Our 14 Favorite Classic Banned Books
We are kicking off Banned Books Week with a list of our favorite classic banned books. Celebrate your freedom to read this week!
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Most commonly challenged for the fear that it would encourage or inspire rebelliousness in children towards their parents, one school district in Pennsylvania had their own unique reason for fighting this book. The poem “Dreadful,” has a line, “someone ate the baby,” that had people worrying that it would encourage cannibalism in young readers.
While many would consider a dictionary to be an essential tool for reference, especially in school libraries, the American Heritage Dictionary was challenged and even removed from several schools in the 1970s and 80s. It was called out for the “objectionable language” of some of the entries, particularly ones that included slang definitions.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Challenged throughout the United States for its language and “sexual references,” it was most notably banned in Italy upon its release in 1929 for its unfavorable description of the Italian retreat from Caporetto during World War I. The book was banned in places throughout Italy until 1948.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s depiction of her young life has consistently been one of the most frequently banned books in the US. Challenged for its strong themes of sexual assault, violence, teen pregnancy, and racism, many parents feel it is inappropriate reading material for young adults and have fought hard against it.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare
This book was challenged as recently as 2003 in Connecticut, in a petition that also included Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, for the inclusion of information about witchcraft. According to the petition, this book is satanic and dangerous to children for daring to even discuss this material.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Often flagged for reasons such as violence, language, and racism, one North Carolina high school challenged the Lord of the Flies claiming it was “demoralizing, in that it implies that man is little more than an animal.” They essentially did not agree with Golding’s premise, finding it to be too negative.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s novel has been banned for its profanity and for its comments on Christianity, but one of its worst offenses was its description of the burning of a Bible. Ironically, this book about the banning and burning of books, a commentary on censorship, was itself convicted for its themes.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which begins with this novel, has been repeatedly challenged for being “anti-Christian” and generally anti-religious. Surprisingly, Tolkien was a notably devout Catholic and a person who believed his series to be “fundamentally religious and Christian.” Scholars have even noted many Christian themes and subtexts in the works.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
George Orwell’s Animal Farm was banned in soviet Russia for being anti-communist due to its depiction of the brutalities of communism while his 1984 was later challenged in the United States by those who believed it was distinctly pro-communism, despite the fact that it too was critical of Soviet practices.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
One of the most common reasons for banning books is sexual explicitness and Alice Walker’s novel combines both heterosexual and homosexual sex with incest, violence, and profanity to create a book that was destined to be challenged by those who prefer to silence certain stories.
The Awakening (and Selected Stories) by Kate Chopin
Written in 1899, The Awakening is the story of a woman dissatisfied with the social attitudes of her time and her life as a wife and mother. It has been called “morbid, vulgar, disagreeable, and scandalous” for its main character’s desires outside of her family.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s novel is widely considered one of the greatest written works of the 20th century and also top many lists of banned books. This novel is often challenged and was recently banned in 2013 due to offensive language that parents found unsuitable. Many also argue that the sexually and racially charged themes of the novel are not appropriate. It was banned, and is still challenged throughout North America.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck's novel was banned soon after its release in various areas, including Kansas, for indecent content. It was also banned in Kern County, Calif., one of the areas depicted in the novel, for libelous content, when one county board member found the portraits of some (fictional) Kern County residents in Steinbeck's book to be none too flattering.
Gone with the Wind by Margret Mitchell
The Civil War epic which is often cited as one of the most beloved novels of all time was banned by a California school district for the book's portrayal of slaves in the antebellum South and for the immoral behavior of its heroine, Scarlett O'Hara. As of 2015, there were calls to ban both the book and the film for their portrayal on an inaccurate Antebellum South.