Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among most challenged books in U.S. in 2019

Stories with gay and transgender themes, a spoof inspired by the family rabbit of vice-president Mike Pence, and classics by J.K. Rowling and Margaret Atwood were among the books that received the most objections last year at schools and libraries.

The American Library Association released its annual snapshot of books most “challenged” by parents and other community members on April 20, 2020.

Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale was challenged for “vulgarity and sexual overtones.”

In an email to the Associated Press, Atwood noted the honoured tradition of writers who have been censored.

“If you’re a writer and everybody likes you, a) You’re doing something wrong, or b) You don’t exist,” the Canadian author wrote.

“I am happy to be in the company of the Bible, Shakespeare, John Bunyan, Lord Byron, Emily Bronte, Flaubert, James Joyce, Nawal el Sadawi, Angela Carter, Anonymous of A Woman in Berlin and so many others. Lucky me, I live in a democracy, so at least I’m not in jail or being tossed out of a plane.”

The top 10 most challenged books are:

  1. George by Alex Gino
  2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
  4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
  5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
  6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
  9. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole

“The list shows a continued trend of attacks we’ve seen in recent years,” says Deborah Caldwell Stone, who heads the library association’s office for intellectual freedom.

She noted that complaints were coming not just from individuals but from organizations such as the Florida Citizens Alliance, which has issued a list of “porn in Florida public schools” that includes Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and a book in the ALA’s new survey, Cory Silverberg’s Sex Is a Funny Word.

“We are seeing efforts all around the country,” Stone said.

The list is part of the association’s annual State of America’s Libraries report, released during National Library Week, which ends Saturday.

The library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 377 challenges, compared to 347 in 2018.

The ALA defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

The list is based on news reports and on accounts submitted from libraries, and many challenges likely go unreported, the association believes.

The ALA does not have numbers for books actually banned.

With libraries closed indefinitely this year because of the coronavirus outbreak, Stone expects fewer challenges from individuals, even as organized efforts continue.

“I don’t think you’ll have as many incidents of a parent encountering a book and raising objections,” she said. “But we don’t think challenges will come to a halt.”

With files from CBC Books.