase and still trying to figure out where exactly I stand on the issue. (Short answer: generally opposed to censorship, especially in high school; no middle school library needs erotica.) Funny enough, there are very few books on censorship in children’s literature. I bought this one and this one, but can’t find an opposing viewpoint.

While I read up on not-reading, here’s a list of the top ten frequently challenged books of 2015 according to The American Library Association. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (book club), did not make the list, though a Tennessee mom did give it her all. Bless her heart.

Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2015

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Join the List


  1. Ha! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the GCSE set texts in the UK 🙂

    I’m undecided about censorship for children. I believe children should have access to writing that challenges them and their beliefs but when it comes to my children for the most part a little voice inside is shouting “Not yet!”
    I guess the answer, as usual, is somewhere in the middle (When my then-14 year old came home with a book that her friend had recommended we did discuss it and she wasn’t allowed to read it. Fifty Shades of Grey. And she thankfully- finally- is no longer friends with that girl, for more reasons than poor taste in literature.)

    I haven’t commented yet, but it’s good to have you back. And, I have the only child in her WHOLE school who doesn’t have a phone 🙂

  2. I’m an early childhood school librarian and I’m convinced I censor books every time I purchase new titles. All librarians have to make decisions about what comes into their libraries and with little ones at a Lutheran school I’m especially sensitive (especially since I, myself, am a heathen and don’t want to be accused of witchcraft). However there are always people who object to books that don’t fit into their personal comfort zone. I once had a parent of a 4 year old who was upset because he had borrowed a book in which a character was an orphan and she had to explain to him what that meant. She had hoped to shelter him a bit longer and wanted me to remove the book from the library. If I had to get rid of every book with an orphan character, a good chunk of my books would have to go, most of them traditional fairy tales.

    I like Dav Pilkey’s take on it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eA6_yp2CvlU). It ultimately comes down to nuance and family preferences. There are a lot of obvious titles that aren’t appropriate for certain ages. But as kids get older the lines of what is OK and what isn’t are a lot more blurry and subtle and it needs to be a family discussion. Censoring a book for everyone is a very extreme step that sets a dangerous precedent.

    So glad you’re back here!

  3. I do not like the idea of putting books on a censored list. I think putting anything on a banned list gives it an allure that, most likely, it does not deserve.

    No library can have all titles, so guidelines on what to look for, as opposed to what to be against, would always be my goal.

  4. I understand where you are coming from. As a librarian, this issue is a very fine balancing act. For a Catholic school library, it’s a little easier to not buy a book that might not be appropriate for your students. You tend to work with a much smaller budget and you just can’t buy every new book out there. A public library is a totally different kettle of fish.
    I have to say, it’s nice to see that Harry Potter is off of the list, FINALLY! What I learned through my MLS courses is that in a number of cases, people request a book’s removal without actually having read the book in question. They have jumped on the “This book is bad,” bandwagon.
    As a parent, you have to be vigilant. Both of my kids have come home from school wanting to read a book that someone read. If I wasn’t sure about the book, I read it first, then gave them a yes or not yet answer. I have never said no to a book. When it comes to kids, that just makes them want to read it even more. Actually, that’s probably true of adults too. Telling them they need to be older to read the book gives them something to look forward to and doesn’t give it the shine of the forbidden. So far, this seems to work.

  5. I’ll be interested to hear (read?) where your thoughts go on this. As others have said, while they are traditionally great champions of free speech and anti-censorship, librarians censor primarily in their selections. You just can’t buy everything, so it’s important to have criteria to make those difficult decisions. There’s always a line to walk when you think about your community and what’s appropriate vs. promoting genuinely good books with challenging themes. As a MS teacher now I see it in my book selections (and how I judge others). As far as I’m concerned, the majority of my 8th graders don’t need sexual content, so I don’t pick books for whole-class reading that have that content. Period. I will put quality “questionable” books on my optional reading lists, though, because then it’s their choice and can be made with parent involvement.
    You’ve probably already found this, but Judy Blume is phenomenal on censorship. If you’re having trouble finding library specific resources I would contact your nearest library (or information) school for assistance. You might be able to talk to a professor or get some recommended reading.

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