John Oliver and Captain Underpants among the most “challenged” books of 2018

The ALA usually lists 10 books, but included 11 this year because there was just so much to clutch pearls over.

John Oliver and Captain Underpants among the most “challenged” books of 2018
[Photo: Eric Liebowitz/HBO]

What do Captain Underpants and John Oliver have in common? They are both on the American Library Association’s list of most “challenged” books for the past year, which is a nice way of saying books that are banned and in some cases burned by people afraid that, for example, a satiric look at the life of Vice President Mike Pence’s gay pet rabbit might corrupt their children.


Out of the 483 books challenged or banned in 2018, as reported by the nonprofit ALA, the most controversial was Alex Gino’s George, a middle-grade novel about a transgender child’s journey to self-discovery. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, which was written by Last Week Tonight staffer Jill Twiss, came in second for daring to ponder the idea that the homophobic Veep might have a gay pet rabbit. Others included Angie Thomas’s best-seller about a teen girl whose friend is shot by police, The Hate U Give, which was turned into a movie even though some pearl-clutching parents were alarmed by its drug use, profanity, and “anti-cop” stance.

Also on the list were Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, which not only encouraged “disruptive behavior,” but had the audacity to include a same-sex couple in Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot. Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been on the list for several years and 2018 was no different

Some titles made the list for less reactionary reasons, including Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones series of illustrated children’s book about an imaginative cat, which was criticized for relying on Mexican stereotypes, and Jay Asher’s dark tale of teen suicide-turned-Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why, which some critics have argued romanticizes the act of taking of one’s own life.

While the minister in Footloose banned dancing and music, even he thought book burning was too much. Not so for the director of an Orange City, Iowa-based “pro-family” group called Rescue the Perishing. Last October, the group burned both Gayle E. Pitman’s and Kristyna Litten’s Pride Month story, This Day in June, and David Leviathan’s Two Boys Kissing, ensuring them a spot on the ALA’s list.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 347 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2018, slightly down from 2017, when 356 challenges were reported, although the ALA believes many challenges go unreported.


Here are the top 11 most challenged books—as well as links to purchase them if you see fit:

George by Alex Gino
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.