7 Books You Never Knew Were Banned

While book burning is (mostly) behind us, that doesn’t mean modern society has stopped trying to censor what people read. Every year, hundreds of challenges pour in, attempting to have books—old and new—removed from school reading lists and library shelves.

But what’s the difference between a challenged book and a banned book? According to the American Library Associationopens a new window (ALA), “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based on the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”

Books can be challenged or banned for plenty of different reasons, but the rationale usually falls into one of four categories: political, legal, religious or moral. And more of these challenges result in banned books than you might think.

This is where the concept of intellectual freedom comes in. Part of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, intellectual freedomopens a new window protects Canadians’ right to read whatever they want. This idea is central to how libraries operate.

The Edmonton Public Library follows the Canadian Library Association’s positionopens a new window, which states that “libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship.” Simply put: it’s up to libraries to make a variety of materials available for anyone to consume, even if those materials are considered unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable to some.

Every year, Canadian libraries celebrate this idea with Freedom to Read Weekopens a new window, where people are encouraged to read material that has been challenged or banned. Freedom to Read Week runs from February 25 to March 3, 2018. Banned Books Weekopens a new window, which is typically celebrated during the last week of September, is another event that focuses on everyone’s right to read.

While there’s certainly no shortage of challenged and banned books to choose from—the ALA releases a list of the top 10 most challenged books each yearopens a new window and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund maintains a list of challenged comicsopens a new window—the following titles have been banned by various schools and libraries across North America.

Take a look and challenge yourself to read a banned book!

1. This One Summeropens a new window by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

A winner of the Governor General’s Award for illustration, This One Summeropens a new window is a graphic novel by Toronto-based writer, playwright, activist and performer Mariko Tamaki. It is the story of two friends, Rose and Windy, who spend their summers together at Awago Beach. In 2016, the book was removed from a Minnesota school library because the content was deemed “inappropriate for inclusion in the library.”

This One Summer is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a graphic novelopens a new window and eBookopens a new window.

2. The Giveropens a new window by Lois Lowry

Released in 1993, and winner of the 1994 Newberry Medal, The Giveropens a new window is one of the most challenged books to make the list. It is the story of a young man, Jonas, and the seemingly ideal world he inhabits. Once he is assigned the role of Receiver, he begins to understand the cruel truth about his community. It has been banned or challenged for many reasons, including “occult themes,” “sexually explicit content” and “lewd and twisted” content.

The Giver is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a bookopens a new window, gift edition bookopens a new window, eBookopens a new window, gift edition eBookopens a new window, audiobook CDopens a new window and downloadable audiobookopens a new window. It was also made into a movie, which is available as a DVDopens a new window and Blu-Rayopens a new window.

3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indianopens a new window by Sherman Alexie

This teen novelopens a new window was challenged twice in one month, by school districts in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It details life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and the main character’s decision to attend an all-white public high school. It has been banned for its depictions of alcohol use, poverty, bullying, violence and sexuality as well as its use of profanity and racial slurs.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a bookopens a new window, eBookopens a new window, audiobook CDopens a new window and downloadable audiobookopens a new window.    

4. Of Mice and Menopens a new window by John Steinbeck

The 1937 classic by John Steinbeck and long-time fixture of high school English classes, Of Mice and Menopens a new window, is another contender for most challenged book of all-time. It is the story of two migrant workers, living and working in Depression-era California, who dream of one day having land of their own. It has been the target of many book bans and challenges over the years for vulgarity, as well as offensive and racist language.

Of Mice and Men is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a bookopens a new window, eBookopens a new window, audiobook CDopens a new window and downloadable audiobookopens a new window.  

5. The Golden Compassopens a new window by Philip Pullman

The first bookopens a new window in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials seriesopens a new window, this rousing adventure tale has been challenged or banned by school districts in Ontario, Alberta, Colorado, Kentucky, Texas and Wisconsin. It is the story of Lyra Belacqua, an orphan who spends her days among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College. The book explores themes of power and religion, and has been banned for anti-religious content.

The Golden Compass is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a bookopens a new window, eBookopens a new window, audiobook CDopens a new window and downloadable audiobookopens a new window. It has also been turned into a two-volume graphic novelopens a new window and a movieopens a new window.

6. Lady Chatterley's Loveropens a new window by D. H. Lawrence

Since its publication in 1928, this bookopens a new window has been tried under obscenity laws in Britain, Australia, Canada, the United States, Japan and India. It is the story of a married woman, Constance Reid, whose husband has been paralyzed due to an injury suffered in the Great War and the affair that follows. In Canada, it wasn’t until 1960 that the book was deemed not obscene according to the Criminal Code.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a bookopens a new window, eBookopens a new window, audiobook CDopens a new window and downloadable audiobookopens a new window.  

7. Blanketsopens a new window by Craig Thompson

A semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Blanketsopens a new window tells the story of a young man and his upbringing in a devout Christian home. It details an early love affair and his struggles with his religious beliefs. The book was first challenged in Marshall, MO by a resident who wanted it removed from the library shelves due to the illustrations, which she deemed pornographic.

Blankets is available from the Edmonton Public Library as a graphic novelopens a new window.


Interested in learning how EPL handles challenges on library material? Check out our Challenged Materials pageopens a new window, which includes information about how we choose the items available in the library and how customers can express concerns about library offerings.

This blog post has recommendations that are a perfect fit for the second theme in our 2018 EPL Reading Challenge: read a banned book. The Reading Challenge is a fun way to dare yourself to read outside your comfort zone—and it’s not too late to join. Learn more and start today!

Learn Moreopens a new window

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