Most challenged books of 2020: Books championed for combatting racism make up half of list

Clémence Michallon
·3-min read
The American Library Association has released a list of the most challenged books of 2020 (stock image) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The American Library Association has released a list of the most challenged books of 2020 (stock image) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The most challenged books of 2020 in the US included several books about racism and police brutality, a children’s novel featuring a transgender girl, and a seminal Young Adult novel about the aftermath of sexual assault.

The American Library Association, a nonprofit dedicated to library services and education, recently released the list as part of its Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In 2020, the office tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services, based on media stories and voluntary reports sent to the organisation. A total of 273 books were targeted in total – although the association states that the vast majority of book challenges (between 82 and 97%) go unreported.

The American Library Association provides stated reasons behind challenges to each book. It also specifies whether a book was challenged, banned and challenged, and/or restricted.

Four of the 10 books on the 2020 list deal with anti-racism and/or address the topic of police brutality. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds is in second position, and was “banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains ‘selective storytelling incidents’ and does not encompass racism against all people”.

All American Boys, a novel about police brutality by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, follows in third position. It was banned and challenged for “profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be ‘too much of a sensitive matter right now’”.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, is in sixth position, and was “challenged for ‘divisive language’ and because it was thought to promote anti-police views”.

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’s New York Times Bestselling novel about a deadly police shooting, is in 10th position. It was “challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message”.

“The book has basically been on that list since it came out,” Thomas told The New York Times on Wednesday. “I joke to people and say all the time, There are two lists you can usually find The Hate U Give on: The New York Times and the most banned book list.”

Number one on the list is Alex Gino’s 2015 children’s novel George about a transgender girl. The book has been included on the list every year since 2016. In 2020, it was “challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting ‘the values of our community’”.

Also included is Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 Young Adult novel Speak, about a girl who is raped by a classmate. The book was “banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity”. It was a New York Times Bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category.

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