Can you imagine childhood without some of these classics? We shudder to think!
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom established Banned Books Week in 1982 to celebrate and defend the freedom to read. Throughout the week, this year from September 25 to October 1, the ALA will highlight books that have been banned or challenged in libraries and schools across the country. As you might expect, parents have a lot to say about the books that their children read. Here are 8 children’s books that have caused controversy – but taught many important lessons along the way.
The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
Not everyone has found the immensely popular book series about a boy wizard enchanting. The books topped the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s list of banned books in 2000 after parents complained about the story’s alleged occult and satanic themes. In 2001, a group of parents in Lewiston, Maine organized a book burning, claiming the books promoted violence, witchcraft, and devil worship. Fortunately, the fire department intervened before anyone could say, “Incendio!” The group, however, would not be deterred and turned to scissors to cut up the books instead.
To buy: $45 for the 7-book box set, amazon.com.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Since its release in 1993, Lois Lowry’s tale of a seemingly utopian society where people live in a world without war or pain has been one of the most controversial books in American schools. Most commonly cited as “unsuited to age group” (it is recommended for children in grades 5 through 8) and “violent,” The Giver has angered parents with its themes of suicide and euthanasia. In 2003, the novel was challenged as suggested reading for eighth-grade students in Blue Springs, Missouri, where parents called the book “lewd” and “twisted.” The book was reviewed by two committees and retained, but the controversy carried on for more than two years. The Newbery Award-winning book was adapted for a 2014 film.
To buy: $ 7, amazon.com.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle’s fantastical story of a girl travelling through time and space to rescue her father has ranked on ALA’s “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books” from 1990-2009. Religious groups, in particular, have targeted the 1962 novel, arguing that the book undermines religious beliefs and challenges their idea of God. In 1990, the Anniston, Alabama school district challenged the book because someone objected to the book’s reference of Jesus Christ’s name alongside figures like Buddha, Gandhi, and Shakespeare as defenders of the Earth against evil. Opponents felt that comparing Jesus to other great leaders “impl[ied] that Christ was not divine.”
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Believe it or not, the Yellow Brick Road is paved with controversy. In 1928, the Chicago Public Library banned the book because it was deemed “not literature, but, somehow, rather evil for children.” Over the years, L. Frank Baum’s 1900 fairytale has faced censorship because of its “ungodly influence” and for depicting women in strong leadership roles. (Yes, you read that correctly.) In 1957, the director of the Detroit Public Library banned the book for having “no value for children today” and for “bringing children’s minds to a cowardly level.” Then in 1986, Fundamentalist Christian families in Tennessee opposed the novel’s inclusion in the public school syllabus because of the novel’s depiction of witches—both good and evil.
To buy: $7, amazon.com.
Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss’ book of rhyming poems ranked no. 16 on Publishers Weekly’s All-Time Best Selling Children’s Books and was lauded as one of the “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children” by the National Education Association. But in 2013, a complaint was filed to the Toronto Public Library, saying the 1963 picture book “encourages children to use violence against their fathers.” The complaint not only asked libraries to pull the book from shelves, but also demanded “an apology to fathers in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] and pay for the damages resulting from the book.” The library reviewed the request and decided to keep the book. After all, a careful reading of the text reveals that the children in the book are told not to hop on Pop. Nice try, Dads.
To buy: $6, amazon.com.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Written as a series of diary entries, the pre-teen classic follows 11-year-old Margaret as she tries to find faith through a school project. Along the way she expresses her feelings about boys and the joys and horrors of puberty (namely the desire to one day soon need a bra and get her period). In 1983, an Ohio school library challenged the book for being “built around just two themes: sex and anti-Christian behavior.” In 1985, a Bozeman, Montana school district challenged the book as profane, immoral, and offensive. Fortunately, for the scores of girls who likely felt less alone after reading the 1970 novel, the book was retained.
To buy: $8, amazon.com.
A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein
Published in 1981, Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry and drawings was the first children’s book to make the New York Times’ bestseller list. And there it stayed for a record-breaking 182 weeks. A collection of 135 whimsical poems, A Light in the Attic was silly enough for kids but sophisticated enough for adults to enjoy as well. Perhaps a little too sophisticated, argued some parents. In 1986, a Wisconsin elementary school banned the book because it contained poems that “glorified Satan, suicide, and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.” More specifically, another school disproved of the book because it “encourages children to break dishes so they don’t have to dry them.”
To buy: $13, amazon.com.
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
Many of Roald Dahl’s classic kids’ tales have been challenged over the years for not being appropriate for children. It’s true, evil adult characters are a common theme, but people have taken issue with James and the Giant Peach in particular. The book ranked No. 50 on the American Library Association’s “Most Challenged Books of 1990-1999.” The story follows an abused, young boy who magically travels with a group of talking insects inside, you guessed it, a giant peach to New York City. Since its publication in 1961, the novel has been banned “for being too scary for the targeted age groups,” mysticism, sexual inferences, profanity, racism, promotion of disobedience, and references to tobacco and alcohol. If you’re wondering what sexual inferences you might have missed, a Wisconsin town banned the book in 1986 because of a scene featuring the spider licking her lips. Religious groups in the town argued that the scene could be “taken two ways, including sexual.” If you say so…
To buy: $6, amazon.com.