Children’s Banned Books: from Nudity to the Occult to LGBTQ+

By Mary W. RSS Thu, September 28, 2017

If you were to view the most frequently challenged or banned books each year, you may notice that 5 of the 10 most challenged books are usually children’s books. In 2016, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki made the list and also won a Newbery Honor! Reasons given to challenge a book often include LGBTQ+ characters/themes, religious viewpoints, offensive language, nudity, and occult.

For example, Drama by wildly popular graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier is often challenged due to an LGBTQ+ character. This has certainly not stopped our patrons from checking out this book as it is often not found on the shelf! The Harry Potter fantasy series by J.K. Rowling has been cited for promoting the occult and Satanism. Many challengers believe that it is against their religious beliefs. Offensive language and potty humor cause the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey to be often challenged.

One book that has been challenged in the past is Eve Merriam’s Halloween ABC, which happens to be one of my favorite books. Many of the Halloween-themed poems involve violence, including my favorite, "Icicle". An author that has been frequently challenged is Roald Dahl. Many of his books have violence and offensive language, including The Witches. A running theme throughout Dahl’s books is nasty adults who are mean to children and in return the children seem to disrespect authority figures.

Nudity and sex seem to be a frequent target of challengers. Many of you are probably familiar with Maurice Sendak’s work. He is a Caldecott-winning illustrator who is well-known for his imaginative stories. In The Night Kitchen, which follows a little boy on a nightly adventure, features both frontal and posterior nudity of the child. Many saw this as inappropriate for both children and adult. Many equate nudity with sex, even if the subject is a young child. When the character is a young adolescent girl who is just discovering her sexuality, like in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, the challenges can happen year after year!

Now, I’m not sure what this says about the children, and myself, who enjoy these books but it seems that often the most popular books are the ones being challenged. Perhaps this is due to their visibility and easy access that challengers fight these titles year after year. As a children’s librarian who just wants to get kids reading, no matter what it is, if potty humor or an LGBTQ+ character they can relate to gets them hooked, I’m all for it!

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