In celebration of Banned Books Week, I encourage you to read or check out at least one title from this list of banned children's books. As you peruse the list, you may be surprised at seeing titles you enjoyed when you were a child.
Most children's books that are challenged or banned in school libraries and curricula are done so because they don't reinforce traditional narratives about power, class, gender and race. In other words, the books in question encourage children's to think critically about society.
In addition, these books often depict the experiences of marginalized individuals who deserve to be seen and represented. It's morally wrong to censor the stories of people just because they don't reinforce a particular political or religious world view.
In fact, challenged and banned books provide wonderful teaching moments. Does a book deal with difficult topics? Does it share the experiences of others? Talk about it with your child. Open the door and encourage your children to keep an open mind about what they read. They (and you) will become more discerning readers and empathetic citizens as a result.
- The American Library Association has a list of the 10 most challenged books for each year, and the reasons why they were challenged or banned.
- Authors talk about the experience of having their books banned from schools.
- Children's Books about Censorship and Media Literacy
Note: This list contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Bookshop supports independent booksellers.
A dangerous book will always be in danger from those it threatens with the demand that they question their assumptions. They'd rather hang on to the assumptions and ban the book.-Ursula K. Le Guin
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson
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 which is worth a read. Ages 8 and up.
THE GIVER (series) by Lois Lowry
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.
MORE: Books for Kids who Like The Giver
FRONT DESK (series) by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang lives in a motel where her immigrant parents are the managers for an exploitative owner. Mia wants to be a writer but worries about her English skills. She takes over running the front desk of the motel and makes friends wherever she goes. She experiences anti-Chinese prejudice and witnesses racial bias against People of Color in her neighborhood. She dreams of winning a writing contest so her parents can own their own hotel instead of working endlessly for little pay. Yang based the novel on her own experiences growing up in similar circumstances. A winning, funny and heartwarming novel; not to be missed. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Middle Grade Books by Asian and Asian-American Authors
ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY (series) by Mildred D. Taylor
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 from 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 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.
NEW KID (series) by Jerry Craft
After I brought this book home from the library, my son loved it and read it ten times in a row! I'm not surprised because after I read it, I realized how nuanced this story is. Art-loving Jordan navigates a new school as one of the few kids of color in his seventh grade class. Craft's story offers much to discover, even after multiple readings. The book was removed from shelves at a Texas school after a parent complained that it promoted "Critical Race Theory." Fortunately, the book was reinstated! Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Anti-Bias Middle Grade Books
IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN by Maurice Sendak
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 naked through the air and into a bakery when the cooks are preparing a cake. Mickey becomes the hero when he secures the missing ingredient 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 by Shel Silverstein
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.
MORE: Poets Your Kids Should Know
THIS DAY IN JUNE by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Find it: Bookshop | Indiebound | Amazon
Sadly, I'm sure you can guess why some small-minded individuals want to remove this book from library shelves. This is a short, sweet and joyful look at the Pride parade and celebration that happens every June for Pride Month. The rhyming text makes it perfect for preschoolers and an endnote gives further information as well as helpful advice for talking to young children about LGBTQIA+ issues. Age 3 and up.
MORE: LGBTQ - Positive Books for Kids
THE AGONY OF ALICE (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
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 chronicling Alice's journey through middle and high school. Ages 10 and up.
THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS by Dav Pilkey
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. Ages 5 and up.
MELISSA (previously published as George) by Alex Gino
Melissa is a girl, but everyone thinks she is a boy named George. She is worried no one will know who she is and she will stay hidden forever. She dreams of playing Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte's Web but the teacher won't even consider her for the part. Melissa confesses her secret to her best friend, who helps her concoct a plan. This is a quiet gem of a book and I am impressed at how accessible the text is for the intended audience. Melissa is a fifth grader and the story is not overcomplicated or bogged down with social and political backstory or controversy. While some want to ban the book because it sheds light on transgender issues, it is much more than just an LGBTQ story. All kids are familiar with keeping secrets and worrying about being accepted by others. This is a moving and hopeful story. Ages 8 and up.
MORE: Books for Tweens with LGBTQIA Characters
We can certainly 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.
Amy Wishman Nalan says
Yes! Yes! Yes! We love And Tango Makes Three and A Light in the Attic. (I have a 6 year old and a 4 year old, so some of these titles we haven't shared yet). Our public library had a display in the children's section featuring banned books and I required (er, I mean strongly encouraged) my kids to choose some titles. They chose The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and King & King, both of which we have read before and love.
Erica MomandKiddo says
The Wizard of Oz is one of our favorites!!
Amy @ Sunlit Pages says
Some of these books are not my favorites (The Night Kitchen, Captain Underpants), BUT I think everyone should get to choose whether they like them or not!
Erica MomandKiddo says
Tracy Bayley says
Hi. I have been reading your blog for quite a while and am ashamed to admit this is my first reply. First, why was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz banned? Yes i agree that all books should remain on the shelf. Isnt that part of being a democratic society? Having freedom to choose? I do believe that adult concepts get in the way of childrens story books. Look at Enid Blyton's Noddy books - banned for a time because the bad dolls were gollywogs (they were black), and because Noddy and Bigears shared a bed, it gave the impression (for adults) that they were gay. I must admit that i was sceptical about Harry Potter being a christian, so i read them first (my daughter REALLY wanted to read them). I was hooked! Read all of the books in a couple of weeks as i couldnt put them down.
Erica MomandKiddo says
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Tracy! I'm sure Oz was banned in some areas because of the magic element. That is a common theme from parents who worry magic in books promotes the occult. Harry Potter is challenged for the same reason, even though the entire series is a triumph for good over evil (so glad you decided to give it a go and enjoyed it, too!) . And yes, I totally agree that adult anxieties get in the way! 🙂
We have read a few. I want to read The Giver. The Night Kitchen is one of my daughter's favorites, not really sure why and I could never figure out why it was banned, lol! Of coursing banning books only makes kids want to read them more! Woohoo!
Erica MomandKiddo says
I'm all for making kids want to read more!
It was banned because it showed a naked bottom. Crazy, I know.
Kimshiro L Benton-Hermsen says
It was banned because the main character is portrayed unclothed and anatomically correct, because you know, bodies are DANGEROUS and little kids are scarred by nudity. The fact that every toddler born is constantly trying to strip off all their clothes is beside the point. Also, some very perverse adults view the bottle milk as "phallic". The fact that the author was gay (with the same partner for 50 years) is the icing on the cake for the book Nazis.
Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist says
Thanks for this list! Sharing. (I've been trying to resist Underpants but I suppose we all have to go through the potty humour and out the other side?)
Thanks for sharing this list on the #KidLitBlogHop. My daughter is not a fan of Captain Underpants but she read it before deciding that. While she's extremely sensitive to content, not all kids are and I can't imagine even considering for a second banning a book just because I think it isn't appropriate for my child or my family. Differences are what makes this world a beautiful place. Have a wonderful rest of the week!
~Cool Mom for
The Stanley & Katrina Gang
Pragmatic Mom says
Isn't it so crazy that some of these book are on the list like Captain Underpants and In the Night Kitchen? I seriously wonder who these people are who are banning books. I'd like to meet a few!
I always make a point of reading banned books during banned book week. Thanks for sharing your great list at the Kid Lit Blog Hop!
As a retired high school English teacher, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing these books. I don't condone letting kids read controversial books on their own because kids need adult guidance when reading this material but not adult censorship. Good books here. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop.
After reading this list of banned books, I am convinced that today's children will or may never receive opportunities to learn about stories that spark conversations. Nor will they find opportunities to think for themselves.
They even banned Shel Silverstein. The horror.... I read just about half of these books in high school and in middle school.
Mom of three says
Thank you for this list! My kids are life long readers and I have been amazed through the years what has been deemed controversial. Parental involvement and knowing your own child is key. Make decisions for your family. However banning of books is a frightening path that serves no one. The Narnia books, Huckelberry Finn, The Golden Compas Trilogy, The Kite Runner, The Lord of the Flies, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Alice's Asventures in Wonderland, Harriet the Spy, are some of the other well known books that have been banned at some point in time. Again, every family deserves to make their own decision for their own children at their maturity level and their own personal beliefs, but outright banning of books is a terrifying slope. Reading along with your child to discuss your family values, concerns they may have, is an effective and enjoyable way to help navigate sensitive subject matter. Long past the age where my 'kids' needed to be read stories we made it a family tradition because they enjoyed it, as did we. We also co-read books of intrest as our kids did and could discuss with them chapter by chapter at dinner.
Erica MomandKiddo says
Thanks for your comment! I agree that good discussion about sensitive subjects is key.
While I do believe parents should filter their children's reading materials at times, banning books is not the way. One of my all time favorite books is, LOVE YOU FOREVER. I was astonished to hear this book was on a watch list of questionable books because of the mother in this story 'creeping into her son's room at night to sing to him and rock him in her arms', because he was a sleeping teenager! To people with unclean minds, everything is unclean. It'sgood to remember, at one time the Bible was a banned book and people were put to death just for possessing a copy! It contained many descriptions that were 'offensive', too. I hope every parent will share some of these beautiful books with their children. They'll be richer for it!
Robbin Hair says
The only problem with In the Night Kitchen is the one page where the main character doesn't have clothing on. All you have to do is to color a pair of shorts on him, and the drawing will be fine. It is an excellent book and should not be avoided just because of that one picture that is easy to fix.
Actually it's a few naked pictures as well as the text saying he fell out of his pj's but why color on shorts? For the boys out there, they have penises so I don't think it will seem odd or inappropriate. My son thought it was just funny Mickey's pj's fell off. For girls I guess I could see holding off if you don't want to explain anatomy yet. Even my four year old gets that boys have penises and girls don't though and the drawings in the book are not at all graphic so I'm not sure you're actually protecting anyone from anything. Just my two cents.
After reading this list, we got In the Night Kitchen from the library and my 4 year old son loves it. He kept asking for it so I got him his own copy. We have read it at least ten times and never once has he mentioned The Penis. About ten minutes after bedtime last night, though, he yelled "quiet down there!" I think he wants to be Mickey.
He also thinks Captain Underpants is hilarious although I think it will be another year or two before he gets all of it.
Wow! These books are banned in some places? These are all available at our local library. (We live in New Zealand).
In the Night Kitchen has even been translated into Maori (the Native language).
So sad that these have been banned. I honestly can not see reasons why? Like legitimate could potentially cause harm to a child reasons.
Thank you for sharing this though, it makes me see how lucky we are!
Erica MomandKiddo says
In the Night Kitchen is such a great book. I'm glad to hear it is available all over the world.
Hi! Just an FYI: I know you've already noted that the Alice books follow her through high school - but since you haven't read them all, I thought you might want to add a disclaimer/content warning.
There are several heavy themes that begin around the eleventh book, including a friend's suicide and another's various coping strategies for having experienced sexual abuse in childhood. As a middle schooler, I probably read beyond my level, so I think "10 & up" shouldn't be widely applied to the entire series.
STILL, I thought they were great, I think they're great now, and I definitely don't think they should have been banned.
Elisa Murray says
Hi there, I'm curious about Captain Underpants. I'm fine with silly, gross, potty humor, and with disrespecting authority, but the most recent novel my 7-year-old son CP read was out and out offensive to women and very age inappropriate to boot (see two-page joke about free "bra inspections). I feel the same way about the Wimpy Kid books, which have references to "hot girls," etc. My feeling is to steer him away when possible (and add context when he is reading those books); curious about others' thoughts.
Carol Williams says
As an author, I understand having books banned. I've also had people say to my face that they hate the books I write. It's not pleasant and I don't like it. For heaven's sake, everyone should read ALL my novels and love ALL my novels!
That said, I don't think those people are small-minded (as some are named here) because they don't agree with me or like what I like.
Parents SHOULD choose what their kiddos read. And no, they shouldn't choose for other people's kids. But! We should be able to think what we want, even if others don't like it. It doesn't make them small-minded to not like what I like. It makes us different. Even when it means those people will hate my novels. And yes, ban them.
Jessica Sager says
Having a different opinion is not small minded; moving to ban a book because of personal opinion is absolutely small minded. By asking for their opinion to be imposed on others it opens the floor for their opinion to be analyzed. The problem is that people often use “respect my opinion” to defend imposing their opinions on others. It can’t be both respected (meaning unassailable by debate) and imposed. The mind is malleable, and can take a diminutive shape when filled with small minded ideas.
Thank you for your measured and balanced comment. I am not for book banning. And these days banning, cancelling, removing books is happening in many directions.
An area of differentiation i believe needs to be addressed is the difference between a book being in a public library and book being in a classroom. I a public library I expect there to be all books - all types, kinds and levels. In a classroom, not so much. I have a friend who calls the consideration or questioning of books in classrooms, book banning.
I believe it is a parents right to make decisions for their children. Not a school systems or an individual teacher. And that does not mean someone is "small-minded."