Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak in 1963. This picture book is filled with magic, adventure, and wonder, which has helped it sell over 19 million copies internationally since its publication. Unfortunately, mass popularity couldn't prevent parents from complaining to school boards about its "offensive" content.
This elementary school staple has had its banned status since the mid-1960s. It was found to be troubling due to the scene where Max was punished by being sent to bed without supper, as well as the mythical themes seen within the story. Compared to what gets written these days, it's quaint to think this outraged people.
Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
As of 2018, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter children's series is the best-selling book series of all time. It's sold over 500 million copies and remains popular among children and adults alike. It follows the adventures of boy wizard Harry Potter as he attends school at Hogwarts with his close friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Their main objective — other than learning about magic — is overthrowing the dark wizard Voldemort.
The primary critics of Rowling's series are religious fundamentalists. They believe that any books involving fictional witchcraft are too similar to Wicca and inappropriate for kids. Others criticize Rowling for promoting her political opinions through the book's plot and caricatures of certain characters. The American Library Association reports that Harry Potter has topped their annual Top 10 Banned Books List from 2001-2003, and again in 2019.
The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
Literary scholars credit S.E. Hinton for producing the first young adult novel The Outsiders when she was only 18 in 1967. She began writing the novel three years prior when she was a junior in high school who longed to depict the lives of teenagers around her. The novel focuses on two gangs — the "greasers" and "Socs" — who duke it out as a result of their wildly different social classes.
Unfortunately, this coming-of-age novel was criticized for its inclusion of scenes involving violent gangs, fighting, and crime, but has come to be loved by generations of young readers. Yet everyone seems to be able to find some part of themselves represented by Ponyboy or one of his other Greaser comrades — as long as you can get over, you know, the child gangs — despite the novel getting banned from schools.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a Marxist looking at me. This children’s book was added to the list of banned books because one of the authors — Bill Martin Jr. — shares a name with a well-known Marxist theorist and author of Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation (Creative Marxism). But angry mobs have never let a little misidentification get in their way. This confusion led a third-grade classroom in Texas to blot the book from their lesson plans back in 2010.
While some teachers might still confuse the two authors, the intentions of Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle are completely innocent. They collaborated on the story and illustrations of the novel to help toddlers with colors and identifying objects. Nothing Marxist in the slightest! In fact, the picture book is well-beloved among the parents, teachers, and students who aren't familiar with Bill Martin the Marxist.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is considered by many authors and literary critics to be one greatest works of the 20th century. This tornado of a story puts readers in an uncomfortable position, asking them to take on the role of a middle-aged literature professor who falls in love with one of his very young students. Because pedophilia is a major theme, this novel understandably landed on the banned books list in 1960 just five years after its initial release.
We doubt this novel is taught in high schools as part of the curriculum, but it's recently resurfaced into popular culture among young adults due to the ABC show aimed at teenagers called Pretty Little Liars. There's no shortage of allusions to this work in popular media, including in Lana Del Rey's Born to Die and The Police's "Don't Stand So Close To Me."
Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
We're pretty sure that there are very few children out there who never read E.B. White's beloved tale Charlotte's Web, but if you need a refresher, here's what went down. A little girl named Fern spares the life of Wilber, the runt of his litter of pigs, and is allowed to raise him, but that places Wilbur in danger of being eaten. A barn spider named Charlotte helps Wilbur escape slaughter at the hands of the farmer by writing messages praising him on her web.
So what’s so wrong with Wilber, Charlotte, and Templeton? Well, they’re all animals that can talk, of course! There's nothing worse than that! The portrayal of animals capable of speech was seen as “blasphemous” and “unnatural" by some critics. We wouldn't want children running around using their imaginations... Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
Banned since 1982 for various content of a "distasteful" nature, including for common words with sexual connotations such as "knob" and "bang," Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is probably the most ridiculous example of people getting outraged at literature. And this book isn't even fictional! It's a reference book! How many people use a physical dictionary anymore, anyway?
There was also criticism aimed at some of the "unnecessarily explicit" definitions for words like "oral sex" and "f***." A dictionary's a dictionary... What else is it supposed to do besides define words?! Alternative definitions for certain words are valid inclusions in a text specifically designed to define words!
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel published in 1985 and written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Atwood wrote the book against a sexist backdrop of political groups, mainly the attitudes of the religious right at the time. She states that her novel is a vision of the result of if even "casually held attitudes about women were taken to their logical end."
The Handmaid's Tale won everything from the Nebula Award and the Booker Prize '86 to the first-ever Arthur C. Clarke Award in '87. It has since developed into an uber-popular HBO television series yet still receives plenty of critiques for sexual content and supposed "adult" themes. The ALA ranked the novel #37 on the most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000, becoming the seventh most challenged book in 2019 for its "profanity, vulgarity, sexual overtones" and negative depiction of religion.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Dragons and elves and hobbits — oh my! It's difficult to imagine that J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece series The Lord of the Rings would be banned anywhere, even in the most conservative schools. Though you may not have read this for class, this world-renowned, epic, fantasy novel captivated audiences all across the globe and transported them to the breathtaking land of Middle Earth.
This book got its spot on the list for depictions of people smoking and being “generally anti-religious.” If these critics ever managed to do an ounce of research on the topic, they'd find out that J.R.R. Tolkein was a deeply religious person who worked closely alongside C.S. Lewis. Even more, Lewis cites that Tolkein was a major influence on turning him away from atheism. Fantasy doesn't equal Satanism!
Of Mice and Men, John Steinback
John Steinback wrote the novella Of Mice and Men in 1937 based on his personal experience working with migrant farmworkers in the 1910s. While many teenagers recognize the title from their required reading curriculum in high school, the American Library Association features the novel on its list of The Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century.
Of Mice and Men was first banned in 1974 due to racism, profanity, violence. While some of these critiques might be warranted at first glance— as there's plenty of vulgarity to go around in there — it doesn’t seem fair to prevent children from reading classic tales like this one of Lennie and George during the Great Depression. Won't someone think of the children (and the rabbits)?
1984, George Orwell
Orwell’s not-so-subtle commentary on his thoughts of the trajectory of American politics got his book 1984 banned in Kansas the same year it was published (1949). Why was Kansas so quick to slap a ban on Orwell? His novel is painfully clear regarding his distrust of what politicians paint as "truth" as well as the danger of totalitarianism, surveillance, and policing everyone's actions down to their thoughts.
Soon after this initial ban, several other schools and libraries followed suit, labeling the book both corrupting of the youth and dangerously subversive. These days, however, Orwellian thought and, consequently, Orwell's novels have become obnoxiously popular among wannabe hipsters. To be honest, the book better proved its point when people hated it.
Multiple Titles, Dr. Seuss
Schools don't even need to ban books when they have the publishers to do their dirty work for them. It was revealed in 2021 that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the publisher for the beloved children's author, would cease production on six of his books for their alleged racist imagery — which included examples like an Asian person holding chopsticks. There are ways to critique an author's work that aren't outright censorship, people!
In another example, Seuss’s memorable portrayal of The Lorax, a nominal character who “speaks for the trees” made the banned books list. It was banned in a California school for its negative portrayal of the foresting industry. We're sure that this decision came from the enterprise's strong convictions and was not at all influenced by the trend of companies signaling their "wokeness" in increasingly laughable ways to pander to their most fragile customers.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Published in 1885, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a direct sequel to Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Everyone read had to read at least one of these novels by Twain an English class before, yet the version focused on Huck Finn has been deemed far more controversial than its predecessor narrated by Tom Sawyer.
Huck Finn's tale is particularly known for its commentary on racism and deep-rooted attitudes of traditionalism and civility. Unfortunately, Twain's book is a product of its time and includes rife use of the N-word. According to the American Library Association, Huckleberry Finn is one of the United State's most frequently challenged books, especially during the '90s. As one example out of many, a Virginia school district banned Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird in 2016 due to the inclusion of racial slurs.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald took audiences on a gripping adventure through West and East Egg in this widely-celebrated 1925 novel. For all intents and purposes, The Great Gatsby is a love story featuring the ultra-wealthy Jay Gatsby and his former lover Daisy Buchanan. Bt the themes run much deeper than sugar-coated romance.
The novel teaches readers many lessons, including those of classism, environmentalism, unrequited love, and commentary on the American Dream. But due to language, sexual references, and several mentions of alcohol, the book was banned in 1987. Speaking from personal experience, though, only snowflakes would consider Fitzgerald's work worth the trouble of banning it from the public.
Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko
The historical fiction novel Al Capone Does My Shirts was written by Gennifer Choldenko in 2006. This book — aimed at young adults — received widespread praise from literary circles and was even nominated for the Newberry Honor and won the California Young Reader Medal. These honors weren't enough to prevent bans in New York classrooms citing the perpetuation of "negative stereotypes by touting the infamous gangster Al Capone.”
The story is set in the mid-1930s and follows a preteen boy named Moose, his naive little sister Natalie, and a world-renowned gangster who all live together on Alcatraz Island. This thrilling tale of mischief and lore got its spot on the list for portraying Al Capone as someone children should be seeking after.
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a bonafide example of a coming of age story aimed at summarizing the teenage experience and touching the lives of young adult readers. While this story was originally published for adult readers soon, it soon became a popular read with teen readers due to its themes of angst and alienation.
With the change in the intended audience, the sexual frustration, profanity, and anti-authority themes also demonstrated in the story skyrocketed The Catcher in the Rye to the number one censored book from 1961 to 1982. If we know anything about teenagers, there's no better way to make them read a book than by telling them that they can't.
Dead Poets Society, N.H. Kleinbaum
N.H. Kleinbaum's Dead Poets Society is a novel so beloved by readers everywhere that it was adapted into the cult classic film adaptation featuring Robin Williams as John Keaton. Is it even possible to dislike anything involving Robin Williams? Turns out, there are some heartless people out there who do...
In the book, John Keaton takes his new students at Welton Academy on a journey to “make your lives extraordinary” and encourages them in the revival of the Dead Poets Society. However, a pastor in Illinois found the book “disturbing” and overly sexual — something tells me he's inclined to see that everywhere, though.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
What is ninth-grade English without To Kill a Mockingbird? This Pulitzer Prize-winning book was banned in the mid-1980s (in most states) for uses of racial slurs, "trashy" content, and talk of rape. Like 1984, though, this is a book that's rebounded to the point that it's become almost obnoxiously beloved by students and long-time readers alike.
Harper Lee published the novel in 1960, which won the Pulitzer Prize a year later led to her winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. The characters and events of the novel were inspired by Lee's actual life alongside 1930s Alabaman neighbors touting irrational racist and classist attitudes, which should lend it more credibility rather than scrutiny.
The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
Anne Frank's diary AKA The Diary of a Young Girl is a nonfiction compilation of young Anne Frank's writings during her time hiding in a secret annex with her family during the holocaust. So why is this book banned? Let’s just say when you’re in hiding for two years you... learn a lot about yourself (if you catch our drift).
In the original version of The Diary of Anne Frank, there are several explicit passages regarding female anatomy that cemented the book's spot on the list of banned books. But in what insane universe are people actually getting hot and bothered by the diary of a teenage girl who would later be killed in the Holocaust?
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Satirical war novel Catch-22 was written by Joseph Heller in 1961 as a means of analyzing the absurdity of military life and war as a whole. This whirlwind of a story pulls readers back and forth in time that leaves readers scratching their heads. But due to descriptive violence and inappropriate language, this literary classic was banned in 1972.
An Ohio school board first banned the book in 1972, prompting five families to sue them and for courts to take legal action. in 1976, the court said, "A library is a storehouse of knowledge. Here we are concerned with the right of students to receive information which they and their teachers desire them to have." In another instance, Texas and Washington schools banned the book for using the word "whores."
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Truman Capote published this masterpiece of literature titled In Cold Blood in 1966 after working on the book for six years with the help of a fellow novelist and peer on the banned books list, Harper Lee. This nonfiction novel takes readers on a mental roller coaster to figure out who murdered four members of the Clutter family before the police do.
However, this book was banned in Savannah, GA after parents complained about sex, violence, and profanity. If people want to get rid of those things, though, they're gonna have to ban a lot more than just this one book. Oh wait, they are! At least, they're trying their best to ban everything except the Bible.
Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman
Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden is a play about suffering, justice, and betrayal, which was content deemed too explicit for younger audiences. It was placed on the banned books list in a New Jersey High School in 2016. More than anything, we're surprised kids were still reading books in 2016, to be honest.
The stage production was widely celebrated and won credible awards. It was so celebrated, in fact, that a film adaptation featuring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, and Stuart Wilson was released four years after the play in 1994. The worst offense of the story is mere boredom, it seems, rather than actually controversial content.
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Rabbit, Run by John Updike is a novel written and published in the 1960s. Trapped in the mind of 26-year-old Harry “Rabbit” Armstrong, we are guided through the frustrations of his loveless marriage and a dead-end job. Updike’s story was removed from the required reading list at Medicine Bow, WY Junior High for sexual references and profanity.
These "sexually explicit passages" were actually cut from the original version of the novel after Updike's publisher told him they were inappropriate. But Updike made sure to restore these scenes in later prints of the novel, including the 1963 Penguin version. Updike published multiple sequels, including Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest, and Rabbit Remembered.
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
American literary sensation Kurt Vonnegut's fourth novel titled Cat's Cradle was first released in 1963 as a satirical sci-fi novel. This book takes readers on a trek that makes them question the importance of their own relationship with technology. Few people have issues with analyzing the intrusions of technology, yet many readers thoughts the work was too critical of religion, politics, and science.
Given these qualms, Vonnegut's work was banned due to discussion of religion, the nuclear arms race, and science. It was written in the '60s, so it's not like anything important related to the arms race was going on during those years anyway, right? Oh, wait... Maybe the book was a bit too on the nose, now that we think about it.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley’s depiction of a dystopian society in Brave New World was deemed “A masterpiece... One of the most prophetic dystopian works” by The Wall Street Journal. But in an A.P. Language and Composition classroom in a Delaware High School, two board members sealed the book’s fate by declaring it insensitive for being filled with racism, crude language, and explicit scenes.
In their defense, it is basically about a world full of drug-fueled sex parties. We're not saying they're wrong that the content is pretty explicit, but it's not like this novel is assigned reading for any students below the eleventh grade — much less classes that aren't A.P. And isn't the point of Brave New World to highlight the absurdity of a society focused on pleasure? Banning the book for that reason is pretty ironic.
Sophie's Choice, William Styron
William Styron wrote the fictional novel Sophie's Choice in the late '70s regarding three housemates in the heart of Brooklyn. This story features the Jewish scientist Nathan Landau and his encounters with the gorgeous Sophie Zawistowska. Styron’s work was criticized for its portrayal of a non-Jewish person as a victim of the Holocaust, explicit descriptions, and profanity.
Also, Sophie's Choice isn't a book that's considered "easy reading," whether it boils down to the harsh content or difficult passages. Because of the slew of complaints issued against the noble, it was banned 22 years after its publication. However, it received the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1980 and was adapted into a film in '82.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Southern American writer Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel took readers through the same emotional hardships of Celie, who is continually beaten and raped by her father and lovers. These graphic depictions of violence, as well as explicit sexual references and portrayal of a “damaging” lifestyle, landed this classic on the list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000–2009.
At its heart, The Color Purple is a feminist coming-of-age novel that challenges many mainstream ideologies or issues that people in the early 1900's — and even the '80s when the book was published — thought were too taboo to discuss. Plus, Celie's struggles with assault, self-worth, and sexual orientation aren't the novel's sole focus. Walker also explores Celie's relationship with her sister as well as the relationships involving close friends.
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
This 1954 debut novel by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding takes audiences on the tumultuous experience of a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island. Lord of the Flies was challenged due to its negative depiction of men, profanity, and demeaning language. Even more, it demonstrates many political dynamics, from the failures of pure democracy to the abuses of totalitarian regimes.
Aside from political messaging, harsh language, and profanity, this novel is centered around a group of children, which makes the violent scenes harder for readers to swallow. Best keep this one away from your kids unless you don't mind finding a chipped conch shell or severed pig's head under their bed.
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess has been on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923 and has also been critically acclaimed by Modern Library. This classic novel was removed at a high school in Colorado for use of "objectionable" language. Then it was turned into a hit movie, so kids don't even have to bother with reading it anymore.
A year after Colorado's censorship, Massachusetts removed the book from classrooms for similar reasons. In 1982, two Alabama libraries removed the book entirely just for it to be brought back as part of its "restricted" collection. That's very Harry Potter of them! Plus, a bookseller was arrested for selling the book in '73 because the film was so controversial, too!
Animal Farm, George Orwell
George Orwell has a knack for landing on banned book lists if Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four says anything. This high school staple has undisputable political references but is thought to be a necessity for several literature teachers all across the United States. Despite the seemingly cuddly title of the novel, the book is an allegory for Stalinism. It tells the story of farm animals who overthrow their human farmer in hopes to create an equal society.
However, the farm ends up worse than it started when Napoleon and his posse of pigs establish a dictatorship over the rest. The book has been challenged multiple times over the years by people who would clearly be the totalitarian pigs in the novel. Wisconsin's John Birch Society challenged the novel for its revolts, Georgia found that "political theories" got it banned in many of its schools, Florida and Connecticut banned it in middle and high schools, and New York observed that many readers found Animal Farm was a "problem book."
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
This southern gothic by Faulkner is consistently ranked among the best novels of the 20th century. As I Lay Dying has been banned by several U.S. school districts for uses of "coarse language" and questioning the existence of God. It's a dense book though, so good luck gleaning anything that problematic from your reading.
Despite some bans, Faulkner's novel is largely considered a masterpiece in American literature, especially among 20th-century publications. For example, the Modern Library ranked it 35th on the list of 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th-century in 1998. Various major publishing houses have reprinted the book, and Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949 due to his contributions to literature, including As I Lay Dying.
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is one of the most confusingly complex and allegorical American novels ever written, renowned for being one of the first to address the many social and intellectual challenges facing African Americans. The latest ban of this book was in North Carolina in 2013 for the use of profanity, descriptions of violence, and “talk of sex.”
Other places have certainly challenged the book for more problematic concerns, whether it boils down to critical race theory or sexism, but literary scholars have determined it one of the best books in American literature despite these challenges. For instance, writer Anthony Burgess publically called the novel "a masterpiece."
Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin
Go Tell It on the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical book written by James Baldwin in 1953. This first major work of Baldwin was one of the first to center its focus on the roles of the Pentecostal Church in the lives of African Americans. Obviously, any books that include subject matter focusing on religion, race, or sex will be challenged by random readers in the public.
In fact, some challenges and bans are challenged by people who haven't even read the book! The several mentions of sex, violence, degrading treatment of women, and rape landed this classic its spot on the banned books list. The Modern Library ranks Baldwin's novel 39th on its list of the 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century.
Maus, Art Speigelman
Cartoonist Art Spiegelman's early '90s graphic novel Maus became the first and only graphic novel to ever win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. However, despite the categorization as a "graphic novel," Spiegelman's work is nonfiction. He wrote and illustrated the book based on his father's experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, replacing all of the major players as categories of animals — think Orwell's Animal Farm.
This prize-winning book has been plastered across headlines after a McMinn County School Board in Tennessee struck the book from its curriculum just in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. They decided to ban the book because of curse words and an illustration of a "nude woman," even though she's depicted as a mouse.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
This one's a joke, right? Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree is easily the most beloved classic picture book in children's literature. First published in the '60s, Silverstein's book teaches children about generosity and empathy through the interactions of a growing boy and a tree. So why is it described as "one of the most divisive books in children's literature" by the School Library Journal?
Readers disagree if the basic plot of the book — the tree offering everything she has to support the boy — describes selfless love or a toxic, abusive relationship. Others peel back the layers even further, theorizing that Silverstein's story is everything from socialist subliminal messaging to internalized misogyny. Despite all of this, we doubt Silverstein's intentions go any deeper than teaching kindergarteners about sharing.
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was published in 2017, making it a recent addition to school curricula as well as the American Library Association's lists of banned books. Thomas' debut novel follows 16-year-old Starr Carter after she witnesses the murder of her friend Khalil at the hands of a white police officer and a jury deems the officer not guilty. For obvious reasons, The Hate U Give is not widely accepted among school boards, yet it's a phenomenon among young readers.
Despite debuting at the #1 New York Times best-seller list and staying there for 50 weeks, themes including code-switching and Black Lives Matter plus vulgar language, drugs, and sex caused the novel to be one of the most challenged books in 2017, 2018, and 2020.
George, Alex Gino
George AKAK Melissa by Alex Gino first landed on the Top 10 Banned Books list in 2016 and has topped the list ever since. This middle-grade book is fictional yet was written to illustrate the very real childhood LGBTQ+ experience. Specifically, the novel follows a transgender girl named Melissa, whom everyone refers to as George, and her experiences wishing to be cast as the female lead of her school's production of Charlotte's Web.
Due to frequent challenges and bans, George is the fifth-most banned book from 2010 and 2020. 2016-2017, the book was challenged purely because of its transgender protagonist, with the ALA citing the reason as people believing "sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels". Later in 2018, the reasoning evolved to “encourag[ing] children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones," then to "conflicting traditional family structure" and for "not reflecting the values of our community" from 2019-2020.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Autobiographical book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings describes the early life of poet Maya Angelou and is written by Angelou herself. The major themes — as described by Wikipedia — include everything from the "importance of family," the "quest for independence," and the "celebration of black motherhood" to a scathing "critique of racism." Because the book explores racism, sexism, sexuality, and rape relevant to Angelou's life, it was widely banned from major school districts and libraries.
Starting in 1983, fifteen U.S. states have challenged the book's inclusion in the classroom and on library shelves. Mainly due to sexually explicit scenes, language, and a lack of respect for religion, the book ranked #3 on ALA's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 list, #6 on the 2000-2009 list, and #8 in 2007.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini's debut novel The Kite Runner was released in 2003 and tells the story of Amir who lives during a tumultuous time in Afghanistan. Covering everything from the fall of the country's monarchy to the rise of the Taliban, The Kite Runner sold over seven million copies in the United States and was on the New Tork Times best-seller list for two consecutive years.
The problem? The American Library Associated cites that the novel topped its most-challenged books list in 2008 and suffered numerous challenges in schools and libraries due to "offensive language, sexually explicit content," and for being "unsuitable" for its age group. In other instances, the ALA cites that it's banned because readers thought it could “lead to terrorism” and “promote[d] Islam.”
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a novel written by Sherman Alexie. Alexie depicts 14-year-old cartoonist “Junior’s” decision to attend an all-white school away from his reservation as well as the challenges he faces along the way. These include everything from poverty and alcohol to bullying and sexuality.
Since 2008, Alexie's novel has sat comfortably on the ALA's list of most frequently challenged books, becoming #1 in 2014. The following states have challenged or banned the book in some capacity, particularly because of references to masturbation, language, violence, and anti-Christian sentiments: Illinois, Oregon, Missouri, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Idaho, North Carolina, and Texas.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The censorship of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is almost poetic because this novel's primary theme is censorship itself. Released in 1953, this novel depicts a dystopian society where books are outlawed and the job of "firemen" is no longer to save people from burning buildings but to burn books instead. The protagonist is a fireman who quits his position after an internal struggle regarding the purpose of destroying literature and knowledge through burning.
Bradbury's work has won numerous awards ranging from the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature to the "Retro" Hugo Award, yet has been equally challenged for vulgarity and foul language. In one instance in 2006, Texas student prompted her parents to challenge the book after reading "offensive language' and "description of the burning of the Bible." Irony at its best!
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's debut novel, which was initially published in 1970. Set in 1941 after the Great Depression, the novel follows the story of a young black girl named Pecola who wishes to have blue eyes like white girls because she is routinely seen as "ugly" for her dark skin. The narrator of the story is Claudie MacTeer, the daughter of Pecola's foster parents. Since its publication, the book has risen from #4 on the most banned books in the U.S. to #10.
Because of the book's discussion of incest, racism, child molestation, and sexism, countless libraries and school systems have attempted or successfully banned the novel from their institutions. From Maryland to Michigan and countless other states, banning across the U.S. placed The Bluest Eye at the top of the ALA's Top Ten Most Challenged Books list in 2006, 2014, 2013, and 2020.
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
Katherin Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia is a modern classic in many children's eyes, especially among Gen X and Millennials. Few children haven't read this book in elementary school as required reading in an attempt to learn about imagination, poverty, loss, and grief. In fact, the novel won the Newberry Medal in 1978! And despite ranking #10 on the School Library Journal's list of all-time best children's novels in 2012, it also ranks on many of ALA's lists of most commonly challenged books in the U.S.
Challenges of the book are a result of death acting as one of the novel's major themes as well as blasphemy, offensive language, and allegations from religious readers that it promotes secular humanism, New Age religion, occultism, and Satanism due to descriptions of creatures from the children's imaginations.
And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
2005 children's book And Tango Makes Three was written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson to tell the story of Roy, Silo, Tango, penguins who form a family of three. Roy and Silo are two male penguins who are given an egg to raise together by the zookeeper Mr. Gramsay. The female chick who hatches is named Tango by zookeepers and consequently becomes part of Roy and Silo's family.
The picture book is based on the true story of two male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo who formed a bond. According to the American Library Association, And Tango Makes Three the victim of frequent challenges, becoming the most challenged book from 2006 to 2010 and one of the most banned books from 2000 to 2019 because it introduces the idea of diverse families and same-sex parents to children.
Skippyjon Jones, Judy Schachner
Skippyjon Jones is a series of children's picture books written by Judy Schachner. Many elementary-aged children and younger read these books in classrooms around the United States as a means of learning about Spanish culture and following the adventures of a curious and spunky Siamese cat. But even Skippyjon can't avoid criticism!
Many readers criticize Skippyjon Jones’ depiction of Latinos, use of mock Spanish, and reliance on stereotypes. In 2018, challenges surmounted positive reviews, landing Schachner's book at the #8 spot on the American Library Association's list of top challenged books. Despite challenges involving tokenism and racial stereotyping, Schachner continues to defend her writing as a source of education.