Banned Books Week: 10 Books That Keep Censors Jumping

PHOTO: It's banned books week.
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For 30 years now, the sponsors of Banned Books Week have united in defense of literature that others deem offensive, insensitive, anti-family, satanic, sexually explicit or racist, or all of the above.

Many of the titles occupy library and school bookshelves across the country with hardly a ripple, which lightens the load for anti-censorship advocates such as the Chicago-based American Library Association.

But one reader's treasured classic is another's source of agita, or even outrage.

Here are some of the most challenged (and sometimes banned) books in the United States that can still draw the ire of critics who see them as a corrupting force with little social value, especially when the perceived innocence of children is a stake.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," a novel by Mark Twain, first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885.
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'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' (1884)

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer have been around for 128 years, but the Mark Twain novel still incites as much outrage as any, written in its vernacular language with frequent use of the "N-word" (more than 200 times). That, alone, is why some U.S. school districts have banned the American classic.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "And Tango Makes Three," a 2005 children's book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, and illustrated by Henry Cole.
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'And Tango Makes Three' (2005)

Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson's children's book, based on a true story, is about a couple of male penguins who hatch an egg together. It made the top spot in the American Library Association's top 10 challenged books for 2010, apparently surviving most of them. A Lodi, Calif., resident denounced the book in 2007 for its "homosexual story line that has been sugarcoated with cute penguins," according to the 2010 "Banned Books Resource Guide" by Robert Doyle. Officials put it back in general circulation in 16 elementary school libraries in Loudon County, Va., in 2008 after removing it because of a complaint about its subject matter, the Resource Guide says. But officials moved it from the children's fiction section to children's nonfiction in 2006 at two Rolling Hills Consolidated Library branches in Savannah and St. Joseph, Mo., according to the guide.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first novel in the Harry Potter series, written by J. K. Rowling.
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'Harry Potter' (1997-2007)

Five installments of the seven "Potter" fantasy novels have attracted particular scorn, with the "Chamber of Secrets (1998)," for instance, removed from Bridgeport Township, Mich., public schools in 2000 for "promoting witchcraft," according to the Banned Books Resource Guide. The same book was limited that year to fifth- through 8th-graders who had written parental permission in the Zeeland, Mich., schools, the Resource Guide notes, adding that teachers couldn't read aloud from the books in class.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "The Chocolate War," a young adult novel by Robert Cormier, published in 1974.
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'The Chocolate War' (1974)

Robert Cormier's young-adult novel about the hierarchy of a Catholic private school topped the American Library Association's 2004 list of challenged books, cited for its "offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence."

It was banned from the Stroudsburg, Pa., high school library in 1985 after being viewed as "blatantly graphic, pornographic and wholly unacceptable for a high school library," according to the Banned Books Resource Guide.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "The Catcher in the Rye," a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger.
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'Catcher in the Rye' (1951)

J.D. Salinger's coming-of-age novel is considered one of the 20th century's greatest, but it also continues to fall on and off yearly lists of the most censored books in U.S. high schools and libraries mostly because of rebellious protagonist Holden Caulfield's fondness for vulgarities and sexual references.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," the 1969 autobiography about the early years of African-American writer and poet Maya Angelou's life.
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'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' (1969)

Four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 called for the rejection of Maya Angelou's autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," because it preaches "bitterness and hatred toward white people and encourages deviant behavior because of references to lesbianism, premarital sex and profanity," according to the American Library Association.

Thirteen years later, however, according to "Banned in the U.S.A." by Herbert Foerstel, East Lawrence High School in Moulton, Ala., not only denied a parent's request to ban the book but said it should be required reading for high school honors classes, among others.

But the Board of Education in Union Township, Ohio, banned the book from the district's high school reading list in 1997 because of its sexual content, which includes Angelou's account of being raped as an 8-year-old.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health," written by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.
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'It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health' (1994)

Robie Harris wrote this award-winning book for children going through puberty, but the Fort Bend County Libraries in Richmond, Texas, for instance, moved it from the young-adult to the adult section in 2003, according to Robert Doyle's "Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read." The book appears to have survived many challenges, although Anchorage, Alaska, required parental permission in 2001 for elementary school pupils because of the book's "value statements" and because "marriage is mentioned once in the whole book, while homosexual relationships are allocated an entire section," according to "Banned Books."

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "Of Mice and Men," a novel written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.
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'Of Mice and Men' (1937)

Many schools require students to read John Steinbeck's novella about migrant ranch workers, but others have been less accommodating, as in the case of a Pennsylvania high school that challenged the book because it contains "terminology offensive to blacks," according to the American Library Association. Officials removed "Of Mice and Men" from the Suwannee (Fla.) High School library in 1991 after calling it "indecent," but later returned it, the association notes.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "To Kill a Mockingbird," a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960.
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'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1960)

Author Harper Lee's take on racial injustice, mixed with rape, has proven to be a combustible combination for communities such as Moss Point, Miss., and Santa Cruz, Calif., where critics challenged the book in 1995 because of its racial themes, according to the American Library Association.

And the Southwood High School library in Caddo Parish, La., removed it that same year after objecting to its language and content, the association said.

Banned Books Week

PHOTO: "The Grooming of Alice," by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
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'The Grooming of Alice' (2000)

The Alice Series of books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor numbers about two dozen and a fair share of them have been challenged at one point or another. This one, in which Alice and her friends aim for the perfect bodies by ninth grade, was banned from the Webb City, Mo., school library in 2002 because it "promotes homosexuality" and discusses issues "best left to parents," according to the American Library Association.

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