NEW YORK – It turns out at least one part of publishing has a diverse slate of authors: The books most likely to be pulled from school and library shelves.
The American Library Association on Monday released its annual list of the 10 books receiving the most complaints from parents, educators and others in the local community. Sherman Alexie's prize-winning, autobiographical novel of high school life, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," ranked No. 1, followed by Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel "Persepolis" and the picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin, Peter Parnell's and Justin Richardson's "And Tango Makes Three." Others on the list include Toni Morrison's debut novel, "The Bluest Eye"; Khaled Hosseini's million-selling novel "The Kite Runner" and Jaycee Dugard's best-selling memoir about her kidnapping, "A Stolen Life."
The remaining books cited by the library association were Robie Harris' "It's Perfectly Normal"; "Saga," by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples; Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"; and Raina Telgemeier's "Drama."
Several of the authors listed were either non-whites, even though just a small percentage of books released each year are by non-whites, or writers of books with gay, lesbian or transgender themes. According to a study compiled last fall by the web site Diversity in YA, which advocates diversity in young adult literature, around 20 percent of books that appeared on the library association's challenged books list since 2000 have been by non-white authors. Over half of the books included content about non-whites, non-heterosexuals or disabled people.
"Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges," wrote the report's author, Malinda Lo, herself a young adult novelist.
Reasons for books being challenged ranged from "cultural insensitivity" in Alexie's novel, in which the author draws upon his experiences as an American Indian at a virtually all-white high school; to "promotes the homosexual agenda" in "And Tango Makes Three." Common complaints include explicit sex, violence, references to drugs and alcohols and offensive language.
The lists have remained diverse in content even as the actual books have changed, often after a release, such as Alexie's, becomes widely known. The "Harry Potter" novels were frequent targets a decade ago and the "Twilight" and "The Hunger Games" series also began appearing on the ALA reports as their popularity surged. Older books that have been frequently challenged include "The Bluest Eye," Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The library association defines a challenge 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." The ALA counted 311 challenges last year, roughly the same as last year and well below the levels of the 1980s and '90s, when the rise of the Moral Majority led to widespread efforts to have books pulled. Barbara Jones, director of the library association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Associated Press that the ALA has long believed that for every complaint registered, four to five go unreported by libraries and that some librarians may restrict access in anticipation of objections.
The list is based on press accounts and reports from librarians, teachers and "concerned individuals." The ALA does not have precise numbers for books actually censored, but notes several incidents in 2014, including the removal of Alexie's novel from some schools in Idaho.
The challenged books list is part of the ALA's 2015 State of America's Libraries Report.