NEW YORK (AP) – A celebrity once beloved among young people now finds himself on a list of books parents and other community members most wish to see removed from libraries: Bill Cosby.
Cosby’s “Little Bill Books” series is among those making the American Library Association’s annual top 10 “challenged books.” The reason is unique for the list, which the ALA announced Monday: not the books themselves, but the multiple accusations of sexual assault against the actor-comedian.
The Cosby series was launched in 1997 in the biggest way possible for the publishing industry; the first three releases, “The Meanest Thing to Say,” ”The Treasure Hunt” and “The Best Way to Play,” were selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. “Little Bill” later became the basis for an Emmy-winning animated TV program that aired on CBS.
James LaRue, who directs the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said he would have a two-part defense if a parent objected to a library’s carrying the books.
“I would say we try to purchase books that appeal to a certain age group, that the books themselves were well reviewed and that they have positive messages,” he told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview. “I would also say that you may disagree with him as a person, but these books aren’t about that.”
Cosby ranked No. 9 on a list topped by Mariko Tamaki’s “This One Summer,” which has been restricted and even banned for LGBT characters, drug use and profanity. Several books were challenged because of sexuality and the presence of transgender characters, including the works ranked two to five: Raina Telgemeier’s “Drama,” Alex Gino’s “George,” Jazz Jenning’s and Jessica Herthel’s “I Am Jazz” and David Levithan’s “Two Boys Kissing.”
“We see a real problem with labeling, reducing the whole book because of sexual content,” LaRue said.
John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” was No. 6, cited for being “sexually explicit.” Chuck Palahniuk of “The Fight Club” fame is No. 7 for “Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread,” which inspired the distinctive complaint of being “disgusting and all-around offensive.”
The others in the top 10 were Matt Fraction’s “Big Hard Sex Criminals” (the title alone is trouble) and Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor & Park,” criticized for “offensive language.”
The library association recorded 323 challenges last year, a 17 percent increase over 2015 but relatively low compared with the previous decade, when more than 400 were usually tallied. The ALA has long believed that for every challenge reported, four to five are not brought to its attention and that self-censorship is increasingly common.
“One of the real issues is that fewer schools have librarians so they don’t know there’s a thoughtful way to respond to complaints,” LaRue said. “You also have school librarians saying upfront that they won’t want profanity or sex in the books they acquire.”
The ALA defines a challenge as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” Books that have been on the list include Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”