Guess the Most Offensive Book of 2012? Nope, Not Fifty Shades of Grey

In What's the Buzz by Dennis Abrams


Yup…go figure. This is the most offensive book of 2012.

By Dennis Abrams

The American Library Association’s annual study of “challenged books” — books subject to complaints from parents, educators, and other members of the public and removal from school and library shelves has been released. And E.L. James’ best-selling trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps not surprisingly, made the list, but only at #4. So what was more offensive?

Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books (cited for offensive language unsuited for age group) was #1, followed by Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award–winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (cited for offensive language, racism and sexual explicitness), and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (cited for drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexual explicitness, and suicide). And another big name making the list: Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison at #10 with Beloved (cited for sexual explicitness, religious viewpoint, and violence).

Perhaps not surprisingly, this year’s “winner” was not altogether displeased at receiving the “honor.”

“It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou,” Pilkey said in a statement. 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.”

The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom defines a challenge as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.” The office received 464 challenges in 2012, a 25% increase from 2011. And while exact numbers, including the number of books actually pulled from shelves are hard to calculate, the association has long believed that for every complaint registered, another 4–5 go unreported by libraries, while some librarians might preemptively restrict access ahead of any anticipated objections.

Among the other titles on the list are Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (cited for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, and sexual explicitness), John Green’s Looking for Alaska (cited for offensive language and sexual explicitness), and that long time favorite, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three, the story of two male penguins who raise a baby penguin.

In a statement, Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic’s trade division (and the publisher of Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books) said in a statement that “the appearance of Captain Underpants on the 2012 ALA list coincides with the publication of Dav Pilkey’s first new Captain Underpants book in six years and the series’ return to national bestseller lists — both of which are evidence that this longtime bestselling series continues to inspire a love of reading (and underpants) for a new generation of fans.”

Read the ALA’s annual “State of the Libraries” report.

Article headline updated to from “2013” to “2012.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for children's publishing and media. He's also the author of more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers, a restaurant critic, and a literary blogger.