Captain Underpants Tops List of ‘Challenged Books’ for 2012

Captain Underpants tops list of 'challenged books'

Mark Twain is often on the list. So are Toni Morrison and Harper Lee. And no, we’re not talking literary awards — we’re talking about the American Library Association’s annual list of ‘challenged’ books. That means books that parents, teachers or members of the public think are somehow offensive, based on things like bad language and sexual content. It’s no surprise to see E.L. James’s Fifty Shades… on the list at number four (it’s got sex in it apparently), but the surprise for me was the top of the list: the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey for “offensive language, unsuited for age group”.

There’s been plenty debate over the Captain Underpants books, which are about “a superhero devised by two young students about their grouchy school principal, Mr Krupp.” A firm divide exists between those who are pleased the books get boys to read (an achievement in itself, just ask any educator) and those who think they’re just so much toilet humor and encourage disrespect for authority.

"It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou… But I worry that some parents might see this list and discourage their kids from reading Captain Underpants, even though they have not had a chance to read the books themselves…" Pilkey said his characters are based in part on teachers and head teachers he had – some of whom were villains who got away with it because they were authority figures. "None of the children in my school, including me, thought to question them," he said. "So, I do feel there is real value in showing kids that not all authority figures are good or kind or honorable."

Second and third on the list were “Sherman Alexie's prize-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (offensive language, racism, sexually explicit), and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why (drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide). Also on the list, at No 10, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's Beloved (sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence).”

Hey, I believe everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but there are times I think I must live on another planet in terms of the way I feel about so-called “offensive” books. What annoys me about this list is that it means these books are often removed from libraries — if they’re ever purchased in the first place — making sure that they’re not accessible to anyone who wants to read them. Okay, I’m not saying everyone has a right to read Fifty Shades…, but To Kill a Mockingbird? Beloved? Really? What do you think?

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Dean Fetzer

News by Dean Fetzer

Dean Fetzer is originally from a small town in eastern Colorado, but has lived in London, England, for the past 21 years. After a career in graphic design, he started a pub review website in the late 90’s; He left that in 2011 to concentrate on his thriller writing, as well as offering publishing services for authors, poets and artists. When not writing - or in the pub - he can be found in the theatre, live music venues and travelling.

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jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners April 16, 2013 - 6:21am

As long as they let poor, unsuspecting kids read Of Mice and Men and Old Yeller I don't understand why they pick the books they do. I would have been way less f***ed in the head as a kid if I'd read 50 shades. Controlling relationships, lip biting, and sex, whatever. Killing people and dogs for mercy? That is some seriously advanced mental gymnastics. (I was assigned Of Mice and Men and Old Yeller in 6th grade. Do not even get me started on Where the Red Fern Grows. I'm very overprotective of my dog and I'm almost 40. Messed. Me. Up.)

As for Captain Underpants? I bet parents just don't like the cover because it reminds them of Ren & Stimpy or other cartoons that are "bad" if you don't have the right sense of humor to understand them. Just a guess.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts April 16, 2013 - 9:31am

The Captain Underpants books are fantastic. These lists always seem to be filled with the books I'd have loved as a kid.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb April 16, 2013 - 3:22pm

Listing controversial books and libraries banning based on such lists reminds me of a quote from  John Denver's speach to the PMRC:

"That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you."

Warning lables don't work with music, and they don't work with books either. My school library never banned anything (school libraries in England generally don't, as far as I know) but if they had I could have found a way to get to anything I really wanted, whether it was buying the book or ordering it from the library in town. Lists like that shouldn't be enough to stop anyone once they reach a certain age. I remember my mum telling me how she read certain books in secret because my grandmother wouldn't have approved of them...guess I was lucky I never had to hide to read anything, but in a way I sometimes wish I had had to, as if reading something my parents disapproved of was a right of passage.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 April 21, 2013 - 6:52am

There was a line from one of the LitReactor podcasts a few weeks ago that sums up this news piece nicely. I think it was Rob who said, "Parents are a shitty gauge of good books." I'm paraphrasing, but the point is, parents are OFTEN a shitty gauge of anything. Not all, mind you. But many do tend to flip out over nothing; imagine the preacher's wife on The Simpsons screeching, "Think of the children!"

What I don't understand is, why does the ALA put this list out to begin with? Doesn't encouraging banning or snubbing from  'concerned parents' hurt business?