In our modern world, it feels like every other day is a holiday; this past weekend had National Sons Day, National Beer Drinking Day, as well as the National Bunny Day. But in the midst of this uptick in holidays, we shouldn’t forget about some older but just as important traditions. One such tradition is Banned Book Week.
The last week of September has been Banned Book Week since 1982. While books aren’t officially banned in the US (they can always be purchased privately), they are still frequently challenged and removed from school libraries across the country. In remembrance of this important week which celebrates the freedom to read, here are five of my personal favorite previously challenged books:
The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
Reasons for Challenge: Description of masturbation, sex, drugs, and profanity
First challenged in 2002, Perks of Being A Wallflower is a modern coming-of-age story which follows Charlie as he navigates his freshman year of high school. While the novel tackles a wide variety of difficult subjects, this is precisely what makes it so endearing and touching. It is when we are presented with new situations and new perspectives that we are truly able to grow.
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (1997)
Reasons for Challenge: Offensive language, violence
A real modern day classic, Captain Underpants has often topped lists of frequently challenged books in the US. It follows the adventures of George and Harold, as well as the titular superhero Captain Underpants, as they battle a revolving cast of villains such as Doctor Diaper, Turbo Toilet 2000, and Wedgie Woman. Although the book certainly offers examples of misbehaving kids (as well as hilarious pranks), this series is an overall harmless yet exciting series for young kids. The biggest danger has to be the flip-o-rama as the high level action can sometimes be too much for the pages.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
Reasons for Challenge: Language, blasphemy, violence
A short but incredibly impactful novella, there is a good chance that Of Mice and Men was taught at your high school despite it being listed as one of the most challenged books of the 21st century. It follows two friends, George and Lennie, as they move from place to place during the Great Depression. This book is as endearing as it is heartbreaking, and while there is some strong language at times, this is no excuse to try to censor such a powerful story.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971)
Reasons for Challenge: Environmentalist Message
I think it is safe to say we are all at least slightly familiar with the works of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), from Green Eggs and Ham to The Cat in the Hat. However, The Lorax is a bit unlike the rest as, while still having the wonderful illustrations that are the trademarks of all of Seuss’s books, it also has a much more compelling message to take care of the Earth. Like the Lorax famously says, he “speaks for the trees.” This message did not go over well in California amidst the foresting industry in 1989 and was promptly challenged by members of the community. There will always be an argument about what ideas young kids are exposed to, but The Lorax is still a fantastic book which will hopefully remain on the shelves of libraries across the US.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Reasons for Challenge: Language and Sexual References
An amazing novel that follows Nick Carraway as he unravels the story of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. A true classic, the novel has been challenged for many of the same reasons as the other books on this list: language and sexual references. While it is true that this novel, just like the other books in this list, has items that can be questioned, going so far as to keep it away from libraries seems like a step too far. Children will always encounter challenging ideas, but the immediate response to things that challenge us should not be to ban them.