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The American Library Association just released this year’s list of Frequently Challenged Books, and there’s just one graphic novel (actually, a trilogy) on the list. And it’s not The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Battle Angel Alita, either — it’s The Color of Earth, Kim Dong Hwa’s quiet, rather poetic trilogy of Korean graphic novels published by First Second. The reasons cited: “nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group.” I have only read the first volume, but I can tell you that it’s not all that spicy; it’s the story of a young girl growing up with a single mom in a village in rural, 19th-century Korea, and while love and sexuality are a part of life and are discussed openly (including in the bath), much of the conversation is wrapped in nature imagery that is … not very informative. Indeed, the first volume opens with a sex scene, but it’s between two beetles.
I checked in with the folks at First Second, a publisher more at home on ten-best lists than most-challenged lists, and this is what Calista Brill, who edited the book, had to say: “We knew we were risking challenge when we published these books. But sexuality is a part of the adolescent experience, and The Color of Earth and its sequels handle this conversation with remarkable honesty and positivity. These books may have ruffled some feathers, but we remain very proud of them.”
As is often the case with frequently challenged books, this one has some critical support: the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) named it to its Great Graphic Novels for Teens list in 2010, the Texas Library Association’s Maverick Graphic Novels List and Booklist’s Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth. Interestingly, assuming the list is in order of the number of challenges, this book racked up more challenges than The Hunger Games and frequent fliers like Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice books, Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird.