Banned Books Week: Challenges That May Surprise You

Posted on October 2, 2023

by Sam P

We live in a time when book challenges and censorship attempts are breaking records. Under the guise of protecting others, well-loved books are in danger of becoming inaccessible to everyone—not just those who need “protecting.” Libraries are open to all, and everybody should have the freedom to access the information they need which, of course, includes selecting their own reading material. Celebrating Banned Books Week is, therefore, imperative to an equitable future for libraries and their users.

The year isn’t even over, yet already The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reports nearly 700 attempts to censor library materials in 2023. Keep in mind, these censorship demands generally call to ban multiple books in a single case, so if we’re looking at individual titles, the numbers far surpass 1,500—a substantial increase from last year.

Despite calls to challenge, ban, remove, and even burn, the books below have remained steadfast favorites for generations of young readers. You’re probably not the only one surprised by some of these.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants

By Dav Pilkey

Full Color Print   |   eBook eAudiobook  |  hoopla eBook  |  hoopla eAudiobook

CHALLENGED FOR: The entire series has been challenged for offensive language, violence, anti-family content, unsuited for age group.

REALITY: If copious amounts of potty related jokes at the expense of gigantic, potty monsters is reason to ban a book, it’s a wonder we have juvenile titles at all. Full of action, humor, and flip-the-page animations, Captain Underpants is a go-to option for any young reader. Censorship attempts must not have been well-received because he’s also got a 2017 movie!

Drama

By Raina Telgemeier

eBook | Spanish

CHALLENGED FOR: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”

REALITY: Two boys share a kiss with no content warning label on the book and suddenly, we’re looking at a popular graphic novel being challenged. If you know a young reader who is interested in graphic novels, chances are you’ve heard of Raina Telgemeier. An honest depiction of the messy middle school experience doesn’t appear to go against any common “family values/morals.”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

By Alvin Schwartz

eBook   |   eAudiobook hoopla

CHALLENGED FOR: Unsuited for age group, violence

REALITY: One of the most well-known collections of short horror stories published for kids, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has been controversial since it’s publication. Challenged for mentions of death and some undead folk between the pages, but nothing worse than what we’re already exposed to in real life. Some kids just like to be scared!

Melissa (previously published as George)

By Alex Gino

eAudiobook   |   Playaway  |  hoopla eBook  |  hoopla eAudiobook

CHALLENGED FOR: LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character, believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”

REALITY: This award-winning, candid portrayal of a transgender girl coming into her own is no stranger to book challenges (see above). If you’re familiar with Banned Book Week, you’re likely familiar with this title. There’s nothing clever to say about this one. It’s an example of LGBTQIA+ erasure that many challenged books are victim of.

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson

Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook | hoopla eBook | hoopla eAudiobook

CHALLENGED FOR: Occult/Satanism, offensive language.

REALITY: This Newbery winner middle-grade novel explores friendship, grief, and a very real portrait of trauma that young readers may have to identify with at some point. While constructing their fort and describing their made-up kingdom of Terabithia, friends Jess and Leslie talk a bit about magic in their world. They also discuss religion—how Leslie’s parents are atheists and Jess’ family is not. If all fantasy books were to be categorized as occult or satanic, there wouldn’t be much for middle-grade readers to choose from.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

By Mildred D. Taylor

eBook | eAudiobook | Audiobook

CHALLENGED FOR: insensitivity, racism, offensive language

REALITY: Mildred D. Taylor, former resident of Toledo, Ohio, and graduate of the University of Toledo, is the author of a challenged book. Challenging this Newbery winning, historically-relevant novel for insensitivity, racism, and offensive language is an interesting choice considering much of Taylor’s works are based on her familial oral history—that is, honest depictions of African American lives at the time.

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas

Large Print   |  Audiobook  |  eBook  |  eAudiobook  |  hoopla

CHALLENGED FOR: Profanity, drug use, sexual references, “anti-cop” propoganda

REALITY: Published in a period of civil unrest, the novel, adapted from a short story centered on police brutality, offers realistic insight into the Black Lives Matter movement through the eyes of an African American teenager. Where some see profanity and a social agenda, others see an opportunity to open a dialogue about racism, specifically as it pertains to our developing teens.

Looking for Alaska

By John Green

Deluxe Edition   |   eBook  |  eAudiobook  |  Deluxe Edition eBook

CHALLENGED FOR: A sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.”

REALITY: A boy attends a private boarding school to find his “Great Perhaps.” Along the way, he makes some friends, falls for a girl, plays a whole mess of pranks, wrestles with grief, and has an extremely awkward sexual experience that may be considered brave if you can read it without cringing. This challenge was digging deep.

The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins

Audiobook   |   Braille  |  Large Print  |  eBook  |  eAudiobook eAudiobook hoopla eBook hoopla eAudiobook

CHALLENGED FOR: Religious viewpoint, violence, occult/satanic, unsuitable for the age group

REALITY: Ask anyone between the ages of twenty and thirty what some of their favorite novels are, and you’re bound to hear the young adult dystopian series The Hunger Games come up. Sure, murder is a sport in this world, but it’s fictitious and most readers grasp that. Perhaps the challenge toward a religious viewpoint is that there wasn’t a mention of religion in the world of Panem, which would also negate the occult.

 

Twilight

By Stephanie Meyer

Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook

CHALLENGED FOR: Religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence

REALITY: There are some epic fights in Twilight, that’s true. It’s a vampire novel! However, it is not the first supernatural romance to exist, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is also categorically not sexually explicit because there is no sex in the book. Teenage Bella Swan falls in love with a chivalrous, old-fashioned vampire, some non-vegetarian vampires roll into town, and the series runs with the themes of love and protection.

CONCLUSION

Aside from being challenged, a trait these titles share is honesty. That may seem like a far stretch for books like The Adventures of Captain Underpants, but in a way, children can see themselves reflected in that too. George and Harold are just trying to stay out of trouble, after all.

Ultimately, these stories can and should encourage open discussion between children or teens and their caregivers— and that’s one of the most beautiful things books are capable of!

If you check out these stories, hopefully you gain something from them. If these aren’t your thing, that’s totally okay too. The Library supports everyone’s freedom to read—as well as the choice not to— and we strive to develop a collection that reflects the diverse needs of our community.

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