Since the ’80s, literary-minded troublemakers have been celebrating banned books. These pieces of literature dare to vaguely step outside the imaginary boundaries of good behavior. Thanks to the sensitive sensibilities of parents and authority figures, there are a lot of books banned for dumb reasons, especially children’s books that do nothing beyond ask readers to open their minds to new possibilities. Innocent books banned in schools usually have some similarities, like a disregard for authority or a character using language unbefitting of an upstanding imaginary character. If you thought the only classic books that deal with teenage angst or the atrocities of war are subject to a ban, then you’re very wrong. Most of the books banned from schools are seminal stories for young people, which makes their censorship so much worse.
Parents banning books seems to go completely against everything that a parent should do. Stories are meant to challenge the reader, and allow you to take a vacation into another world. If you begin policing a book because its characters are “theologically impossible” or because a character doesn’t care for their principal, then you’re not allowing the reader to act out those fantasies in their head, and you’re tamping down on someone’s emotional growth. Keep reading to find out the craziest reasons a book was banned, and then stop by your local library -they miss you.
This collection of books by Dav Pilkey follows two fourth graders who accidentally manifest a superhero named Captain Underpants when they hypnotize their principal, Mr. Krupp. According to the American Library Association, Captain Underpants was one of the most banned books of 2012 because it encouraged children to disobey authority. For instance, in one of the chapters the two protagonists refer to their principal as “that old guy” and “Mean Old Mr. Krupp.” What is Dav Pilkey teaching our children?! In the ALA’s “State of Censorship” address from 2014, the series was referred to as “the gift that keeps on giving,” so Pilkey, and Captain Underpants, is doing just fine. So fine it was adapted into a movie.
Harriet the Spy: a book about an enterprising and inquisitive young woman with a can-do attitude, or the story of a degenerate gossip who slanders and puts strangers through Hell without showing one iota of remorse for her actions? When the book was initially released, most parents and teachers felt the latter. They were worried that the book would teach their children “delinquent tendencies.” Even though the book was mired in controversy when it was first released, it still manages to consistently chart on the Top 100 Children’s Novels list made by the School Library Journal.
When it comes to innocent literature, you can’t get much more innocent than looking through a book for a guy who’s just standing around in a sweater. Or can you? According to Chris Zammarelli – a writer on the now-defunct literary review website bookslut.com – one of the Where’s Waldo books features a bare breast, and this was backed up by an Amazon reviewer who wrote: “I have looked into it, and it appears that the reason Where’s Waldo was banned [was] because it features adult material such as ‘topless sunbathers,’ and other adult ‘hidden pictures.'” That being said, no one has ever specifically pointed out illustrated skin in one of the books, so maybe this is all a horrible rumor started by Odlaw.
Judy Blume has a knack for writing seminal coming-of-age stories that capture the raw emotions of being a pre-teen, specifically a pre-teen girl, so it shouldn’t be a shocker that snooty uptight people believe her Are You There God to be “iffy,” sexually explicit, and immoral. Why? Because it’s a book for young people that talks about menstruation, the merits of Judaism and Christianity, and at one point Margaret disrespects authority figures. When discussing the censorship with The GuardianBlume commented, “My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don’t have censorship, we have, you know, freedom to read, freedom to write, freedom of the press, we don’t do this, we don’t ban books. But then they did.”
Why would Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland be banned in China? Is it because all of the characters take copious amounts of drugs in order to open their minds and get weird? Nope. In 1931, the book was banned in China because people felt the book put animals on the same level with people, and they shouldn’t be allowed to speak. It was also banned from the Woodsville High School in Haverhill, NH, in 1900 for “derogatory characterizations of a teachers and of religious ceremonies.” The multiple bans didn’t hurt the book in the slightest, and it’s been a part of the cultural lexicon ever since.
Despite being about a young boy who overcomes poverty to achieve his dream of studying and becoming a hard working member of (wizard) society, squares and religious groups hate these books. They believe that the portrayals of death, witchcraft, and evil are going to warp their children in some oblique way so the books haven’t just been banned, they’ve been burned. One group in New Mexico burnt the books on a bonfire, accusing the fictional boy wizard of being the devil. Even though the books have faced extreme blowback, they still regularly top YA bestseller lists.
This book by Mark Twain is considered one of the greatest American novels ever written. Released less than 20 years after the end of the Civil War, the book challenges ideas of racism that are still prevalent in the U.S., and continues to provoke a debate about art reinforcing racial stereotypes.
This 1884 novel nevertheless provokes ongoing debate over whether it reinforces racial stereotypes. The book has been referred to as the “most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life” by one administrator, while being consistently held up as one of the most important books to ever be published.
If you haven’t read And Tango Makes Three, it’s a short picture book about Roy and Silo, two male penguins who fall in love, adopt an egg, and raise the newborn chick which they name Tango. It’s adorable, and it’s based on the true story of two penguins who live in the Central Park Zoo. According to the ALA, this was one of the most challenged books from 2006 to 2010 thanks to the culture war surrounding homosexuality. Despite being one of the rare scientifically accurate children’s books, And Tango Makes Three is still being consistently challenged and reshelved in order to make sure that precious conservative snowflakes don’t have their ideas of gender and love challenged in the most harmless of ways.
L. Frank Baum is a timeless tale of a young woman coming into her own while befriending a motley crew of people who need each other to succeed, and standing toe-to-toe with wicked witches. It’s also inspired readers of all ages and nationalities, but it’s also faced a number of bans from bores who believe the book is full of godless messages. The largest case against the book comes from seven Fundamentalist Christian families from Tennessee who tried to have the book removed from a public school syllabus. They claimed “the novel’s depiction of benevolent witches and promoting the belief that essential human attributes were ‘individually developed rather than God given.’” On top of that, they said all witches were bad, and it was “theologically impossible” for good witches to exist. Despite their attempts, the book is beloved across the world.
This 1977 YA novel about two lonesome children creating an imaginary forest kingdom – and the loss of innocence brought on by death – has been the subject of censorship for the book’s “profanity, disrespect for adults, and an elaborate fantasy world that might lead to confusion.” Also, squares don’t seem to care for the fact that Jesse, one of the book’s protagonists, uses the phrase “Oh Lord” out of religious context. Despite attempts to have the book erased from school libraries, it’s been the subject of two film adaptations and a musical adaptation.
Strega Nona, which translates to “Grandma Witch,” is a picture book about a sweet Italian grandmother who uses magic to make a bunch of pasta. It’s great, especially if you’ve ever dreamed of an all-you-can-eat magic pasta buffet. If you’ve read through anything else on this list, you already know this book was banned because it presents magic as a useful tool for your every day life. Despite fuddy duddies being upset about the spaghetti witch book, it was honored by the Newbery-Caldecott association in 1976.