Books

Wed, 7 Nov, 2018Over60

13 books we bet you never knew were banned

13 books we bet you never knew were banned

The Dictionary

Wait … what? Some students working on their spelling might have been out of luck when the teacher asked them to “look it up”. In 1987, the Anchorage School Board in Alaska banned the American Heritage Dictionary because it had “objectionable” entries, like the slang definitions for “balls,” “knocker” and “bed.” A California elementary school banned Merriam Webster from its shelves because the definition of oral sex was “not age appropriate”.

The Lorax

Dr. Seuss may have endeared the hearts of millions, but The Lorax, about the perils of deforestation, didn’t sit well with California loggers. One community banned the book for its negative portrayal of the industry. (By the way, you've been saying "Dr. Seuss" wrong.) 

Yertle the Turtle

Anti-deforestation wasn’t Dr. Seuss’s only political message to make schools squirm. One Canadian school announced Yertle the Turtle one of its banned books in 2012 because of this line: "I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom, we too should have rights." Apparently, that line was too partisan for a school that had banned political messages.

James and the Giant Peach

No matter how you feel about human-sized bugs, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach seems innocent enough at first glance. Some schools have challenged it for language, and tobacco and alcohol references. But perhaps the oddest? In 1999, one small Wisconsin town officially made it one of its banned books after claiming a scene when the spider licks her lips could be “taken in two ways, including sexual”. Can’t say that would have been our first thought.

Where the Wild Things Are

It was tough enough for author Maurice Sendak to get his borderline dark and scary children’s book published. When it finally did hit the shelves, it got in even more trouble. Where the Wild Things Are is now a fun classic, but it was initially banned because little Max’s punishment was starvation– well, lack of supper – and the story had supernatural themes.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

You might want to reread Shel Silverstein’s collection of poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends – you may have missed something in its quirky, funny and touching verses. According to some schools, the book actually promotes everything from drug use and suicide to ignoring parents and telling lies. Yikes.

Harriet the Spy

Who knew a child misfit could create such a stir? Sure, kids loved Harriet for her strong will and rebelliousness, but critics argued the “spy” was less of a good-girl Nancy Drew and more of a mean-spirited gossip. Some schools banned Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy to keep students from the bad influence.

The Giving Tree

To some, this was Shel Silverstein’s sweet story about unconditional love. But to one bitter Colorado librarian who took it off the shelvesThe Giving Tree was just plain “sexist”.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Might as well stop trying to wrack your brain for what in the world could have been grounds to take Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? out of schools. It was all an awkward mistake. Eric Carle might be a famous children’s illustrator, but the Texas State Board of Education wouldn’t approve the storybook after recognising writer Bill Martin Jr.’s name from another book: Ethical Marxism. There was just one problem – the political Bill Martin was not the same Bill Martin Jr. as had written the children’s book. Next time, maybe the school board should do its homework.

The Diary of a Young Girl

No, Anne Frank’s diary hasn’t been removed from libraries because of the terror of hiding from Nazis. Schools have deemed some of the 14-year-old’s descriptions of her anatomy as “pornographic”. More cringe-worthy? One Alabama textbook committee asked for it to be banned because it was “a real downer”. 

Charlotte’s Web

The unlikely friendship between a pig and spider sparked a much bigger controversy among Kansas parents in 1952. They had Charlotte's Web banned because talking animals went against their religious beliefs, arguing humans are "the only creatures that can communicate vocally. Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God”. We wonder what they’d think about the Cat in the Hat and Mickey Mouse and the three little bears and ...

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck’s work of fiction was based on the reality of the Dust Bowl that left migrants homeless and in search of work. In Kern County, California, where the protagonists land, the real-life county board of supervisors didn’t appreciate the author’s portrayal of how locals didn’t help migrants. A 1939 vote removed The Grapes of Wrath from the area’s schools and libraries.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Despite being so beloved, Harper Lee’s novel is still the fourth most-challenged or banned classic book. Advocates of banning it argue its issues with racism and sexuality aren’t suitable for young readers.

Written by Marissa Laliberte. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.

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