'And Tango Makes Three,' Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Years on Most Challenged list: 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006
Reasons cited: “Homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group”
Based on the true story of Rory and Silo, two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who formed a couple and raised a baby together, And Tango Makes Three has been controversial ever since its 2005 publication. The depiction of a natural, healthy homosexual relationship among animals has raised the ire of conservative parents and advocates, some of whom believe the book promotes “the homosexual agenda.”
'The Chocolate War,' by Robert Cormier
Years on Most Challenged list: 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2002, 2001
Reasons cited: “Nudity, sexually explicit, offensive language, violence, unsuited to age group”
The Chocolate War is a YA gaze into darkness, but without the various fantasy and post-apocalyptic metaphors that now define the genre. It is a stark depiction of the dangers that face outcasts and nonconformists, especially in the demented world of high school. Its fearless depiction of violence, bullying, and adolescent sexual thoughts have nevertheless raised the ire of censors over the years.
'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,' by Stephen Chbosky
Years on Most Challenged list: 2014, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004
Reasons cited: “Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those special teen books that doesn’t talk down to its audience, and depicts typical coming-of-age problems like drug exposure and sexual discovery in a sincere way. This has brought it into conflict with groups who think it’s better not to expose young readers to such material at all. Interestingly, the book has only made the Most Challenged list once since its popular 2012 film adaptation.
'Captain Underpants,' by Dav Pilkey
Years on Most Challenged list: 2013, 2012, 2005, 2004, 2002
Reasons cited: “Offensive language, violence, unsuited for age group”
Captain Underpants is one of the more obviously innocent choices on this list. The long-running series of children’s books telegraphs its cartoonish love of toilet humor and hatred of authority from the get-go. People who consider hitting a mechanical toilet with a plunger “violence” are exactly the kind author Dav Pilkey seeks to ridicule. Perhaps that’s why they flare up every time a new book comes out.
'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,' by Sherman Alexie
Years on Most Challenged list: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010
Reasons cited: “Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group”
Sherman Alexie’s semi-autobiographical YA novel (the title is a bit of a joke) won the National Book Award for its unsparing look at childhood on an American Indian reservation, but has also come under fire from censors for strong language. An honest depiction of racism and adolescence will do that.
'Alice' series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Years on Most Challenged list: 2011, 2006, 2003, 2002, 2001
Reasons cited: “Nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group”
Few things get censorship groups as riled up as young female sexuality. Over its nearly 30-year run, the Alice series tackled issues of sex (and other topics important to young girls) from several different characters’ perspectives. Even an honest depiction of such adolescence is apparently too much for some censors, however.
'ttyl,' by Lauren Myracle
Years on Most Challenged list: 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007
Reasons cited: “Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group”
ttyl (and the other books in Lauren Myracle’s Internet Girls series) went deep into young female relationships, most obviously by staging the entire books in the format of internet messaging but also by providing candid conversations about sex and crushes. Some pro-censorship groups really don’t like that.
'It's Perfectly Normal,' by Robie Harris
Years on Most Challenged list: 2014, 2007, 2005, 2003
Reasons cited: “Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, abortion, homosexuality, unsuited to age group”
Author Robie Harris told NPR last year that she always knew her illustrated guide to sex ed (which covers not just puberty but also reproductive issues and transgender information) was going to face opposition, since the substance of American sexual education remains a hot topic. While some opponents of the book can’t tell the difference between important information and child pornography, others simply want it moved to an age-restricted area of the library. But as Harris told NPR, “If a book is in a special section of the library, maybe the kids who need it the most are not going to get it.”
'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,' by Maya Angelou
Years on Most Challenged list: 2007, 2004, 2002, 2001
Reasons cited: “Sexually explicit, offensive language, violence, racism, unsuited to age group”
Maya Angelou was raped when she was eight years old, and that incident is a central piece of her literary memoir, as Angelou connects her personal trauma to the larger African-American experience. The intensity of Angelou’s work, however, has come into conflict with people who think younger readers should not be exposed to such material.
'The Hunger Games,' by Suzanne Collins
Years on Most Challenged list: 2013, 2011, 2010
Reasons cited: “Violence, insensitivity, anti-ethnic, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group”
Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster Hunger Games franchise depicts teen death matches as an Orwellian metaphor for the way society eats its young. It stands in a rich tradition, from Lord of the Flies to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” However, the brutal violence (and perhaps some of its other societal critiques) have proved too much for certain censorship advocates.