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The next time someone tells you that “cancel culture” is a recent thing, possibly an invention of the left, show them a list of challenged and banned books for children. People of all political and religious persuasions have always tried to control which books are available in libraries, stores, and on school shelves. In 2021, book banning efforts surged; more recently, these efforts have been back in the news as an entire Michigan library was defunded over its inclusion of LGBTQ books, and a Texas school district pulled over 40 titles over similar opposition.
Because most of the people who love books don’t love censorship, every year (since 1982!) we celebrate Banned Books Week on the last week of September. But banned and challenged books are great reads at any time of year.
Do we think that children should be exposed to profanity, violence, and otherwise offensive content at any age? Not really. But we think that what goes on those shelves should be up to trusted librarians, teachers, and store owners. What makes it into our homes and in our children’s laps is up to parents.
The American Library Association puts together an annual list of the “most challenged” books — that means they aren’t quite banned books but pretty close — and it’s an interesting look at what’s getting people riled up at any given time. That means a lot of books with LGBTQ characters, such as A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo and I Am Jazz. Other books that have made the list over and over since they were published include The Handmaid’s Tale, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Bluest Eye, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Basically, any books that dare to approach a subject that can be considered controversial, like sexuality, racism, or abuse. While these topics may be uncomfortable, they are reality, and banning books about them won’t make them go away.
Upon looking at these lists, we realized something wonderful (which the ALA has known for a long time, of course): This is a great way to choose the next books to read with your kids.
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We’ll cut to the chase so you can get to reading soon. Here are the best banned and challenged books to introduce to your kids: