What do Toni Morrison and a baby penguin named Tango have in common? Both ended up on the American Library Association's list of frequently challenged books yet again.
The ALA released its annual list last week, and it's not the first time many of the top titles have been in the crosshairs. Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" took the No. 1 spot this year, but the young adult novel has been in the top five every year since 2010. "And Tango Makes Three," the true story of a baby penguin raised by two male penguins, made its seventh straight appearance on the list.
To compile the list, the ALA counts the number of challenges filed against each title. A challenge is defined as "a formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness." Most of the complaints cite offensive language, sexually explicit content, drug and alcohol use or references to homosexuality.
The 2014 Top 10 List of Frequently Challenged Books
1) "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: "depictions of bullying."
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2) "Persepolis," by Marjane Satrapi Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: "politically, racially, and socially offensive," "graphic depictions."
3) "And Tango Makes Three," Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: "promotes the homosexual agenda."
4) "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: "contains controversial issues."
5) "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie Harris Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: "alleges it child pornography."
6) "Saga," by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
7) "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
8) "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: "date rape and masturbation."
9) "A Stolen Life," Jaycee Dugard Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
10) "Drama," by Raina Telgemeier Reasons: Sexually explicit.
There's another trend at work here, however, which the ALA called out directly. Its analysis of recent book challenges shows that "books by authors of color and books with themes about issues concerning communities of color are disproportionately challenged and banned."
A 2014 analysis by Diversity in YA echoed this: Minority authors appear on the challenged booklist at disproportionately high rates.
Diversity in YA also found that not only are diverse authors challenged more frequently, but any books that even address diversity, regardless of the authors' identities, are challenged. They found that of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 2000 to 2009, more than half "addressed issues about race, sexuality and/or disability; or were about non-white, LGBTQ and/or disabled characters."
"If you look at the list, you'll see that a lot of the books are of alternate identities: minorities, disabilities, sexualities. It's anybody outside the mainstream," Alexie told KUOW. Alexie's frequently challenged book centers on a young boy who transfers from his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to an all-white school.
For his part, Alexie has a sense of humor about the dubious honor of being the most-challenged author: He reminisced about the year his book was passed on the list by Dav Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" series. "They're afraid of underpants," Alexie said, referring to those who have filed complaints.
Alexie also thinks the Internet makes banning book a futile exercise. Children have access to more information, with less supervision, than ever.
"If your kid has an iPhone or an Android, and you're trying to ban books," Alexie said, "You're completing missing the target."