"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" survived two more efforts to banish it from school libraries and classrooms between March 1994 and March 1995. "The Grapes of Wrath" also weathered another brush with the censors.

"Of Mice and Men" won two out of three tussles with the mind-guardians. Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" survived a five-month dispute about its appropriateness for advanced high school students in Yakima, Wash.Despite the hundreds of challenges to books and the fierce debates that sometimes erupted in the process, when all is read and done, last year turned out to be an overall winner for those who believe in the unrestricted right of Americans to read what they wish for enlightenment and entertainment.

It is important for all Americans who value their freedom to think and express themselves to exercise that "eternal vigilance" that Thomas Jefferson cited as "the price of liberty" in seeking to thwart the would-be censors wherever they rattle their shackles.

The purpose of Banned Books Week, which commences today and extends to the last day of this month, is to remind Americans of this persistent threat to their freedom. This year's is the 14th installment of the annual observance, which is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores.

During the past year, the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom cataloged 760 protests against books, an 8 percent increase from the 697 reported in 1993, reflecting a continuing upward trend in opposition to books. There were 651 attempts to exclude books from libraries and classrooms in 1992 and 514 in 1991.

But would-be censors might take the position that the volume of objectionable material is growing with tales like:

- An edition of "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Anderson, challenged in Bedford, Texas, because its illustrations of bare-breasted mermaids are supposedly "pornographic" and it also contains "satanic pictures."

- "The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm" because of "excessive violence, negative portrayals of female characters and anti-Semitic references."

- "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou because it "contains profanity and encourages premarital sex and homosexuality."

- Almost all of Stephen King's novels because of language, violence, sexual descriptions and satanism.

- The American Heritage Dictionary because it contains "objectionable language."

None of this is to say that there is no room, within the context of the American experiment with freedom of thought and speech, for challenges to reading materials offered in schools and public libraries. After all, the tax dollars of the book-challengers also go to support those institutions.

It also is understandable that many parents want to exercise some vigilance over the kinds of information and literature to which their children are exposed. Notably, two-thirds of the challenges occurred in school settings.

In some important respects, the list of challenges may amount to overkill. After all, most of those challenges were fended off. There were few cases of successful book bannings last year.