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8 Books to Read During Banned Books Week 2016

Fight censorship and share these banned books, discussing topics from LGBTQ rights to sexual assault

Caitlin Flynn

Published on: September 20, 2016

Banned Books Week 2016 cover image

Each year members of the literary community, from publishers to avid readers, come together to bring awareness to censorship and celebrate the freedom to read with Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 through Oct. 1).

To honor Banned Books Week’s mission of exposing the danger of censorship, we’ve rounded up books that have been banned or challenged. All serve as important examples of why people want certain books banned and the reasons it’s crucial to keep reading and discussing these sensitive topics with your kids. 

And Tango Makes Three

By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Age recommendation: 4 to 8

Roy and Silo are two male penguins who fall in love and want to start a family. When they hatch an adopted egg together, they’re blessed with a newborn chick named Tango. This adorable picture book about adoption frequently ends up on banned books lists due to the same-sex couple at the center of the story — and that’s exactly why this is an amazing picture book to share with little ones. Not only will they love the beautiful illustrations, but And Tango Makes Three shows the youngest readers that it’s completely normal and healthy to fall in love and start a family with someone of the same gender.

The Lorax

By Dr. Seuss

Age recommendation: 4 to 8 

When this Seuss classic was first published in 1971, it caused quite an uproar that hasn’t died down since.

For nearly two decades, people have called for the book to be removed because of its take on the environment. In one instance, a California school district considered removing it from shelves because some believed it “criminalized” the foresting industry.

Regardless, The Lorax was ahead of its time in terms of environmental awareness and remains an important teacher for children about respecting the world at any age.

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson 

Age recommendation: 8 to 12

Paterson’s middle grade novel about friendship and heartbreak was originally published in 1977, but it’s remained on the American Library Association's list of “most frequently challenged books” well into the 21st century. It addresses the incredibly difficult theme of a child’s death, but that’s not the only reason it’s challenged. Other grievances include references to atheism, magic and mild bad language. 

Bridge to Terabithia addresses death in a realistic way with the depiction of main character Jess’ grief, which includes anger and refusal to let others tell him the “correct” way to mourn. Although not all children experience the trauma Jess does in losing his best friend, the book offers important lessons on how to mourn that are applicable to all readers.


The Agony of Alice

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Age recommendation: 10 and up

Alice is a sixth-grader who lives with her dad and older brother after losing her mother to leukemia. Navigating puberty is hard enough for any middle schooler, but Alice struggles without a female authority figure in her life. She has candid questions about menstruation and sexuality — one of the reasons some parties have clamored to keep The Agony of Alice (and other books in the series) off the shelves of school libraries despite Alice’s important lessons of self-acceptance and postive body image.


By Raina Telgemeier

Age recommendation: 10 and up

Drama focuses on many characters, all of whom are in middle school and figuring out their identities. However, despite receiving critical acclaim and multiple starred reviews, this graphic novel has been heavily challenged for being “sexually explicit.” However, there is no sex present in the book; it merely features two gay characters, one of whom shares a chaste kiss with another boy. 


By Laurie Halse Anderson

Age recommendation: 12 and up

One in six women will be the victim of a rape or an attempted rape during her lifetime and yet sexual assault remains a taboo subject. Example: Speak, which has been frequently banned for its discussion of rape. 

Although it ends on a hopeful note for main character Melinda, who was raped by a popular upperclassman during a summertime party, Speak doesn’t sugarcoat the painful reality of rape, allowing readers a chance to discuss an important subject that often remains quiet.

13 Reasons Why

By Jay Asher

Age recommendation: 12 and up

Before committing suicide, main character Hannah records 13 tapes that she mails to her classmates — 12 of whom bullied her and one who displayed kindness to her when she desperately needed it. The subject of suicide, along with sexual material that was directly related to Hannah, has made this book a target for censorship.

In a 2013 interview with CNN, the author explained how  many teens have told him how the book made them feel understood for the first time. In fact, Asher says, he once received an email from a girl who told him the book kept her from committing suicide, offering a prime example of literature’s power to save lives.

The Hunger Games series

By Suzanne Collins

Age recommendation: 12 and up

By now, the plot of Collins’ blockbuster trilogy is familiar to most of us: In a dystopian country, a government regime forces teens to fight each other to death as part of a reality TV competition. This is undeniably dark subject matter and the series is more violent than typical young adult books. 

Violence is the primary reason The Hunger Games is challenged, but it’s important to note how the brutality is condemned rather than glamorized. Furthermore, the series provides ample material to start conversations with teens about social and political messages. These are ideal books for parents and teens to read together: They’re action-packed, full of relatable characters and give parents the opportunity to share their own insights.

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