Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Reasons for Banning Books

Since the invention of the written word, people have been expressing their ideas using written language. And probably for just as long, people have been trying to stop others from expressing ideas that they find dangerous or distasteful. Often, those who seek to suppress ideas are worried about the easily-influenced minds of children and adolescents, so it should come as no surprise that many of the books that have been challenged and censored are those written for children and young adults.

Book censorship is the official examination and suppression of certain books or parts of books that some deem to be unacceptable. This happens for a variety of reasons. Typically, censorship is based on religious, political, or social grounds. Young adult literature is written to appeal to teenage minds, so it often contains characters who rebel against authority, explore their sexuality, experiment with drugs, and deal with negative peer pressure. The teenage years are times for discovering one’s identity, pushing social boundaries, and coming to terms with the sometimes harsh truth of life. These characters also often have strong, volatile emotions that can fluctuate between euphoric highs and suicidal lows. Hot button issues ranging from suicide to drug use make young adult literature both appealing to teens and the target of censorship.

Censorship Trends

According to the American Library Association, there were nearly 12,000 challenges to books between 1990 and 2010. Challenges are attempts to have a book or parts of a book censored. The majority of these challenges were raised by parents hoping to protect their children from books with what they felt was dangerous or disturbing content. Many of these books were ones their children were exposed to in school classes or libraries. Around 25% of the challenges were based on books that parents found to be sexually explicit, while another 25% came from books that contained what some people believed was violence or offensive language. Young adult literature was challenged far more than books meant for children or adults, and some reviews of the challenges noticed certain trends in the books being questioned. Books containing magic drew more attention as did books with characters exploring their sexual identities and those with characters battling depression. Contemporary books received far more challenges than classics. And nonfiction books about sex, particularly those meant to inform teen girls, were often targets of protest.

In 2013, the list of most challenged books in America was topped by a novel aimed at the preteen audience, Captain Underpants. Protestors object to the irreverent characters who question those in authority. Even books winning major awards are often challenged, such as Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner, which has been cited as being sexually explicit, and a book that presents religious traditions that offend some readers.

The most common reasons given for censoring young adult literature are that the books contain offensive language, scenes unsuitable for the audience, sexually explicit scenes, or the book promotes homosexuality. In fact, the book that topped the list of most challenged texts in America for several years in a row was the children’s book And Tango Makes Three, the story of two male penguins who successfully hatch an egg they were given and raise a baby penguin.

Lesson Summary

People challenge books for a variety of reasons, and a majority of the censored books are those aimed at the young adult audience. Challenges stem from the fear that these books will impart a negative influence on the teens who read them. Book censorship is the official examination and suppression of certain books or parts of books that are considered unacceptable. The goal of censorship is to protect readers from dangerous or distasteful ideas. Young adult novels receive challenges based on sexual content, drug use, homosexual characters, rebellion, suicide, depression, language, and other hot button issues. Parents most often initiate these challenges, and contemporary novels receive far more than classic ones. Even books that receive national acclaim may be subjected to attempts at censorship.

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