Robot 6

First Second graphic novels make list of most-challenged books

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.



“Won’t somebody think of the children”–the shrill voice inside your head

I can’t say I’m surprised. While the books aren’t explicit, they are very frank, shockingly so, I think, to someone who probably would prefer to never discuss such matters.

Nobody paid much attention at first — and some of those who did were unimpressed entirely — but I’m saying it again: in five, ten years, The Color of Earth is gonna be a genuine ‘what the hell is this, how did this get published?’ classic, it’s so totally assured and un-self-concious in pursuing some very unique thematic aims… I love it to pieces.

Homosexuality is no longer a listed reason for challenging books. And Tango Makes Three has topped or nearly topped the list for five years straight, until now. Now it is not even on the list at all. Now no book is listed for homosexuality. That is very good news.

However, I can’t help but wonder if my exposing how last year’s 2010 list was faked, precisely on the issue of homosexuality, made a difference. The recording I made of the 2010 award-winning author admitting the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom [OIF] fudged the numbers likely was key. See:

That said, the OIF still fails to list the number of challenges for each listed book. I am certain that is because so few challenges are made that no one would pay heed to such a list showing book challenges are really not a problem, a truth directly counter to the OIF’s message. Last year, for example, the top book (Tango) was challenged 4 times all year, though the OIF said dozens. That’s a problem. Solution? Don’t provide the individual numbers, only the aggregate.

Demand the numbers. Demand intellectual freedom. How many times was each book challenged.

Brigid, thanks for picking up on this so quickly! I don’t recall GNs appeared on the OIF “most banned” list in the past, but I may be forgetting something.

So now we’re challenging books for containing sex education? I don’t understand how anyone expects kids to get educated if they aren’t even allowed to read books containing sex ed. Parents don’t want to discuss it at home, schools are cutting sex ed programs or just glossing over the facts to push one agenda or another, and the kids are left with nothing.

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