Both classic books and contemporary novels have been banned in schools due to “profanity,” plotlines “centered around negative activity,” “X-rated” content, and “Satanic” themes. While some books have been reinstated by school districts after pushback from students and faculty, others remain blacklisted.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks the number of complaints that books receive in schools, tallying up the most frequently challenged books since 1990, as well as classic books that were challenged and banned throughout the 20th century into today.
Here are 10 beloved books that have been banned in schools and what made them so controversial.
The “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling
A school pastor in Nashville, Tennessee, removed “Harry Potter” books from the library of St. Edward School before school started in September, according to WTVF. He wrote in an email to parents that “The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”
It’s not the first time books from the series have been banned. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” made the list of the most challenged books in the 1990s even though the first book was only published in the US in 1999. “Harry Potter” books were also the most challenged books in the following decade, with complaints that they were “anti-family,” violent, and Satanic.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
“To Kill A Mockingbird” has been challenged, removed from curricula, and banned in schools across the US due to its use of the N-word and other racial epithets that promote “racial hatred, racial division, [and] racial separation” as well as “adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest” as Brentwood Middle School in Tennessee put it in 2006.
Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction at Duluth Public Schools in Minnesota, told the Duluth News Tribune that, “We felt that we could still teach the same standards and expectations through other novels that didn’t require students to feel humiliated or marginalized by the use of racial slurs.”
It was also one of the 10 most challenged books in schools in 2017.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
Like “To Kill A Mockingbird,” the book’s language and depiction of African Americans has been controversial in schools. Bans on the book date back to one year after it was published, when it was called “trash and suitable only for the slums” in 1885.
“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
“Of Mice and Men” was banned from use in classrooms at Skyline High School in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1983 and in George County, Mississippi schools in 2002 because of the book’s “profanity.”
“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
The book “Thirteen Reasons Why” was the most challenged book in schools in 2017 because its plot revolves around suicide.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
While “The Hate U Give” wasn’t technically banned in Katy, Texas, the school district’s superintendent removed it from the district’s libraries while it was under review after a parent complained about the book’s profanity. Critics said that removing the book while it was being reviewed was a violation of the district’s review policies.
Author Angie Thomas tweeted her dismay.
“I’m saddened to hear that a school district in Texas banned #TheHateUGive, but I’m also empowered — you’re basically telling the kids of the Garden Heights of the world that their stories shouldn’t be told. Well, I’m going to tell them even louder. Thanks for igniting the fire.”
Fifteen-year-old student Ny’Shira Lundy collected 4,000 signaturesin support of the book. The district put the books back on library shelves, but students must have permission from a parent to check it out.
Complaints from the Fraternal Order of Police in Charleston County, South Carolina, also put the book under review at Wando High School due to what the group called its “indoctrination of distrust of police.” The case is still pending.
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
“The Catcher in the Rye” has been challenged and removed from school reading lists many times since its publication in 1951 due to concerns of profanity, obscenity, and the fact that some felt the plot is “centered around negative activity.”
The earliest instance of the book being banned was 1960, when a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was fired for assigning the book to an 11th grade English class. The teacher was hired back after an appeal, but the book remained banned.
The book’s place on Missoula, Montana, high school’s list was challenged in 2009, but it was allowed to stay on the curriculum.
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
Parents have called “The Color Purple” “smut” and “X-rated” and cited concerns about its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.” It was banned in Souderton, Pennsylvania, Area School District in 1992 and removed from school libraries in Fairfax County and Newport News, Virginia.
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
Bay County’s Four middle schools in Bay County and three high schools in Panama City, Florida, banned “Animal Farm” in 1987, but the Bay County school board overturned the ban after 44 parents filed a suit with the district.
“Looking for Alaska” by John Green
“Looking For Alaska” was the most challenged book of 2015 for “offensive language” and “sexually explicit content.”
Green made a video on the YouTube channel he shares with his brother Hank responding to the ban.
“Teenagers are critically engaged and thoughtful readers,” he said. “They do not read ‘Looking for Alaska’ and think ‘I should go have some aggressively unerotic oral sex.’ They also don’t read ‘The Outsiders’ and think ‘I should join a gang’ or read ‘Divergent’ and think ‘I should jump onto moving trains. So far as I can tell that kind of narrow prescriptive reading seems only to happen inside the offices of school superintendents.”
By Talia Lakritz