In honor of Read Across America (March 2, 2023), I want to highlight the importance of our freedom to read. We’re heading down a concerning road of banning books, with more than 1,600 books banned in schools in 2022 alone. If you’re curious about titles that have been banned, you’ve come to the right place. Here, I share several books that have been banned or challenged throughout the decades (and some may surprise you).
Kids’ books will start off our roundup of banned books. Sadly, many popular titles and series have been banned throughout the United States, including:
- The Junie B. Jones series. If you grew up in the ‘90s, you may remember this series written by the late Barabara Park. Despite the popularity of this charming series, it was banned in several school districts and earned a spot on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Book list of 2000-2009. The Junie B. Jones books were banned due to the protagonist’s “mouthiness” and “poor social values.”
- The Lorax. It’s hard to believe that a book by Dr. Seuss was banned, but The Lorax was banned in a California school in 1989. Administrators believed that this title portrayed the forestry industry in a negative light.
- Charlotte’s Web. Written by E.B. White and published in 1952, Charlotte’s Web has been a kids’ classic for decades. However, a Kansas school banned the book in 2006. Kansas parents sought to remove the book from the library because the talking animals were “unnatural and blasphemous.”
- A Wrinkle in Time. This title was written by Madeleine L’Engle and published in 1962. Although it’s been beloved since its publication, this book was challenged by a Florida parents’ group, who argued that it “opposed Christian beliefs” and taught “occult practices.”
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Like some of the other titles mentioned here, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum stirred up controversy. This fantasy fiction novel was published in 1900 and has faced more than its fair share of criticism. In the 1920s, many public libraries banned the book for “ungodly” ideals. Decades later, in the 1980s, a group of fundamentalist Christian families in Tennessee sought to ban this book from public schools’ syllabus, taking issue with the presence of witches in the plot.
- And Tango Makes Three. Although And Tango Makes Three is a sweet children’s book, it’s banned in a number of schools. It’s simply a picture book about two male penguins adopting a chick (and is based on a true story!). Perhaps unsurprisingly, many parents and school boards have taken issue with the storyline. As a result, this book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell has been consistently challenged and/or banned since its publication in 2005.
Books with a focus on history have long been the target of bans. Here are a few of the important works that have been the subject of unfair criticism and censorship:
- Maus. The graphic novel Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman is Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece that consists of a series of interviews of his father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust. This work, although heart wrenching to read, is an important piece of literature that has been routinely taught in schools. However, it was banned in an eighth grade curriculum in Tennessee in January 2022. Although tragic, this isn’t out of left field, as politically-driven censorship is unfortunately on the rise.
- Black Boy. Written by Richard Wright and published in 1945, Black Boy was highly controversial and banned for “instigating hatred between races.” Nonetheless, this powerful memoir has become a celebrated work. In his autobiography, Wright explores the brutality of growing up as a black boy in the era of Jim Crow.
- The 1619 Project. A number one New York Times bestseller and now a Hulu original series, The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones has been the subject of much controversy and banned in Florida schools. The 1619 Project offers a profoundly revealing vision of America’s past and present, beginning in 1619 with the arrival of thirty enslaved people to a British colony in Virginia.
It’s probably unsurprising (albeit disappointing) that a plethora of LGBTQ+ are banned in schools. Despite the progress that has been made, we obviously still have much further to go. Without further ado, here are just a few titles that were banned as recently as 2022:
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Author Susan Kuklin interviewed six transgender and nonbinary teens to offer an expansive exploration of the trans experience. With transphobia on the rise (and a concerning increase of anti-transgender legislation being introduced), this work is important in shining a light on the varied experiences of gender queer youth.
- All Boys Aren’t Blue. Written by George M. Johnson, All Boys Aren’t Blue has become one of the most banned books in the U.S. This series of essays explores the childhood, adolescence, and young adult years of the author as a queer person of color. This title is banned in dozens of schools as part of the push to silence the LGBT existence.
- This Book is Gay. In This Book is Gay, author Juno Dawson covers a plethora of topics that are essential for every person who identifies as something other than straight. This book is a great read for anyone, and is entertaining and uplifting. Because this title is unapologetically supportive of the LGBT+ community, it has received backlash from school boards due to questions of its “appropriateness.”
As you can see, our country has a long history of banning and challenging books. From innocuous childrens’ books to titles on serious topics such as the Black and queer experience, any book may be subject to intense criticism or questioning. Regardless of how we feel about a topic, I believe that our freedom to read is sacred. With censorship on the march, it remains vitally important to protect our right to information. Let’s remain committed to fighting back on censorship so we all have access to important works of literature, now and in the future.