Closing books closes minds.
During Banned Books Week, libraries across the country highlight the importance of standing up to censorship. We at the St. Louis Public Library support parents’ and caregivers’ right to monitor what their child reads; still, we are committed to providing a diverse selection of quality books from which everyone may choose.
Visit your favorite branch and take a look at some of our favorite commonly Banned and Challenged Books for young people:
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; illustrations by Henry Cole
The story: Two male penguins in the NYC zoo hatch and raise a penguin chick.
Why targeted for censorship: Objections about the implied naturalness of gay families.
Why we love it: The story relates the facts of a true event in the NYC zoo and does not overly humanize the penguins. The Zookeeper is the one who helps the two male penguins find an extra egg that needs a nest. Henry Cole’s illustrations of the baby penguin hatching are just adorable! The story provides a great way to talk to kids about adoption as well as the variety of families.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
The story: a scared young donkey makes a hasty wish with a magic pebble, and struggles regain his true self.
Why it was targeted for censorship: Some people were uncomfortable with reading an emotionally challenging story to children, and others were upset by Steig’s depiction of police officers as pigs.
Why we love it: It won the Caldecott Medal for distinguished illustrations in 1970, and presents a literary story full of intriguing complications and ambiguous endings.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Story: Two unlikely friends bond in a small, rural town and use their imaginations to create a world over which they can rule. Everything appears to be great until tragedy strikes, and nothing is again the same.
Why targeted for censorship: Paterson’s novel, written after the death of a family friend, does not shy away from the tragedy or its consequences. For those seeking to protect young readers in an idyllic world, this Newberry Award winner provides too high a dose of reality.
Why we love it: Paterson provides a great story about the power of imagination, friendship, and learning to try to deal with the hard truths of the adult world.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The story: A teen girl and her brother travel across the universe to rescue their father from the Dark Thing, and ultimately face off against the faceless IT in a battle between good and evil.
Why it was targeted for censorship: Some religious groups felt that L’Engle’s witch-like characters of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which used occult powers to transport Meg through the 5th dimension. They also objected to the use of crystal balls, psychic healing, telepathy, and references to Eastern mystical practices.
Why we love it: This book won the Newbery Award in 1963 for the themes of the power of love, respect for others, and importance of individuality.
Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park
The story: 12-year-old Phoebe narrates the current events of her life: Parents, school—and the death of her beloved brother, Mick. With alternating bits of humor, anger, and sadness the reader learns about Mick, how he died, and how the family attempts to cope with their devastating loss.
Why it was targeted for censorship: Park’s novel, voiced with the unflinching and at times unfiltered worldview of a soon to be teenager, contains profanity, a reference to birth control, and a powerful story of grief that many thought was unsuitable for young readers.
Why we love it: Author Barbara Park captures Phoebe with ease, and through her narration draws the reader in to know and care for Mick, even though he is dead before the book begins. The novel reminds us that children can’t be protected from sadness, and it provides a powerful reminder about bicycle safety as well.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The story: a boy gets sent to his room for bad behavior and discovers a wild land where he can be king.
Why it was targeted for censorship: Some people were uncomfortable with a story about a child expressing anger towards a parent.
Why we love it: After Max’s journey to Where the Wild Things are, he tires of the wild rumpus and journeys home. Back in his own room, he find his parents left him diner. This iconic story has taught a generation of children how to manage anger, but also how to express forgiveness.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The story: The Once’ler becomes enchanted with Truffula Trees, and chops them all down to mass market products made from them. Out of the Truffula forest comes the Lorax, who speaks for the trees since the trees have no tongues, and warns that mindless consumption can destroy the beauty of this special place.
Why it was targeted for censorship: a California school banned the book in 1989 because the loggers are shown to be destructive, and the logging industry employed many in that community.
Why we love it: Dr. Seuss’s whimsical rhymes and uniquely quirky creatures are brilliantly paired with an important message of stewardship and responsiblity.
Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey.
The story: two 4th grade boy who write comics and pull pranks find themselves in ultimate trouble with their principal. Luckily, they discover a 3-D hypno-ring that can transform Mr. Kupp into the Amazing Captain Underpants.
Why it was targeted for censorship: the endless potty humor, the inappropriate pranks, the disrespectful behavior, the misspelled words: all of these are NOT as amusing to grown-ups as they may be for kids.
Why we love it: over the past 15 years, these books have become the gold standard for Books-For-Boys. Reluctant readers love the humor and graphic novel elements, and teachers love how these books help struggling readers transition from lower level books into longer chapter books.
Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
The story: an orphaned boy discovers he’s actually a wizard and after enrolling a special school for magic, uncovers his unique destiny.
Why it was targeted for censorship: Harry Potter’s massively huge success brought fantasy into the mainstream culture, and some religious groups were unhappy with this. They opposed the normalization of witches and wizards, which is their right, but wanted to force their views on others, which was not.
Why we love it: Rowling’s internationally appealing boy hero lives in a richly imagined magically world full of wonder and danger. Readers have not yet lost themselves in the school of Hogwarts don’t know what they’re missing!
Have your own favorite banned or challenged book? Share it with us! Post it in the comments section or talk it over with your local library staff today.