30 Books To Read For Banned Books Week
This week marks the 30th annual Banned Books Week. Celebrate your freedom to read what you want and combat censorship by reading banned or challenged books this week. If you’re at a loss for where to start, maybe this list of 30 books to read for Banned Books Week will give you some ideas. Leave a comment and let us know what you’re reading this week.
While banning books is always reprehensible, it is perhaps at its worst when the books challenged are indisputable classics, full of literary value and addressing important social issues. The following books are some of the most threatened classics. Many of them have battled censorship off and on since publication.
Brave New World has come under increased attack in recent years, challenged for its depiction of drug use, sexuality, its views on religion, and for perceived racism. It’s almost as if people are finding more and more to be offended by as our world comes closer to resembling Huxley’s nightmarish distopyia.
Harper Lee’s classic coming-of-age story has had its share of would-be censors over the years. In 2009 it was removed from St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada after a parent objected to the language used in the novel.
Steinbeck’s enduring classic has been attacked by censors over the years, and continues to be one of the most challenged books. Most of the challenges have stemmed from the book’s use of profanity. Recently the book has caused controversy by being used by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to measure mental retardation of criminals.
One of the ten books most frequently banned from middle school and high school libraries, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has ruffled feathers with its frank depiction of sexuality, including depictions of lesbianism and premarital cohabitation. Heaven forfend!
Twain’s novel, considered by many to be the closest thing to “The Great American Novel” makes parents uneasy with its realistic dialect that includes “racist language.” Of course the book is actually about racism and the moral failings of America during slavery, but some people just can’t see past a certain word.
Morrison’s heartbreaking debut novel deals with the controversial themes of racism, incest and child molestation. Those are three themes that are just about guaranteed to make people angry, so it’s no surprise that this classic has been — and continues to be — a prime target for censorship.
Alice Walker’s novel has been repeatedly challenged for its “sexual and social explicitness.” In 1992 it was banned in the Souderton, PA Area School District and referred to as “smut.” Most recently, in 2008, it was challenged in Burke County Schools in Morganton, NC by a group of parents concerned with its sexual explicitness.
According to the ALA: “In 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, OK was fired for assigning the book to an eleventh grade English class. The teacher appealed and was reinstated…but the book was removed from use in the school.” The book has been challenged and occasionally removed from school libraries ever since.
When Republic High School in Missouri banned this book, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis responded by sending free copies to the first 150 students who requested them. During his life Vonnegut spoke out adamantly against censorship.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey: 49th most banned/challenged book of the 2000s
Kessey’s debut novel, written while under the influence of LSD and working the graveyard shift as an orderly at a mental hospital, has caused its share of controversy. One St. Anthony, ID teacher lost his job for assigning the book in 1978. In 1975, five Strongsville, OH residents sued the Board of Education to remove the novel, claiming it “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.”
Also of note: Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya; The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood; The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien; Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes; Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
“Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest form of cowardice.” – Holbrook Jackson
Don’t censor your children; celebrate Banned Books Week with them by reading one or more of the following books together.
These books remain a popular target for censorship. Some parents object to the violence portrayed in the series and some occult themes, but perhaps their biggest offense is just being too scary. Parents forget that kids enjoy being scared. As it’s Banned Books Week and the first week of October, this series seems especially appropriate.
To the rational human being, there is nothing remotely objectionable about J.K. Rowling’s immensely successful children’s series. But fundamentalist Christian parents are pretty much the antithesis of “rational human beings,” so this book became the most challenged book of the years 2000-2009 — for purportedly promoting witchcraft.
The late Maurice Sendak was always astounded that one little schmeckle got this innocent classic in so much hot water. For those parents who don’t want to teach their children that their naked body is a sinful disgrace that they should feel terribly ashamed of for the remainder of their existence, this is a wonderful bedtime read with beautiful illustrations.
Lois Lowry’s Newberry Medal winning dystopian children’s novel is regularly challenged due to its difficult subject matter. It also contains some minor sexuality in the form of a dream the 12-year-old protagonist has — which is far less graphic than the dreams of real 12-year-old boys everywhere.
One of the children’s books most targeted by censors in the 90s, Bridge To Terabithia was made into a Disney movie in 2007 and continues to be challenged fairly regularly. Despite these attempts at censorship it is assigned reading in elementary school English classes in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, and Australia.
It’s Perfectly Normal is a book that talks openly and honestly about puberty and the human body. As such, it has been challenged repeatedly by prude parents who would prefer that their children live in ignorance of such things as the pituitary gland, nocturnal emissions, and pubic hair.
Judy Blume’s frank and honest depiction of tween bullying has been a commonly targeted book for censorship. Those challenging it clearly miss the anti-bullying message that could clearly benefit the targeted age group. Another of Judy Blume’s novels, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has also been the target of censorship.
This Newberry Award winner has frequently been targeted for the “language and conduct of the title character.” What those challenging the book are missing (other than brain cells) is that Gilly has had a rough life, and her initial brashness is necessary to show her character’s growth.
A great page-turner for kids and a nostalgic guilty pleasure for 20-somethings, the Goosebumps books have also been a frequent target for censorship. The challenges have come from depictions of the occult, as well for just being too scary for kids, which, of course, is ridiculous. See how many you can read before Halloween.
Though somewhat less challenged in recent years, Madeleine L’Engle’s enduring children’s sci-fi classic has met with controversy in L’Engle’s words, “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was really difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adults’ book, anyhow?”
Also of note: Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George; Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly; King and King, by Linda de Haan; Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite; The Witches, by Roald Dahl
Young adulthood is an awkward, difficult time. Parents’ usual neurotic fears for their children are compounded by their concerns that their teen may be sexually active or using drugs. This unfortunately leads some parents to demand the banning in school libraries of “questionable” books, because censorship is a lot easier than actually talking to your kids about drugs and sex.
Robert Cormier’s tale of the inner social workings of a Catholic prep school is one of the most censored books in recent memory. Some parents object to the books’ language, certain characters’ sexual ponderings, and the intimidation used by the secret society in the book. Cormier told the New York Times Book Review in 1985: “…the kids can absorb my kind of book because they know this kind of thing happens in life.”
The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins: 3rd most banned/challenged books of 2011
The ALA lists as its reasons for being challenged: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence. Certainly there is disturbing teen violence in this book, but it is in a nightmarish post-apocalyptic context. With continued attention for the books due to the popularity of the Hunger Games movies, the series is likely to see future attempts at censorship in school libraries.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series were the 6th most challenged books last year and the 2nd most challenged books of the years 2000-2009. The reasons for these challenges, cited by the ALA, are “nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint.” Is nudity offensive to people even when only being described? I had no idea.
His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman: 8th most banned/challenged books of the 2000s
One section of The Amber Spyglass was censored in the North American edition to remove sexually suggestive content. Phillip Pullman said of his trilogy and censorship: “I’ve been surprised by how little criticism I’ve got. Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak… Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God.”
Poor Judy Blume is one of the most censored authors of our time. (Her novel Blubber also made this list in the Childrens section.) Forever, which chronicles a teenager’s sexual awakening, has frequently been challenged because it “does not promote abstinence and monogamous relationships.”
This book, which has been adapted for the big screen, has been challenged for its realistic portrayal of high school drug use and sexuality, as well as some disturbing themes. Unfortunately, with the likely popularity of the film adaptation, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book in the top 10 most challenged list for 2013.
Myers’ Vietnam War novel continues to be challenged regularly due to its realistic violence and profanity (Hey, guess what? Soldiers swear sometimes.) Interestingly, the novel, which was published in 1988 saw its rank in the most challenged department climb over the past 10 years; either due to increased popularity or perhaps the War on Terror.
Purportedly the nonfiction diary of an anonymous author, Go Ask Alice has long been recognized as the work of its “Editor” Beatrice Sparks. Because of its profanity and explicit depiction of teenage drug use, runaways, sex and rape, it continues to be a target for parents seeking to censor school libraries.
This book continues to be highly challenged, presumably due to its violence, which includes a decapitation. Seeing as how My Brother Sam Is Dead is a historical fiction novel offering a realistic depiction of the Revolutionary War, it would be a pretty lousy book if it didn’t depict violence.
This novel in verse is a popular book for challenges by prudes due mostly to one poem called “Ice Capades” in which the main character describes her fascination with how her breasts react to a cold window pane. Not exactly pornography, folks.
Also of note: Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan; The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney; We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier; Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar; Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
See also: Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson; The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini; A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck; Earth’s Children (series), by Jean M. Auel; Final Exit, by Derek Humphry
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