Tag: challenges

Banned Books Week: Handling Challenges

Unfortunately, some community members might object to certain books being available. It is important to manage those objections with professionalism, respect, and dedication to the mission of serving your community. Here are some useful tips.

Be Prepared

Specific written policies about collection development and challenge management are essential for libraries, educators, and theaters, and they’re also a good idea for retailers. Having a policy is just the first step — be sure to train all current and new staff in your policies and procedures and have periodic refresher sessions to ensure everyone on your team is on the same page. It may also be a good idea to post the policy somewhere where patrons can access it, either on a bulletin board or your institution’s website. Regularly update your policies as you gain experience, encounter new obstacles, or embrace new technology.

In addition to policies, some advance preparation can help prevent challenges to books, comics, and plays. Work with your staff to develop talking points for specific issues that you might encounter.

Remember Your Community

Libraries and schools have a broad mandate to provide choice for all of the individuals in their community. That means that they provide access to ideas and information across the spectrum of political and social views. Retail stores and theaters can be more specialized in their mission, but they also serve a wide range of patrons. When confronting a complaint, it is important to emphasize this inclusive approach and remind people that they are free to make decisions for themselves and their minor children, but they can’t do so for others.

Serving the broader community doesn’t mean that staff at libraries and bookstores are substitute parents or guardians. Communicating with parents and providing expert knowledge to help them and their children make choices is a best practice, but parents need to understand that the final decision about their kids’ reading is their own.

Keep It Friendly

When someone comes to you with a complaint or challenge, be polite, professional, and friendly even if the individual making the complaint is upset or angry. We may disagree with the person making the challenge, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore or discount the concerns expressed. Here are a few best practices for these difficult situations:

  • Greet each person with a smile. Communicate your openness to inquiries and concerns, and show that you take them seriously.
  • Listen more than you talk. Take time to comprehend and acknowledge the individual’s concern. Stay calm and courteous.
  • Avoid sharing personal opinions. Instead, be prepared to present facts, policy, and other background materials in writing.
  • Give a clear, non-intimidating explanation of the procedure for registering a complaint or challenge, and provide information on when a decision can be expected.
Enlist Experts

You don’t need to go it alone! Contact the member organizations of the Banned Books Week Coalition, whose expert staff can help you manage the situation with proactive resources, one-on-one advice, letters of support, and more. Even if you’ve already resolved the situation, reporting the challenge will help advocates develop tools to assist other people in your situation.

Follow Policies

Strong policies, good training, and adherence to your procedures are vital to creating the best outcome in challenge situations. People challenging content are generally well-intentioned, and they have a right to be heard. Having policies that allow you to hear their complaints and consider them objectively helps maintain a respectful approach to ensuring your institution serves the needs of everyone in your community in the best way possible — but those policies aren’t much use if you don’t stick to them!

Report Censorship!

The members of the Banned Books Week Coalition are ready to help fight challenges in your community, but we need to hear about them first! The best way to fight censorship is to call it out when it occurs. Several members of the Coalition have ways to report censorship, and they work collectively to ensure your rights:

  • Report censorship to the American Library Association using this form. ALA also has a number of challenge support tools here.
  • Report censorship to the National Coalition Against Censorship by completing this form.
  • Report censorship to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund by calling 1-888-88-CBLDF or 971-266-8212 or emailing info@cbldf.org
  • Report censorship to the National Council of Teachers of English using this form or by emailing intellectualfreedom@ncte.org
  • Report censorship at colleges and universities to FIRE at www.thefire.org/resources/submit-a-case/

10 Reasons Books Are Challenged and Banned

Books and plays are challenged for any number of reasons. Let’s take a look at ten of those reasons and the books on ALA’s Top Ten Challenged Books list for 2017 and previous years that were attacked for these reasons…

LGBTQ Content

In 2017, several books were challenged because of LGBTQ content. Drama, a bestselling young adult graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier was challenged for the inclusion of LGBTQ characters. Alex Gino’s award-winning middle grades book George and Jazz Jenning’s autobiographical picture book I Am Jazz were both attacked because of their transgender main characters. And Tango Makes Three, a children’s picture book based on the real-life story of two male penguins that raise a chick together, was challenged for featuring a same-sex relationship.

Other books challenged for LGBTQ content:

Sexually Explicit

In 2017, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was challenged for being sexually explicit.

The following books have also been challenged or banned for being sexually explicit:

  • This One Summer
  • Drama
  • Two Boys Kissing
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  • Habibi by Craig Thompson
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give were among the titles attacked for profanity in 2017.

In previous years, the books challenged for profanity include:

  • This One Summer
  • Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk


Racism is among the various reasons that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been challenged. The all-ages comic series Bone by Jeff Smith, a hero’s journey that centers on a trio of three Shmoo-like creatures, their human companions, a giant red dragon, and sundry fantasy characters, has also been challenged for racism.

Other titles accused of racism:

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
  • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck


Violence is a popular reason for challenging books. In 2017, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and To Kill a Mockingbird for challenged for violence.

Other titles attacked for violence:

  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  • Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
  • The Bluest Eye
  • Bone
  • Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Hunger Gamestrilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Religious Viewpoint

Religious viewpoint has been used to attack everything from The Holy Bible to I Am Jazz.

Other books challenged for religious viewpoint:

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan
  • And Tango Makes Three
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • The Hunger Games
  • Bless Me Ultima
  • The Kite Runner
  • Beloved

Sex Education

Sex education is a touchy subject for many. Many schools regulate materials used for sex education, which means would-be censors might use that designation to try to restrict access to books that teach kids about their bodies. In 2017, Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth’s award-winning Sex Is a Funny Word was challenged for the very thing that it is intended to do: educate young readers about sex and gender. I Am Jazz has previously been attacked as being a sex education book in an attempt to limit access to it.

Other books attacked for educational content about sex and gender:

  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
  • It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
  • My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy by Dori Hillestad Butler
  • It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris


In 2017, a popular Netflix series triggered attacks on Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, a bestselling young adult book that explores teen suicide. The book was banned in multiple school districts around the country. The Perks of Being A Wallflower has also been challenged for the content related to suicide.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Another reason that The Hate U Give was attacked in 2017 was the depiction of drug use.

The depiction of drug and alcohol use was also cited in challenges to the following books:

  • This One Summer
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • A Stolen Life
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Thirteen Reasons Why
  • Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar
  • Internet Girls series by Lauren Myracle


Unfortunately, some people equate nudity in books with obscenity, leading to challenges to the material. Comics and illustrated books are especially vulnerable to these challenges because they contain static images. Books that have been challenged for nudity include:

  • Habibi
  • It’s Perfectly Normal
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl
  • The Color of Earth trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa
  • My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy
  • Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Brave New World
  • What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
  • Internet Girls
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Art courtesy of the American Library Association. View ALA’s top ten challenged books lists here.