I’m often surprised by which books are frequently challenged or banned in our society. For example, take these 19 books the American Library Association reports are frequently challenged:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  5. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
  6. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
  7. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  8. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  11. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  12. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  13. 1984 by George Orwell
  14. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  15. James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
  16. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  17. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
  18. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  19. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

While I respect the reservations some have about these books, my stomach also turns a bit at the lessons lost by not reading them. Banned Books Week is a time to push back in the name of dealing with ideas as opposed to hiding from them.

Dangerous Ideas or Pain Avoided?

I’m so glad many of these titles were available to me growing up, precisely because they were more real and gritty. While I also enjoyed the fluffier stuff, books like these gave me traction to deal with my own challenging circumstances and helped me avoid certain mistakes in a way that fluff just can’t.

Banned Books 2

Not Appropriate for Children? Maybe…

Though parents and leaders concerned about age-appropriateness definitely have a point, I think this ought to be dealt with as individual families who know their children best, not through banned book lists. Definitely, some of these book descriptions would concern me as a parent, but in many cases I would read the book myself and make a true assessment, not rely on some banned book list.

Even better in some cases, why not read many of these books with an interested child so that you can discuss the issue you are concerned about? That seems so much more loving than avoiding what our kids are confronting at school or other places beyond our direct influence.

A Better Solution

I say all this even while respecting how media, including books, is powerful and can unnecessarily disrupt our lives through hyper-focus on issues like sex, violence, and tone. I personally am very choosy about what I read because my life’s hard enough without all that mental dead-weight. I’m not saying that every book is worthy of our time or should be dwelt on. I’m just saying that slapping titles on a list is as dangerous as being non-discerning about what you read.

There’s no shortcut to evaluating books one by one. You can see from my list of 19 titles how many exquisitely good books are lost by being lumped onto the same list as more questionable titles, and obviously which are good and which are not good will be defined differently by just about every person. But there’s such a huge spectrum of issues at play among the titles on banned book lists that relying on them obviously kinda freaks me out.

A better way is to rely on reviews from a source you trust, which articulate or warn about content that is potentially bothersome. I like reviews that go so far as to tell you how a subject is dealt with.

For example, one book might mention prostitution as a societal reference or part of who a character is, and that might include its share of gritty realities, while another goes into the details of the prostitute’s day-to-day business transactions. I’m personally probably not going to read the second one, while I might the first one. The first would make me uncomfortable, which I welcome if it helps me understand humanity better, but the second would go to another level where I’d be titillated or manipulated by the content, which doesn’t fit in with my values. My point is, both could easily land on the same banned book list.

Check in with Your Local Library

My local library is doing a bunch of fun things next week including taking mug shots of yourself reading a banned book, drawing a torn page from a jar to guess which banned book it came from, and more. Your local library might be doing something similar.

Banned Books Blog Party

Banned Books 1

The incomparable Hannah Givens of Things Matter invited me to join her Banned Books Week Blog Party so I’ve nominated a few blogs to join. From Hannah:

The “rules” are simple:

  • Choose a book from the ALA lists of banned books, or one that’s been banned/challenged in your area.
  • Share a little about the book and why it’s important to you at your online space.
  • Tag/ping/message other people to do posts of their own.
  • Link back to this post, and leave your link in the comments, so we can all read each others’ responses!

Do this for as many books as you want! Banned Books Week runs September 21-27. I’ll be posting five book profiles of my own throughout that week, and reblogging what y’all post during that week or the weekends before and after. I’ll create a Pinterest board for all the posts. (Feel free to keep the chain going and/or comment below after that. I can’t guarantee reblogs and whatnot, but I can guarantee I’ll visit!)

I’m pinging a bunch of people I follow — book bloggers and people who blog about books on occasion — but everyone is welcome to participate, ping or no ping! If you don’t do tag/award/chain type posts or don’t have time this month, no worries — just consider this a shout-out to your awesome blog. 🙂

8 Comments on “These 19 Frequently Challenged Books Might Surprise You – Banned Books Week 2014

  1. Thanks for inviting me!

    I never knew The Lord of the Rings was on the list. I know what I’ll be researching and posting about later this week. 🙂

  2. Excellent and informative Cindy. Many books are banned merely for the use of a few swear words, that’s ridiculous. I agree, put a warning on things like that. Has the world become just a tad politically correct?

  3. Pingback: Wait, My Favorite Novels Have Been Banned? – Banned Book Week 2014 | The Everyday Epic

  4. Hi! I think your approach is very sensible, and I was a little surprised when I looked at the “Frequently Challenged” list earlier this week. Managed to come up with a list of 13 of those that I read before I was 21. It made me stop and wonder how different I’d be if I hadn’t had access to them.

    I’m pinning and Tweeting links to everyone who joined in Hannah’s blog party today 😉

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