When They Come to Challenge the Book - National Council of Teachers of English
Back to Blog

When They Come to Challenge the Book

A book challenge is likely the last thing on the minds of librarians and educators. Oh, we’ve heard about challenges, but we probably aren’t anticipating having to respond to an angry parent about why we are having her student read a “sexually explicit” book or even why we may have that book on the library shelf.

Last May, middle school librarian Sara Stevenson received her first formal book challenge, for John Green’s Looking for Alaska, from two mothers whose children attended her school.

This book, the number one challenged book in the nation in 2015,  was now the challenge for Sara.


The objecting parents were incensed by “that one scene” which John Green defends in this video:

And, Sara, who’d done her homework when including the book in the middle school library, knew something about books that the objecting parents seemed not to:

“When someone reads Macbeth by William Shakespeare, does s/he then murder a house guest? When someone reads The Great Gatsby, does the reader suddenly think it’s a great idea to commit adultery? The beauty of reading is that it is a private act, one in which we as readers can develop empathy and our moral life through experiencing the characters’ dilemmas and ethical choices vicariously.”

The school had a policy for handling the challenge, which it followed, and Sara recounts her experience in her blog.

The result was bittersweet—the book wasn’t exactly lost, but the final decision was to keep Looking for Alaska in the library but behind the circulation desk for 8th graders only to check out.