Banned Books Every Kid Should Read

Lori Soard
Gray book with banned symbol

There are always books that make the banned list for schools and other organizations that leave people scratching their heads trying to figure out why. Some of these books may offer a slice of history for young readers, give valuable real life lessons or offer a unique outlook on life that you want your child to either emulate or know how not to act.

The Giving Tree

According to Amazon, the book is aimed at second to third graders and was first published in 1964 by Harper & Row. This picture book, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, is about an apple tree that is female and a human boy who is male. As a child, the boy enjoys spending time with the tree. He climbs the tree and plays under her shade. However, as he grows older, he starts to demand things of the tree, such as picking the apples and selling them, using her branches to build a house and eventually leaving only a stump, which he sits upon.

Why the Book Was Banned

You probably wouldn't think that a book by well-known children's author Shel Silverstein would make a banned books list, but a Colorado library found the book to be "sexist." The Giving Tree was banned in 1988 by the library, quoting a selfish relationship between the boy and the tree as the reasoning. Other books by Silverstein have been banned as well, including A Light in the Attic, which was banned by Cunningham Elementary School in 1985 for "suggestive" illustrations, and the Wisconsin school district of West Allis-West Milwaukee banned Where the Sidewalk Ends in 1986, stating the book: "Promotes drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for authority, and rebellion against parents.

Why Read It

Kids should read this book because Shel Silverstein is a hallmark of children's literature. While those who banned his works may have found underlying themes in his books, according to Common Sense Media, children will simply enjoy a well-illustrated picture book. You can also use the story as a springboard for discussion with children, such as whether they think the boy was selfish with the tree.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Although 7th and 8th grade is the typical age range to assign Anne Frank's diary, the book is read by all ages as a guide to Jewish life during WWII. The story follows Frank's everyday life as a young Jewish girl in the Netherlands, when the Germans began to occupy the country, her family going into hiding and their ultimate capture. Anne Frank did not survive the Holocaust.

Why the Book Was Banned

When you think of a book that helps people understand the period in time when the Holocaust occurred, Anne Frank's diary may top your reading list. However, some people feel this book should be banned. According to Marshall University, the book was challenged as recently as 2011 when a parent complained about mature themes in the required reading, including mentions of homosexuality. The unabridged version includes some passages where Frank writes about her own anatomy as well.

Other schools have also banned the book, such as Northville School District in Michigan and Culpepper County Public Schools in Virginia. The original book was published in 1947 in Amsterdam and references that might have been offensive were carefully edited out by her father, Otto. However, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition has 30 percent more material added back in and that added material is what seems to be causing the stir.

Why Read It

This is a book that your child should read because it paints a vivid picture of what life was like for Jews in Europe during WWII. It is a history lesson disguised as an interesting collection of diary entries. However, if your child is younger, you may want to stick with the original version and steer clear of the more graphic definitive edition.

Winnie-the-Pooh

Ultimately, most schools in America won't find anything offensive in Winnie-the-Pooh books, which were written by English author A.A. Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh is the first in a series of illustrated classics about the teddy bear and his friends. The book is more a series of short stories than a cohesive whole, but the characters remain the same throughout the book. Tigger does not appear in the first book, but does appear in the second book in the series. These books are best for ages six to nine.

Why the Book Was Banned

This beloved children's story seems so sweet and innocent that it is hard to imagine it ever making a banned books list. Yet, make that list, it did. According to Daily Mail, the book was banned in schools in Kansas because some parents felt is was ungodly for animals to talk. There have also been reports of the book being banned in England because schools felt it might offend Muslim students due to a pig as one of the main characters (Piglet).

Why Read It

Childhood just wouldn't be the same without Winnie-the-Pooh's positive outlook on life, Eeyore's melancholy personality and Kanga's love for her baby named Roo. Unless you are opposed to talking animals, then these books will present your child with a fun read.

Alice in Wonderland

The book is written by Lewis Carroll and was published in 1865. The full title is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but it is typically shortened to just, Alice in Wonderland. The story is about a curious young girl who follows a white rabbit and tumbles down a rabbit hole into a strange world made up of fantastical creatures. It has a nonsensical plot and is an example of Victorian nonsense literature.

Why the Book Was Banned

In conversation, it has been said that the Mad Hatter's tea party was a bit like being stuck inside a stoner's mind. If you find Alice in Wonderland a bit odd, then you might agree with the ban on this book by Woodsville High School in Haverhill, New Hampshire in 1900. The teachers felt the book made fun of religious ceremonies. More recently, some schools have challenged the book stating that there are references to drug use, such as the caterpillar on the mushroom and Alice drinking "concoctions."

Why Read It

While the book is beloved by all ages, the reading level is best for nine years old and up. Your child should read this book so he can understand when references are made to falling down the rabbit hole, smiling like a Cheshire cat, or being as mad as a hatter.

Harriet the Spy

The book was written by Louise Fitzhugh and published in 1964. It was almost immediately both loved and hated. Critics couldn't stand the flawed character of Harriet and failed to notice that she changes and learns from her mistakes by the end of the book. NPR reported that schools began to ban the book almost immediately. The book is aimed at 9 to 12 year olds and is about a young girl living in New York City. She jots down her thoughts and observations in a journal. Although Harriet is flawed and vengeful, she does make amends at the end of the story.

Why the Book Was Banned

You may have thought this book was all good fun about an 11-year-old aspiring writer, but those who banned this book feel that Harriet has serious character flaws, such as lying, talking back and disobeying authority.

Why Read It

This is a great book for you to read with your child. Not only is it noteworthy that Harriet's character changed through the book, it is also a wonderful opportunity to bring up the topic of lying and the consequences one can face for doing so.

The Lorax

The Lorax was written by Dr. Seuss and published in 1971. The book is about a creature called the Lorax, and talks about the danger corporations pose to the trees. In the book, the Lorax becomes an advocate for the trees.

Why the Book Was Banned

A Dr. Seuss book on the banned list? Believe it or not, parents from Laytonville Unified School District in northern California feel that The Lorax is a message against logging - which is what many of the parents in that district do for a living. They rallied the school board to ban this book from schools back in 1989. Judith Bailey, a parent, filed a complaint asking that the book either be banned or removed from the required reading list.

Why Read It

The book is a picture book for ages 6 to 9 and is perfect for a child who is just starting to read. If the environmental element concerns you, use the book as a way to open up dialogue about loggers, how they make a living and why it is important that they reseed the trees they cut down.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written by Roald Dahl and published in the 1960s in both Britian and the United States. It is the story of a poor, young boy whose family is starving, but he wins a chance in a local contest to change all that. As one of the winners of the contest, he gets to tour Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Wonka has a secret, hidden agenda, which is revealed at the end of the story.

Why the Book Was Banned

This beloved tale about a boy who wins a golden ticket to tour the local chocolate factory is a classic. However, some people over the years have taken offense to this book and it isn't because they dislike candy. In 1988, a Boulder, Colorado public library locked the book up stating that it had a "poor philosophy of life," according to a librarian. When the public discovered the book had been banned, it was promptly returned to the general collection.

The original version of the book, then entitled Charlie, had the Oompa-Loompas as black Pigmies. The story explained that they had been "imported" by Willy Wonka and were paid not with money but food. The story explained they came in via packing cases. Knowing about this first version, it is probably little surprise to you that some see this book as having racist undertones. Of course, the version on shelves today was changed from that original version.

Why Read It

It is considered a modern classic that delights audiences young and old. It's reading level works best for kids in grades 4th to 6th grade, but it is also a great book to read with your children. Willie Wonka has a unique way of teaching the tour participants about good character qualities via the consequences of each person's actions.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The book was published in 1950 and is the first in a series of books about the magical land of Narnia, which is accessed via a magical wardrobe. In Narnia, there is magic, animals can talk, an evil witch tries to rule things and there is a beautiful lion that will sacrifice his life to save the children.

Why the Book Was Banned

If Americans United for Separation of Church and State gets its way, children wouldn't get to go on a magical adventure to Narnia, at least not as part of their required reading lists. They believe the underlying Christian themes, which the author C.S. Lewis has claimed are there, violate church/state separation.

Why Read It

The book is for ages 9 to 12, but adults love this series, too. Your child should read this book, because it is a good example of fantasy. Whether the book seems overtly Christian to you or not will probably depend on your interpretation of the symbolism within the book.

Watership Down

This book is about a rabbit that is psychic and sees that they need to leave their home and search for a new one. The traveling rabbits encounter many adventures along the way before finally settling at Watership Down. It was written by Richard Adams, and English author, and published in 1972.

Why the Book Was Banned

You probably wouldn't expect a book about rabbits to be violent enough to be challenged. However, several schools have banned this book, which has a plot a bit like Lord of the Rings, but with rabbits and not hobbits. Watership Down was not banned in all schools, but in some, and is reported to have been banned in China because the animals and humans are seen as being on the same level.

Why Read It

The book is best suited for pre-teens and teens. Your student will enjoy the fact that the rabbits must face various challenges and overcome them. It has some realistic moments and can be a bit intense, however, it has some great life lessons worthy of discussion.

Where's Waldo?

Where's Waldo is a series of books, where Waldo is hidden amongst a very vibrant and busy scene. Each page has a different theme. The goal is to find Waldo, who wears glasses and wears a red and white striped shirt.

Why the Book Was Banned

If you've ever tried to figure out where Waldo is hiding, then you know there are many different versions of this cartoon. However, the 1987 copy of Waldo hiding somewhere on the beach got a lot of flack and was banned in some places because there is a topless woman on the beach. Since Where's Waldo is aimed at young children, parents felt the inclusion of a topless bather was inappropriate.

Springs Public School on Long Island banned the book from their library as well. Consequently, the publisher actually reprinted the book to remove the risqué beach goer.

Why Read It

Of course, with so many people filling the beach and the images so tiny, it can be really hard to spot this image if you have the first print of the book. Where's Waldo is for ages 6 to 9 typically, although younger kids may enjoy finding Waldo, too. You'll have to decide if you want to risk your child finding something other than Waldo. The risk is probably fairly low once you realize how tiny the topless bather really is.

Why Your Child Should Read Banned Books

As a parent, you can always make the decision that your child shouldn't read a book for any reason you choose. However, reading banned books, discussing why it is controversial and sharing your viewpoints with your child can help him figure out how he feels about different issues and help him grow into a smart, well-educated person.

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Banned Books Every Kid Should Read