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Captain Underpants rides again!

The American Library Association has released their annual State of America’s Libraries report, which includes the list of the most “challenged” books of the previous year. Those are the books that are the subject of formal, written complaints filed with libraries or schools “requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.” The 2013 report notes that the year’s 307 recorded instances of challenges is down from 2012 — to the tune of more than 100 complaints.

But the books receiving those fewer complaints were, in many cases, the same as before. Just as in 2012, the potty humor of the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey brought the books to the top of the list. Other repeat offenders in the top ten included Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and Looking for Alaska by John Green. The newcomers to the top ten were:

  • The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (second place)
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  • Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
  • Bone (series), by Jeff Smith

As I noted last year, it’s not so surprising that something like Captain Underpants would be seen as more worthy of complaint than something as blatantly out-there as Fifty Shades. Though the presence of the BDSM blockbuster in a public library might bother some patrons, adult books for adults are harder to muster outrage over. Books for kids are clearly much more likely to be the subject of formal, written complaints. One of the most common reasons for complaint is, in fact, “unsuited to age group.” (Why that’s one of the reasons people complained about 50 Shades too is, however, a complete mystery.)

As for trying to keep kids away from Hunger Games due to its “religious viewpoint” (which is what?) and it being “unsuited to age group” — good luck with that, concerned citizens. The ALA’s annual list is a nice barometer of what has people wringing their hands, but The Hunger Games is as good a reminder as any that a book being challenged is not the same thing as it being suppressed.

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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