It’s Banned Books Week, which means we’re bringing awareness to the books that have been unfairly banned or challenged for their content.
In recent years, the American Library Association has reported record numbers of banned books. A disproportionate amount of these book bannings affect authors of color, LGBTQ+ authors, or authors with disabilities. Here are 19 books that have been banned for truly absurd reasons:
If you’ve been on BookTok lately, then you probably are familiar with Sarah J. Maas’s A Court Of Thorns and Roses series. The first three books in the series have all landed on banned lists. While the lists didn’t explore why the books were banned, some assume it’s because of sexual content. In Virginia, Tommy Altman, who is running for Congress, filed a lawsuit against both Barnes and Noble and Virginia Beach Schools for allowing minors to read A Court of Mist and Fury without parental permission.
John Green’s 2005 novel Looking for Alaska has been banned for including “a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to ‘sexual experimentation.'” In the Florida school district that Green himself attended as a student, a school board candidate is running on the promise that she will ban the book if elected. In a TikTok, Green said it feels strange to have people he personally knows trying to ban his work, and noted that he finds their reasoning a bit odd. “I just don’t think Looking for Alaska is pornography,” he said. “And I think reading it that way is a little weird.”
In 2009, theTwilight series became one of the most banned books in America. The novels were “challenged for being sexually explicit, [including] religious views, and being unsuitable for their age group.” Other criticisms stemmed from the belief that the books promoted the occult.
Soon after Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which explores racism and police brutality, was released in 2017, it quickly found its way to the top of banned books lists. In Texas, the novel was banned because of vulgar language. A student in the school district launched a petition and was able to get the book back on shelves, but students must get parental permission before checking the book out of their school libraries. In South Carolina, the Fraternal Order of Police protested the book, saying they believed it created “almost an indoctrination of distrust of police.”
In 1987, Where’s Waldo? was banned because one reader spotted a partially topless woman in one of the pictures. The book even landed on the list of the 100 most banned books between 1990 and 2000. In 2007, a Texas prison banned Where’s Waldo? Santa Spectacular, but allowed prisoners to read titles like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and books penned by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl should be essential reading to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, but instead, it has been banned by several school districts that claim the way Anne writes about her body in the book is “pornographic.” In Alabama, one textbook committee said they believed the book should be banned because it was a “real downer.”
All Boys Aren’t Blue, George M. Johnson’s essay collection about gender identity, is the second most banned book in the United States, and has been removed from over 29 school districts. The book was challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit. “It’s been bittersweet to see our stories be attacked in this way, but it is also amplifying many of our stories, and I’m able to get the book out to the teen readers who really need it the most,” Johnson told ABC. “If there’s anything I’m thankful for, it’s that it’s actually getting to the hands of the people who need to read it to heal from it.”
Many young readers get their start with books like Captain Underpants. The series has been challenged because some believed it was “encouraging disruptive behavior.” Additionally, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was questioned for featuring a same-sex couple.
George, a novel about a transgender child, has been on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books list several times. In fact, the book was the most banned book in 2020. The novel has been “challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy” over its LGBTQIA+ content. Some have argued that schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion.” The novel has since been renamed Melissa to show respect to the novel’s protagonist.
Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic memoir about the Holocaust, has been banned for nudity and profanity. The kicker? All of the characters in the book are animals that have been separated by species to highlight the way people of different ethnicities and religions were separated during the Holocaust, so technically, the only nudity featured in the book is of animals. Of course, many believe this reasoning was just an excuse to maintain the whitewashing of historical events.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a novel that follows a teen who makes a movie for one of his classmates who is dying from leukemia, has recently been banned for “vulgar language” and “pornographic” content. The novel was specifically cited by politicians and school boards in Michigan, Texas, and Tennessee. Jesse Andrews, the novel’s author, tweeted that he found the bans ridiculous. “It’s a potty-mouthed book about how hard it is to process pain and grief, and how hard it is to grow up. The idea that this harms anyone is beyond stupid.”
The Hunger Games has been challenged due to being “anti-ethnic, anti-family, and violent,” as well as “having offensive language, occult/satanic references, and references to overt sexuality.” In 2014, anti-government protestors in Thailand used a hand symbol from the novel during their protest, which further stoked criticism of the book’s content.
Shel Silverstein’s poetry collection Where the Sidewalk Ends has been banned in schools because some believe it promotes “drug use, suicide, death, the occult, violence, disrespect for authority, disrespect for truth, and rebellion against parents.”
In the 1980s, Harriet the Spy was banned in several school districts in the South, because they said the novel encouraged children to spy on others, be disrespectful, and talk back to their parents.
The Handmaid’s Tale has been banned in both school districts and by entire countries. To protest book bannings, author Margaret Atwood and Penguin Random House teamed up to release an “unburnable” edition of the novel, which sold at auction for $130,000. “Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of wholesale book burnings, as in Fahrenheit 451,” Atwood said. “But if we do, let’s hope some books will prove unburnable — that they will travel underground, as prohibited books did in the Soviet Union.”
Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner has been banned several times since its 2003 release. The book has faced criticism because some believe its plot will “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.” Other complaints about the novel have revolved around “sexually explicit content,” “violence,” and “offensive language.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has faced multiple bans for “drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, [and] sexually explicit” content. Others have called out the discussions of “date rape and masturbation” as reasons why the book should be banned. In 2010, the coming of age novel was specifically highlighted by a Virginia group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools.
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has faced banning attempts nearly every year since it was released in 2007. The novel, which has been found on school reading lists, has been challenged for the inclusion of “profanity, sexual references, and use of a derogatory term.”
And finally, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was banned because the book’s author, Bill Martin, Jr., just so happens to share a name with another Bill Martin who wrote a controversial book about Marxism.
Have you read any of these banned books? Have any of your favorites been banned? Let us know in the comments!