Banned Books


Have you ever encountered a book that has been banned in a school library? Have you ever wondered why books are banned? Do you know the first book that was banned in American schools? Well, let’s take a deep dive into the realm of banned and challenged books and answer all of those questions and more.

History of Banned Books

Books have been banned for centuries in America, tracing back all the way to the early 17th century. Censorship has always been present, but was first legally challenged in the 1980s. In 1982, the Supreme Court case of Island Trees School District v Pico the Court ruled that school officials cannot ban books solely based on content. This case protects librarians from attacks by parents and school districts. To censor a library is to impose on free speech rights from the First Amendment, because a library is seen as voluntary inquiry. But, that doesn’t necessarily give full protection—books are still able to be challenged and taken out of libraries. The challenges don’t often go through to a full removal of the material, but let’s look at some of the reasons why books are challenged.

Top Reasons Why Books are Challenged

According to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom books are challenged for many reasons.

  1. “Explicit material”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is a memoir about Angelou’s life during the 1930s in a rural Southern town. She experiences racism and sexual assault, and uses literature to overcome these experiences. The book is challenged and often banned in many places due to its references to assault and other explicit themes.

  1. “Offensive language”

The book The Color Purple by Alice Walker is often challenged due to its supposed “offensive language.” The book is an epistolary novel of Celie who narrates her life and the trauma she endures growing up in Georgia. The narration contains a lot of gritty themes which often put it on the list to be banned.

  1. “Unsuitable to certain age groups”

One way books are attacked is with claims that books are too mature for students of different ages to read. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is about Holden Caulfield learning about the adult world after he is expelled from his prep school. He becomes emotionally unstable while dealing with these hard truths. These mature themes often lead to this book being challenged in schools.

  1. “Pro-Communism”

1984 by George Orwell is often challenged on the grounds that it is “pro-communism” and criticizes authoritarianism. The protagonist works for a totalitarian government ministry to falsify information. The book talks about political slavery and subversion which are themes usually disliked by school boards and parents.

  1. “Racism”

This book is commonly challenged due to threads of racism throughout the story. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee follows the child Scout as she witnesses her lawyer father defend a man on trial. The man on trial is Black, and thus the theme throughout the book is that he is unfairly charged and tried due to racism. However, it is often challenged under the claims that it would teach racism.

  1. “Excessive violence”

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a more recently published book that is being challenged in school districts across the country due to its portrayal of violence. This dystopian novel follows Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old from Panem’s District Twelve. When she volunteers in her sister’s place for the Hunger Games, she must fight other children to the death and survive against all odds. The depictions of child violence and death often lead to this book being challenged.

Most Challenged Books of 2021

From the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom:

  1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Author Maia Kobabe used the book Gender Queer as a memoir to reflect on what it’s like to be non-binary and asexual. This book is being challenged across the country for sexually explicit themes and LGBTQ+ themes.

  1. Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

This book is a Bildungsroman about a young Mexican American teenager who is coming to terms with his own identity. This book features themes of classism and racism. It is being challenged for its LGBTQ+ themes.

  1. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

This book is also challenged due to themes of LGBTQ+. This is another memoir made up of essays by the author reflecting on his experience growing up as a Queer person of color.

  1. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

This book is a YA historical fiction novel about a Mexican American teenager and an African American teenager in love in the 1930s in Texas. This book is being challenged on the basis that it is explicit.

  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This book is a YA fiction book that follows the grieving protagonist Starr, as she’s left with the aftermath of her friend Khalil’s death due to police brutality. This book is inspired by many of the deaths at the hands of police brutality, and is being challenged on the basis of violence and supposed indoctrination and anti-police sentiment.

Why Does This Matter?

Pine Reads highlights the voices of debut and diverse books. Many BIPOC and Queer authors are being challenged in schools just because they are BIPOC and/or Queer, and censorship is ever-present in the news and in schools. How can you fight book bans? The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom says some of the best ways are to stay informed. Stay up to date about your local challenged books, and read them! It’s also important to support your local librarians, and you can even participate in Banned Book Week in late September.

PRR Writer, Ami Jones