According to the American Library Association, in 2020, 273 books were targeted for censorship in public libraries, schools, and universities. Censorship can take many forms, including removal from a collection entirely, or restricted access to particular materials.
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Reasons for challenging a book’s presence in a library can vary greatly. Sometimes books are challenged because they uphold offensive stereotypes or contain racial slurs. But in recent years, more and more books are being challenged for containing positive depictions of LGBT+ characters, something that opponents say is “against traditional family values.”
Here at FBK, we’re big believers in providing context rather than limiting access. As a parent, there are some books I’ve kept from my kids, but we’ve also read some books together and talked through the things that didn’t line up with our personal family values. And I certainly don’t think the personal decisions about reading that we make in our home need to be imposed on the greater community.
The books on this list represent a wide variety of literature, from picture books to fantasy to realistic YA novels. Many of them do challenge things that we’ve considered societal norms for many years, but that’s exactly why we need to read them and share them with our kids.
Banned Books Week is a great time to celebrate the freedom we have to access the information we choose. What is your favorite banned book?
17 Banned Books for Kids
Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola
This well-known picture book tells the story of an old woman named Strega Nona, or “Grandma Witch.” She is known for the many potions, treatments, and cures she provides to the town.
Strega Nona also has a magical pasta pot that fascinates Big Anthony. One day while Strega Nona is away, Big Anthony decides to try his hand at making magical pasta. The result is an out-of-control pasta pot, and the solution is many hungry bellies.
Why it was banned: The classic story of Strega Nona has been banned in some schools due to claims it promotes witchcraft.
I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
This book tells the story of Jazz Jennings, who struggled with feeling like she was in the wrong body from the time she was very young. This book is based on Jazz’s own experiences as a transgender child, and tells her story in a simple, clear way. All children will understand and appreciate Jazz’s journey to live her truth.
This honest book is an excellent choice for children ages 3 and up.
Why it was banned: Anti-trans sentiments have caused this book to be banned in some school libraries, and challenged in many more. Despite the fact that this book never mentions sexual intercourse, some who challenged the book claimed it is “sex education” and is not appropriate for young children.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
A groundbreaking classic! Roy and Silo, two penguins at the Central Park Zoo, love each other and want to pass on that love. Through the help of a caretaker at the zoo, they are able to build a family together. This book is the perfect way to introduce the fact that “love is love is love” to your little ones.
Why it was banned: This book has been banned and challenged in many libraries because it features a same-sex relationship between two penguins.
Prince and Knight by Daniel Haak
In this modern fairy tale, a prince travels with his parents all over the world to find a princess he would like to marry. However, none of the princesses he meets are quite right, and he finds he doesn’t fall in love with any of them. When a dragon threatens the kingdom, the prince meets a brave knight, and they work together to protect the community from harm. As the prince gets to know the brave knight, he realizes that he has found the love he was looking for. This book is a truly beautiful fairy tale!
Why it was banned: I am sure you can guess — a lot of folks out there think that a book depicting a loving relationship between two men is somehow harmful for children. The ALA says challengers call this book “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children.”
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss and Marlon Bundo
Marlon Bundo is a lonely bunny who lives with (now former) Vice-President Mike Pence. Marlon’s life is changed forever when he falls in love with another boy bunny.
While this book was written as a political parody of the former VP’s anti-LGBT+ stances and actions over the years, it’s also a book you can read with young children. It’s a charming story of love and acceptance, and all the proceeds from sales of this book go to the Trevor Project and AIDS United.
Why it was banned: I am sure you’re starting to see a pattern here: this book has been challenged and banned for including LGBT+ content.
Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard
This book shows the reactions of two families, one white and one black, after a black man in shot by a police officer in their town. Josh and Emma know that something bad has happened in their town, and they have lots of questions about it: Why did the police officer shoot the man? Why are people upset about it? Can a police officer be arrested?
This book does an excellent job of addressing a difficult topic in an age-appropriate way. It doesn’t shy away from discussing the racism that is prevalent in our culture, and it illustrates why all of us should care about social justice and making the world a more equitable place. It also includes an extensive parent guide to help you navigate talking to your kids about racism.
I recommend this book for kids ages 5 and up, and I also encourage you to check out this podcast interview with the authors.
Why it was banned: This book was challenged because of claims it is “anti-police” and contains “divisive language.”
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
This book will always stand out in my memory as the first book that made me cry! In this classic novel, a little girl named Fern saves a runt piglet, naming him Wilbur and caring for him with love and tenderness. As Wilbur gets older, he realizes he is in danger of becoming dinner.
But Wilbur has made a friend that will change his destiny forever. Charlotte the spider weaves messages into her web, hailing Wilbur as “Some Pig” and making him famous in the community. Charlotte and Wilbur’s unlikely friendship grows as the spider helps the young pig learn to navigate life on the farm.
Why it was banned: I didn’t see this one coming…in 2006, a group of parents attempted to have this book banned in their children’s classrooms because they considered the talking animals to be disrespectful to God.
Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet Welsch may seem like a she’s just a kid, but she’s actually a spy. In her spy notebook, she writes down everything she sees and and everything she knows about everyone she knows, inserting her own opinions and sometimes incorrect observations. When Harriet loses her notebook, her secret spy notes are no longer a secret. She is forced to deal with the consequences of her actions, and must find a way to repair her strained friendships.
Why it was banned: This book has been challenged and banned many times over the years because some parents claim the book encourages children to lie and spy on others.
Melissa (formerly George) by Alex Gino
George’s teacher says George can’t try out for the part of Charlotte in the class production of Charlotte’s Web, because George is a boy. But George isn’t a boy. She looks like a boy to the outside world, but she knows that she’s really a girl, Melissa. With the help of a good friend, Melissa comes up with a plan to play the role of her dreams and show her friends and family who she really is on the inside.
Why it was banned: Melissa was challenged, banned, and restricted in school libraries for allegedly “sexual” content and for not aligning with “traditional family values.”
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Meg Murry feels like an ordinary girl, especially compared to her brothers. However, she gets caught up in an extraordinary adventure when three strangers appear one night. Soon Meg, her classmate Calvin, and her younger brother Charles Wallace are on an amazing journey to find Meg’s missing father. When it looks like hope is lost, Meg is able to call on the power of love to find her father and save her family.
I shared more about why I love this book with the awesome folks at Twinkl!
Why it was banned: In 1990, the book was challenged in an Alabama school district because of a section that compares Jesus to other religious leaders like Gandhi. Opponents of the book felt this implied that Jesus was not the one true God. It has also been challenged for allegedly promoting the occult.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Callie is obsessed with theatre, and she’s excited to be the set designer for her school’s play. However, being involved in the school’s drama department turns out to be a lot of…well, drama. Callie doesn’t know anything about building sets, the crew can’t get along, and cute boys and crushes are complicating everything. Will this play ever get performed, or will it get derailed by all of the offstage drama?
Why it was banned: Positive LGBT+ content strikes again! This was another book that its opponents said went against “traditional family values.”
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Everything I needed to know about my period, I learned from this book. Margaret is a pre-teen girl who has just moved from New York City to New Jersey. She likes her new friends, but she feels pressure to pick a religion. All of her friends are either Christian or Jewish. Margaret has one parent who is Jewish and one who is Christian, and her family doesn’t practice either religion.
But this doesn’t mean Margaret doesn’t have a relationship with God. She talks to God regularly, about everything from the changes happening in her body to her crush. If Margaret is talking to God, does it really matter if she goes to the Y or the JCC?
Why it was banned: This book has been challenged for decades due to content that is considered too sexual for kids, and also because of its religious themes, which some considered anti-Christian.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
This book is a YA adaptation of Kendi’s book Stamped that introduces kids to the history of racism. Jason Reynolds does a fabulous job of breaking down how racism has been perpetuated across the centuries, and how we see it persist even today. This book is an engaging read that I think everyone should pick up, not just kids and teens.
Why it was banned: This book was challenged because some claimed it was selective history that did not tell the story of “racism against all people.” Some complaints were also in regard to public statements that Kendi has made about race and racism.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr feels caught between two worlds: the black world of her neighborhood Garden Heights, and the white world of the private school she attends. School Starr and Home Starr are two vastly different people.
Starr’s two worlds collide when her friend Khalil is shot by a police officer, right in front of her. Suddenly, Starr is faced with life-changing decisions about how to move forward. Does she risk it all to speak out for her friend that the media is calling a thug and a drug-dealer? Or does she stay quiet and let a false narrative take over?
This book is one of the best I’ve read, and I really think everyone should read it. It’s appropriate for kids ages 12 and up.
Why it was banned: Complaints against this book included the book’s use of profanity, and claims that the story is anti-police.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Rashad’s life is changed when a simple trip to purchase a bag of chips leads to him being beaten by a police officer who thinks he’s shoplifting. What happens afterward polarizes his school and eventually the nation.
Officer Paul Galluzzo has been like a father to Quinn, and he can’t believe his own eyes when he sees Paul violently beat one of his classmates. The attack was also caught on video, and soon people are calling Paul racist. Everyone seems to be taking a side, and Quinn struggles with his love for Paul and what he saw that day.
Written by two authors showing the perspectives of the two main characters, this book is excellent for kids ages 12 and up.
Why it was banned: This book was challenged and banned for what some considered anti-police sentiment. There were also objections to the book’s use of profanity and depiction of alcoholism and drug use.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
This book tells the stories of six gender-diverse young people, documenting their struggles and triumphs as they move through their journey to live in the gender expression that fits their identity. Readers will get a very honest look at both the pain and joy of living as a trans, non-binary, or gender non-comforming person. This is a great book for all teens to read, because of its honesty and the way it elevates trans voices.
Why it was banned: Like many other books on this list, this book was challenges for having LGBT+ content and for “its effect on any young people who would read it.”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda quickly becomes an outcast at her high school after she calls the police on a party where her classmates are drinking. But no one at her high school knows what happened to Melinda at that party. Melinda copes with the loneliness by not speaking to anyone, but living inside her own head isn’t as easy as she thought it would be. In order to deal with what happened to her, Melinda must speak up.
Why it was banned: This book was banned and challenged because some parents thought it was anti-male. There were also concerns about profanity and the book’s depiction of sexual assault.
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