In celebration of Banned Books Week, I encourage you to read or check out at least one title from this banned books list. I admit, that I do not readily understand the need for parents to censor their child's reading. Even when my kids enjoy books I hate, I don't tell them no. I have even more difficulty when adults take steps to restrict other children from reading books by challenging a book's very presence on library shelves.
Indeed, banned books provide wonderful teaching moments. Does a book deal with difficult topics? Does it promote a world view that is not inline with the way you see things? Talk about it with your child. Open the door and encourage your children to keep an open mind and think critically about what they read. They (and you) will become more discerning readers and empathetic citizens as a result.
Below are 8 books which have faced challenges or been outright banned from libraries. Which ones have you read? Note: titles and covers are affiliate links.
I read the beautiful Bridge to Terabithia as a kid and I still list it as one of the books that has stayed with me. Two 5th grade friends, Jess and Leslie, create an imaginary world they call Terabithia. One day a tragedy leaves Jess alone and he must rely on all he learned through his friendship with Leslie to work through his grief over her death. Parents have trouble with a children's book that has death as a central motif, and some claim the book promotes witchcraft. However, children need books that help them deal with big emotions, and the author always found the accusations that the book was anti-Christian somewhat odd as she herself was the child of missionaries and the wife of a minister. Patterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins is another frequently challenged book that I think is worth a read. Ages 8 and up.
The Giver. It is rather ironic that a book about the dangers of restricting information would be challenged and banned, yes? 12 year old Jonas lives in "The Community" in which sameness is valued and everyone's life is pre-determined by the elders. Jonas learns the truth, however, when he is designated as the next "Receiver of Memory", the only person who is allowed to learn about the past and the outside world. There are some heavy issues in the book, but the message is clear: freedom for people to learn and follow their own path, despite pain and chaos, are more valuable than ignorance and safety. That's a lesson I want to teach my kids. Ages 10 and up.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Here's another book I read as a child that had a profound impact on me; I remember being moved by it, even 30 years later. Published in 1976, (and on my list of must read books fro the 1970s) this is the story of a family deeply affected by racism. It's not a pretty story, and it's about the shameful way people can treat each other. I remember reading it and feeling as though, as a child growing up in a sheltered (even though progressive) environment, that my eyes had been opened, but that there was possibility for positive change. Isn't that what we want for our kids? Ages 10 and up.
In the Night Kitchen. I will admit that the reason parents want to ban this book makes me roll my eyes. Nakedness. Seriously! I don't want to seem disrespectful but does not that seem a tad ridiculous? As an adult I found this book sort of weird on the first reading, but the more I read it the more I love it and understand how it speaks to children and their anxieties. While he dreams, Mickey floats (nekkid) through the air and into a bakery when the cooks are preparing a cake. Mickey becomes the hero when he secures the missing ingredient (milk) so the cake can be finished by, and eaten for, breakfast. The whole book is surreal and adults will be able to see references to cultural events that kids won't see. I recommend reading it to your kids and if they like it, keep reading it. Ages 4 and up.
A Light in the Attic. I admit I was confused as to why in the world this book would be banned, so I had to do a little Google search to verify. Indeed, school libraries have banned this book because parents have complained that some of the poems promote the occult and that a poem with the line "someone ate the baby" would encourage kids cannibalism. (Seriously! For real!) I'm pretty sure reading poetry has never resulted in the eating of babies. As you know, I am a big believer in the power of poetry to bring joy to daily life. Read these awesome poems with your kids. Ages 4 and up.
And Tango Makes Three is based on a true story about two male penguins (yes, penguins) at Central Park Zoo in NYC. The penguins form a bond and when they seem sad that they have no egg in their nest, a zoo keeper gives them an egg. Roy and Silo care for the egg until it hatches. A note in the back expands on the actual events. The heart of the book is that a family is a group of people who love and care for each other and cannot be defined by restrictive conventions. Granted, the book is not for everyone, but let's leave the book in libraries for those of us who like the message -- or for those of us who want to read a cute story about penguins. Ages 3 and up.
The Agony of Alice. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series, which I included in my list of must read books from the 1980s, has made her one of the most challenged children's authors of all time because she write honestly about Alice's "agony" of dealing with the transition into tweendom -- socially, biologically and emotionally. Alice's mother has passed away and she lives with her brothers and father, who don't always "get" her, but who love her. There are 25 books in the Alice series (I have not read them all!) chronicling Alice's journey through middle and high school. This is a terrific series for girls (and also for boys, I might add). Ages 10 and up.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants. Sure, Captain Underpants relies on silly, gross humor to entertain kids and keep them reading, but so what? I've written before about why I let my kids read potty humor. My son loved these books about two boys with an overactive imagination. Some of the complaints about this series include accusing it of disrespecting school authority figures, but I don't think parents want their kids to blindly follow whatever adults say. In addition, school is a source of anxiety for kids (whether it's academic or social, mild or severe) and I think it's good for kids to have a way of thinking about school in subversive, non-traditional ways. That said, I do leave these books for my boys to read independently; I'm not very interested in reading them out loud. Ages 5 and up.
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This list only touches the surface of books that parents and other adults have tried to keep out of the hands (and hearts) of children. Other popular books include the Harry Potter series, several Judy Blume books, and even A Wrinkle in Time. You can learn more at the American Library Association.
We can all agree that not all books are appropriate for every child at any given time. Certainly, some titles are best appreciated when kids are older. However, let's encourage inquiry, thoughtfulness, and a curious approach to the world by leaving all books on the shelves.
Celebrate the freedom to read.
For more books we love, banned and otherwise, check out the index of all my book lists.