From September 27th to October 3rd, book-lovers all around the world celebrate the freedom to read by participating in Banned Books Week. The event began in the 1980s to bring attention to interest groups that were attempting to remove books they found offensive from libraries and schools. Today, it continues to address modern attempts at censorship and strives to support the sharing of ideas—even if they offend. Banned Books week has just wrapped up, so let’s keep celebrating the right to read by diving into these eight incredible and controversial tales.
The Giver—Lois Lowry. This book follows a boy named Jonas who discovers that he lives in a dystopia. His entire community strives to eliminate all suffering and pain by removing anything that has the possibility of introducing negativity or diversion from the norm, such as colors, love, or choice. When Jonas is assigned the feared position of “The Receiver of Memories,” he sees for the first time how far his community has fallen. Now that he knows of the world before “sameness,” he must decide to fight to return his society to the freedoms of the past, or see the wisdom in hiding from the dangers of choice.
Why this book was banned: The Giver includes references to sex, chemical castration, child murder, euthanasia, suicide, violence, and death, making it a controversial book for school libraries—especially in elementary schools. It was banned temporarily in California in 1994 due to its sexual content and in 1995 the book was challenged for its reference to euthanasia, causing schools in Montana to require parent permission for the book to be checked out. More recently, in April of 2001, a father tried to get the book removed from Colorado schools because he believed it would cause school shootings due to its violent nature.
The Golden Compass—Philip Pullman. In a world where humans are born with spirit animals, a young girl named Lyra must help stop children from being kidnapped, tortured, and killed by a powerful church that controls all aspects of her society. On her journey, she discovers a conspiracy by the church that threatens to change her world as she knows it.
Why this book was banned: The Golden Compass largely focuses on what is referred to as “dust,” which represents sin. The church in the story is fighting to stop the destruction of sin because it allows them to keep their absolute power over the entire world. This premise outraged several religious groups, specifically many Catholic groups who felt this book was a direct attack. The author has even been referred to as “the most dangerous author in Britain” and “the anti-C. S. Lewis” by Peter Hitchens, who is a journalist for The Daily Mail. Many Catholic schools have banned this book from their libraries due to this perception, such as the Halton Catholic School in 2007.
Animal Farm—George Orwell. This allegorical tale takes place on a farm where all of the animals have become fed up with the terrible treatment from the farmer. The animals revolt and succeed in expelling the farmer, leading to them creating a farm where “all animals are created equal.” As the farm grows, so does the corruption, as the once-great ideals of animal farm fade away until they are back to the same tyrannical rule, making it a perfect allegory for the communist uprising in Russia.
Why this book was banned: Animal Farm was banned in Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 due to its anti-totalitarianism. Ironically, it was also banned in America during the Cold War due to the positive references to communism at the beginning of the book, meaning that Animal Farm has been banned for being both too communist and not communist enough.
Carrie—Stephen King. All Carrie White ever wanted was to be normal, but with an abusive religious zealot for a mother, Carrie could never fit in among her classmates. Each day she is forced to put up with relentless abuse from her classmates due to her odd clothing and beliefs, and abuse from her mother who is convinced that her daughter is a sinful demon that must be cleansed. One day, Carrie discovers she has telekinesis and begins to use her powers to finally take back her life, but the bullies at school have other ideas.
Why this book was banned: With its references to violence, puberty, religion, sex, and foul language, it’s no surprise that Carrie was often challenged by school officials. It was first banned by Clark High School in Nevada in 1975, then by The West Lyon Community School Library in Iowa in 1987, and most recently by the entire library district of Almar-parish Williamstown in New York in 1991. In response to these frequent bannings, Steven King was quoted saying “get a copy of what has been banned, read it carefully and discover what it is your elders don’t want you to know.”
Drama—Raina Telgemeier. Callie, a middle school techie, befriends two twin drama nerds during their middle school production of The Moon Over The Mississippi. Together, the three of them navigate the tumultuous world of junior high romance as they learn to embrace who they are and to be unashamed to share it with the world, regardless of who supports them.
Why this book was banned: Drama deals with realizing and accepting one’s sexuality and the blowback that can come from it, which makes it a controversial read for some—especially since it was published in 2012, before gay marriage was legalized in all states. Drama has been banned in Texas several times, first in 2014 by Chapel Hill Elementary, then in 2015 by Kirbyville Middle School, and, most recently, in 2016 it was banned by the entire Franklin Independent School District. This book is an anomaly on this list as it doesn’t contain anything sexually explicit, violent, or abusive—it just has LGBTQ+ characters.
My Brother Sam is Dead—James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. Set during the American Revolution, this book follows a boy named Tim Meeker as his family, who is on the side of the British, and his brother, who supports the revolution, struggles to survive during turmoil caused by the war. From looting, kidnapping, prison ships, hanging, mass slaughter, and much more, this book removes the veneer that often covers the Revolutionary War and shows the pain and suffering that both sides caused during America’s fight for independence.
Why this book was banned: The book often uses profane language and depicts graphic scenes of death and suffering, causing many schools to have it removed from their libraries. The American Library Association reports that My Brother Sam Is Dead is “the 12th most commonly challenged book” from 1990 to 2000 and the 27th most commonly challenged book from 2000 to 2009.
Mick Harte Was Here—Barbara Park. This book follows Phoebe Hart as she tries to make sense of the sudden tragic death of her younger brother Mick Harte and struggles to give meaning to his passing. Deceptively simple, this story shows the pain of sudden loss honestly and in a way that anyone can understand, all while imparting on the reader the importance of bike safety without coming across as preachy or distracting from the focus of the story. While this book was originally intended for younger audiences, the tact with which it deals with issues that affect everyone makes it a powerful read at any age.
Why this book was banned: This book does not pull its punches when it comes to addressing the serious pain that comes from death and loss, and, as such, it is often seen as far too intense for young readers. When the book was challenged at Centennial Elementary School in 2004, the mother leading the charge was quoted saying that she thinks “it takes the structure of an adult mind to deal with most of the themes in this book.”
The Origin of Species—Charles Darwin. Arguably the most famous and important scientific text ever written, The Origin of The Species relays the theory of evolution using evidence from Darwin’s studies on the Galapagos Islands. Using his studies on animals such as the Galapagos tortoises and mockingbirds, Darwin changed biology as we know it and allowed us to begin to answer many of life’s greatest questions.
Why was this book banned: This book was first banned by Trinity College, where Darwin attended school, when it was published due to it being declared “blasphemous” by all sects of Christianity at the time. It was also banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937. The teaching of the theory of evolution from this book in America was also fraught with restrictions and outright banning, the most famous being the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, which surrounded a teacher who broke a Tennessee law that forbade the Teaching of Evolution.