Harry Potter tales top list of most challenged books of 1999

Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Books about Harry Potter, the pint-sized wizard created by J.K. Rowling, leads the American Library Association’s list of the “Ten Most Challenged Books of 1999.”

The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom keeps a tab of written complaints submitted to librarians about books around the country and compiles a list at the end of each year of the most contested tomes.

The ALA received 472 filed complaints about books in 1999, part of the more than 5,500 complaints since 1990. According to an ALA news release, the majority of the challenges are filed with public libraries, schools and school libraries. Most complaints contend that the books cited contain subject matter or situations inappropriate for young readers. The ALA also reports that for every one complaint submitted, four or five go unreported.

The makeup of the list, says Beverly Becker, associate director for the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, has as much to do with what is popular as it does with what people find objectionable.

“I actually think that the Harry Potter challenges are the most interesting,” Becker said. “Most of the time we get challenges to a huge variety of books, but these books have received so much attention and are so recognizable they are getting [complained about] the most.”

The Harry Potter books may be new to the list, but books like John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War have consistently appeared on the ALA list in years past.

Said Becker, “It is a different group of students [reading the books] and a different group of parents every year, and so you have some books that get hit up just about every year.”

The 10 most challenged books of 1999, in order of most frequently challenged, are:

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling, for their focus on wizardry and magic.

  • The Alice series including Alice the Brave and Alice in Between, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for offensive language and unsuitability for age group.

  • The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (the “Most Challenged” fiction book of 1998), for offensive language and unsuitability for age group.

  • Blubber, by Judy Blume, for offensive language and unsuitability for age group.

  • Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers, for offensive language and unsuitability for age group.

  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, for offensive language and unsuitability for age group.

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, for explicit portrayal of rape and other sexual abuse.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, for sexual content.

  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, for sexual content and offensive language.

  • Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson, for sexual content and offensive language.

  • ALA Banned Books Week is scheduled for Sept. 23-30.