While parents and educators spend much of their time encouraging students to read, these adults have also raised plenty of concern about books’ potential to corrupt young readers.
For centuries, books have been accused of perpetuating dangerous ideas and inspiring deviant behavior, leading to calls for removal from libraries and school curriculums — even inspiring notable court cases.
To call attention to these controversies, the American Library Association and Amnesty International hold an annual awareness campaign called Banned Books Week during the last week of September, which "highlights the value of free and open access to information" and encourages "shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular."
In honor of Banned Books Week, here’s a look at 20 classic and bestselling books that have been frequently challenged — many of which you have probably read. The information about the reasons challenged has been compiled from three ALA timelines and a Banned Books Week list.
"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain, 1884
- Publisher’s summary: "Huck, in flight from his murderous father, and Jim, in flight from slavery, pilot their raft through treacherous waters, surviving a crash with a steamboat and betrayal by rogues."
- Reasons challenged: offensive language, "racism"
"Animal Farm," George Orwell, 1945
- Publisher’s summary: "As ferociously fresh as it was more than a half century ago, this remarkable allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals, and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published."
- Reasons challenged: "Orwell was a communist," "indecent images," "contradicts Islamic and Arab values"
"Beloved," Toni Morrison, 1987
- Publisher’s summary: "Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened."
- Reasons challenged: "too violent," "sexual material," "depicted the inappropriate topics of bestiality, racism and sex"
"Bridge to Terabithia," Katherine Paterson, 1977
- Publisher’s summary: "Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief."
- Reasons challenged: "occult/Satanism," "profanity," the use of 'Lord' as an expletive
"Captain Underpants" series, Dav Pilkey, 1997–2015
- Publisher's summary: "George likes to write. Harold likes to draw. They figure all superheroes look like they're wearing underpants — and so a new comic-book superhero is born."
- Reasons challenged: "caused unruly behavior among children," "taught children to be disrespectful," "improper spelling," "violence"
"The Catcher in the Rye," J.D. Salinger, 1951
- Publisher's summary: "The hero-narrator of 'The Catcher in the Rye' is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story."
- Reasons challenged: "vulgar or 'blasphemous' language, sexual content and references to alcohol and cigarettes," "anti-white"
"The Color Purple," Alice Walker, 1982
- Publisher's summary: "This is the story of two sisters — one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South — who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance and silence."
- Reasons challenged: "sexual and social explicitness," "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history and human sexuality"
"Forever," Judy Blume, 1975
- Publisher's summary: "Katherine and Michael are in love, and Katherine knows it is forever — especially after she loses her virginity to him. But when they’re separated for the summer, she begins to have feelings for another boy. What does this say about her love for Michael? And what does forever mean, anyway? Is this the love of a lifetime, or the very beginning of a lifetime of love?"
- Reasons challenged: "profanity, sexual situations and themes that allegedly encourage disrespectful behavior"
"The Giver," Lois Lowry, 1993
- Publisher's summary: "In Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal-winning classic, twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal world. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community."
- Reasons challenged: "'mature themes' including suicide, sexuality and euthanasia"
"The Golden Compass," Philip Pullman, 1995
- Publisher's summary: "Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal–including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world. Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors?"
- Reasons challenged: "anti-Christian message"
"The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
- Publisher's summary: "This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted 'gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,' it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s."
- Reasons challenged: "language and sexual references"
Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling, 1997–2007
- Publisher's summary: "Imagine a school in a castle filled with moving staircases, a sport played on flying broomsticks, an evil wizard intent on domination, an ordinary boy who’s the hero of a whole world he doesn’t know. This is the story that comes to life in the marvelous Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling."
- Reasons challenged: "characterized authority as 'stupid' and portrayed 'good witches and good magic,'" "occult/Satanism"
"The Hunger Games," Suzanne Collins, 2008
- Publisher's summary: "In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, 'The Hunger Games,' a fight to the death on live TV."
- Reasons challenged: "anti-ethnic, anti-family, offensive language, occult/satanic, violence"
"Lord of the Flies," William Golding, 1954
- Publisher's summary: "When a plane crashes on a remote island, a group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. As the reality of their situation sets in, the boys attempt to establish control and their world gradually descends into brutal savagery."
- Reasons challenged: "demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal," "excessive violence and bad language," racism
"Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck, 1937
- Publisher's summary: "They are an unlikely pair: George is 'small and quick and dark of face'; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a 'family,' clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.”
- Reasons challenged: "indecent," "blasphemous language, excessive cursing and sexual overtones," "(Steinbeck) was very questionable as to his patriotism," "morbid and depressing themes"
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower," Stephen Chbosky, 1999
- Publisher's summary: "The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, 'Perks' follows observant 'wallflower' Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood."
- Reasons challenged: "references to drug use, homosexuality and suicide"
"Slaughterhouse-Five," Kurt Vonnegut, 1969
- Publisher's summary: "Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know."
- Reasons challenged: "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy," "explicit sexual scenes, violence and obscene language," "negative portrayals of women"
"To Kill A Mockingbird," Harper Lee, 1960
- Publisher's summary: "A gripping, heart-wrenching and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father — a crusading local lawyer — risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime."
- Reasons challenged: "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature," "contains profanity and racial slurs,"promotes white supremacy"
"Twilight," Stephenie Meyer, 20059 comments on this story
- Publisher's summary: "Isabella Swan's move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear."
- Reasons challenged: "violence," "sexually explicit," "unsuited to age group"
"Where the Wild Things Are," Maurice Sendak, 1963