Each September, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Starting in 1982, Banned Books Week was a response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Today, Banned Books Week highlights the value of free and open access to information.
Check out the surprising books below that have been challenged, banned, or censored by governments or institutions due to the contents within their pages. Read with caution!
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is perhaps the most common book to be associated with banned or challenged literary materials. It’s the story of a dystopian future where literature is on the brink of extinction, and television allows the government to view citizens’ every move. Rather than putting out fires, it is the job of firefighters to start them by igniting printed books, which are illegal, and the houses in which they are kept. Ironically, Fahrenheit 451 was banned because one of the books that is considered illegal in the story is the Holy Bible.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
In 1942, a thirteen-year old Jewish girl and her family flee their home in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and enter hiding. For the next two years, until they were discovered by the Gestapo, Anne Frank recounted in her diary the hunger, boredom, fear, and confinement that her family experienced in their tight, secret hiding place of an old office building. Today, Anne’s diary provides us with a glimpse into the horrors of war and the strength of the human spirit. This now-classic piece of literature was challenged for its sexual content, tragic nature, and for being “a real downer” by a school in Alabama.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is the story of the son of a wealthy merchant in Afghanistan and his peer servant of a despised and impoverished class. Over the span of thirty years, it follows the dissolution of, and the attempt to fix, a complicated friendship during the dying moments of the Afghan monarchy. Objections to this book include its treatment of homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and violence. In 2017, it was among the most challenged books of the year because it was thought to “lead to terrorism and promote Islam.”
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This classic American novel has a long history of censorship in the United States. Set in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the perspective of six-year-old Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, whose father is a lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white women during the Great Depression. Despite proving his innocence, the black man is convicted by the jury. To Kill a Mockingbird explores racial injustice, and was challenged for this exact reason, as well as depictions of violence and offensive language.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s spellbinding novel is the story of Sethe, who was born into slavery but escaped to Ohio, and eighteen years later is still not free. Sethe, despite the horrors that occurred at Sweet Farm, can’t escape the fond memories she has of her first home. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, whose gravestone was marked with only one word: Beloved. In 2011, this book was banned from the AP English curriculum because one family launched a complaint against the book’s racial themes, sexual content, and passages about ghosts.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Surprising, isn’t it? The Captain Underpants series, a favorite among young readers everywhere – including in our library – has been challenged or banned in some schools due to “insensitivity, being unsuited to age group, and encouraging children to disobey authority.” Pilkey’s series is about two fourth-grade boys who enjoy creating comics and pulling pranks. They create a comic about their school principal that immediately comes to life and hops off the page.
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Did you know Rowling’s incredibly popular series has been among the most frequently challenged books since it was published? Many calls for the wildly imaginative books to be banned originate on the grounds that “witchcraft is a government-recognized religion and that to allow the books to be held in public schools violates the separation of church and state.”
Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley, wrongfully sent to a boys detention center, is under a curse, thanks to his great-great grandfather. At the camp, the boys’ punishment is to dig holes five-feet wide and five-feet deep. But Stanley soon realizes the holes are more than punishment; the warden of the camp is searching for something on the camp grounds. Sachar’s world-renowned classic was banned because, when read aloud in class, it caused an uproar among parents. They thought it was an inappropriate book for nine-year-olds.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, The Hate U Give is the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter. Starr lives a double life between the poor neighborhood she lives in, and the fancy prep school she attends. The delicate unbalance between these two worlds is shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer. Her friend was unarmed. This bestseller has been challenged by schools across the country for its “inappropriate and racially insensitive language” and “indoctrination of distrust of the police.”
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s epic fantasy tells of the quest undertaken by hobbits, wizards, dwarfs, and elves across Middle Earth. Both good and evil forces are in pursuit of the magic ring. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been banned or challenged in some areas for being “satanic.” In 2001, the book was even burned by members of a church in New Mexico.
Continue to celebrate Banned Books Week by stopping by the library the week of September 22-29, 2019. You can learn more at bannedbooksweek.org.