6 of the Most Unlikely Banned and Challenged Books

It’s Banned Books Week, everyone! So go to your library and hug the printed word, embrace thought-provoking prose, enjoy that which others have said you shouldn’t, and lovingly caress your copy of…Where’s Waldo?

When you think of banned books, a few controversial classics come to mind: Lolita, for example, or provocative new fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey. But there are gaggles of innocuous texts that have been de-shelved for offending the wrong people, or at the very least have had their honor impugned. Here are some of the scratch-your-head harmless-seeming books that have found themselves on the wrong side of the censor’s bar. (But don’t take it from me: I read a lot of Laurie Halse Anderson as a teenager.)

The Adventures of Captain Underpantsby Dav Pilkey
Pilkey’s pre-shrunk cotton crusader topped the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books for its offensive language and unsuitability for its age group. But there’s a flaw in the reasoning here: namely, the assumption that there is an age group for which an unwittingly undressed superhero/school principal is suited. Maybe the series would have just flown under the radar, allowing books dealing with darker themes to take its coveted spot of loathing, if it weren’t for nefarious foes like Tippy Tinkletrousers. I guess the adage is true, “You can lead grownups to a book, but you can’t make them accept the Turbo Toilet 2000 as appropriate literature.”

Where’s Waldo?by Martin Handford
Giant game of striped geek hide-and-seek or subversive pictorial mayhem? BOTH. In what appears to be the most harmless set of printed pages this side of Beatrix Potter, there lurks a villain. Enemy, thy name is nipple. Yes, somewhere in the beach scene, amidst sandy revelry including an incredibly unsuccessful human pyramid, a knight in full armor and misshapen butts as far as the eye can see, there is a woman sunning herself topless. You can see either her nipple or an outrageously oversized grain of sand. Well, maybe you can see it; I can’t even find Wizard Whitebeard.

A Study in Scarletby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The first outing of Doyle’s consulting detective and his doctor friend got the boot from a Virginia school district’s sixth-grade reading list in 2011 because of a complaint that it depicted Mormonism in an overtly negative light. But at least it wasn’t because of John Watson’s manyfold ejaculations (exclamations!) throughout the canon.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Closeby Jonathan Safran Foer
Now a movie with Tom Hanks and thus mind-boggling to consider controversial, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the endearing, inspiring, and raw story of a young boy dealing with his father’s death in the World Trade Center on 9/11. It was challenged in a Washington school district in 2010 for, among other things, its depictions of violence.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?by Bill Martin Jr.
Someone should have checked their pic-a-nic basket a little more thoroughly before committing such an unbearable mistake. The Texas State Board of Education banned the adorable children’s book under the mistaken assumption that its author was the same Bill Martin who authored Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberationprobably judging solely by Eric Carle’s devious cover art, of Ursa Major Threat to Freedom.

Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is a perfunctory entry on any WTF list of banned books, because it’s proof the epidemic of irony is not yet universal. Bradbury’s tale of a world in which books are outlawed because they foster independent thought has been struck from required-reading lists for various crimes like using salty language, depicting the burning of a Bible, and quite possibly encouraging independent thought.

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  • Aubrey Pedersen Sorenson

    Now, as much as I love Sherlock, it *is* true that a “Study in Scarlet” does depict Mormonism rather horribly and without any proven truth to it. As for my favorite banned book? Easily “The Giver”.

    • Jillian Scott

      Why was that banned?! I can remember it being required reading in 8th grade. I even own it now.

      • Aubrey Pedersen Sorenson

        We read it in 6th. I still have the copy I stole from my teacher ^^;; . http://bannedbooks.world.edu/2011/03/27/banned-books-awareness-giver-lois-lowry/

        • Rachel of Cyberia

          I love that you stole a book from your teacher.

          • barjobo

            so do I! As a teacher, I give any child who REALLY wants a book her/his own copy. Gets expensive, but how can I say no?

          • Aubrey Pedersen Sorenson

            I feel a little bad about it now, but I am notoriously bad at returning books. My husband has me tape the library return slips to my computer screen so I can’t forget them just to avoid any more late fees.

        • Jillian Scott

          I cant believe some of the reasons it’s banned. sex scenes? Really? The only “sex scene” is the dream Jonas has when he gets his “stirrings” and he and that girl are naked and he bathes her like he does the old people. And that makes me laugh that you stole a copy. My kids will definitely read this. Whether at school or just me reading it to them.

  • Pat Kingsley

    Little Black Sambo – I just loved when the tigers ran around the tree and turned to butter. I don’t understand the fuss about the title and the characters’ names since my copy (from 1945) had a little East Indian boy as Sambo. I mean, tigers and melted butter, how subversive was that?

    • Sarah Proudfit

      I didn’t think Sambo was supposed to be an actual, real person. Real people don’t talk to tigers. Tigers don’t talk. Tigers don’t care about couture. Nor do tigers turn into butter. Did I enjoy it? Yes! I also enjoyed Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog. I just thought both Sambo and the Golliwog were supposed to be some kind of fantasy creature, like a brownie or something.

    • jerseygirl

      I had this book as a child. It had the most wonderful illustrations. It made me want to become an artist. How can something so inspiring be bad?

  • Barbara Hanratty Kinney

    this list is ridiculous! I’ve seen far worse books

  • Amy Wax-Humphrey

    My favorite banned/challenged book (series) has got to be the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling for it’s portrayal of witches, wizards and sorcery.

  • Gwen Goble-Bartzen

    Seems like I remember The Diary of Ann Frank being banned some where or other? Somehow the relationship between Ann and Peter was objectionable…….

    • Rachel of Cyberia

      But he fact that people had to hide in attics to escape being murdered was okey dokey?

    • Kimberlee Noelle Hicks

      It was because Anne talks about practicing kissing with one of her girlfriends at a sleepover. Her relationship with Peter was fairly innocent, but probably raised some eyebrows nonetheless. I believe they did kiss as well.

      • Gwen Goble-Bartzen

        Thank you! You have a better memory than me!

  • ShibumiMC

    If a story is relating to one country it should state up front that it is, and name the country. O/W people just might waste their time with a story like this.

  • Rebecca Hernandez

    A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein really?

  • Bobby

    Is it at all possible to have a discussion on the web and just stick to the topic at hand (in this case what your favorite banned or challenged book is) instead of working in how you feel about certain politicians? Please note I didn’t say liberal or conservative as both sides tend to do this.

    • Doris D.

      Book Banning is political, both sides of the isle. It takes away the freedom to decide for yourself.

  • Bella

    Crank by Ellen Hopkins!

  • Deborah DeVito Niven

    Also very much worth reading and also banned- Margaret Atwood “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Sherman Alexie “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part -Time Indian”, and Lois Lowry “The Giver”.

  • barjobo

    “The Family Book” by Todd Parr! http://vimeo.com/43307526 this should have made the list.

  • Katie Rucker

    And yet “Catcher in the Rye” is still required reading with its depiction of prostitution, violence, foul language, and lack of a plot. I will never in my life understand this. It was a horribly boring book with no plot structure whatsoever. Fahrenheit 451, however, was one of my favorite required books in high school, and I’m pretty perturbed that it was actually banned somewhere. I’m laughing about the Captain Underpants books though. I read those in 3rd grade.

  • Heather Scott-Penselin

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Harry Potter series.

  • Dianne Presson Meyers

    My favorite banned book was “The Diary of Anne Frank,” banned by a Texas school board because it was a downer….

  • Kenzie S.

    Reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for English right now for a banned book report so that’s my favorite

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