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From Award to Challenge

Last week at its Midwinter Conference, ALA announced the 2019 winners of its many book awards, including the Newbery, Coretta Scott King, Michael L. Printz, and Alex Awards. One thing about books that receive these awards is that some of them will find their ways into our school and class libraries and into our classrooms.  This is a great thing—students deserve access to these books! The down side, though, is that sometimes the very reasons we choose the books for the awards—such as the fact that they speak to the issues of concern to young people and do so realistically—can be reasons for some (mostly parents) to challenge them.

This year’s awards list, as with all years’ lists, is a powerful one, and I’m not going to offer predictions about which titles might be taught, shelved, or challenged. Rather, let’s look at lists since the turn of the century and those books which found notoriety because they were books cited in challenges reported to NCTE since 2002.

My guess is that you know most all of these texts, but, if not, the list below would make a perfect reading list for you and your students. Note that by far complaints against these texts were about sexual scenes. There were also complaints about profanity and subject matter (e.g. “too dark”). NCTE has rationales for some of these, so if you decide to put them into your library or to teach them, do request up to five rationales to help you construct your own class- or school-specific rationales for including the texts. .

Newbery Awards and Honor Book designations are given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the authors of some of the most distinguished contributions to American literature for children. Newbery books that have been challenged include:

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean
  • The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Coretta Scott King Book Awards and Honor Books annually recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience. Further, this award encourages the artistic expression of the black experience via literature and the graphic arts in biographical, social, and historical treatments by African American authors and illustrators. The following Coretta Scott King awardees have been challenged:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • March: Book Three by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature Winners and Honor Books are books that exemplify literary excellence in young adult literature. The following Printz awardees have been challenged:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • March: Book Three, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  • Looking for Alaska, by John Green
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
  • Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
  • Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18 years. The following Alex awardees have been challenged:

  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  • Water for Elephants by Sar Gruen
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in Boom-Time America by Barbara Ehrenrieich
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf