This week is Banned Books Week, celebrating the freedom to read. As many as 1,000 books have been banned or have been attempted to be banned for a variety of reasons, usually objections to language, violent content, or controversial themes such as religion or homosexuality. Books have been pulled from libraries, taken off school reading lists, and even removed from book stores.
Some are not so surprising (Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman, for example, instructs people how to steal credit cards and grow marijuana, among other things), but others have been considered beloved classics or useful reference guides. Here are our picks for the 10 most surprising books to hit the banned books list:
1. The Dictionary
It’s hard to understand how any content in the dictionary could be objectionable. After all, it’s simply a collection of definitions. It is totally objective. But various versions have been pulled from schools over definitions of “oral sex” and “balls,” among other words.
2. Little Red Riding Hood
It’s full of violence, sure, but it’s a cautionary tale that has come to be a classic. Schools in California objected to an illustrated version of the book that showed Little Red Riding Hood taking a basket to her grandmother that included wine and bread — citing concerns over the portrayal of alcohol.
3. James and the Giant Peach
This whimsical story of James and his magical peach was targeted for its violence (his parents are eaten by a wild rhinoceros, and his aunts routinely hit him) and for James’ disobedient attitude.
4. Harry Potter
The entire series has been challenged by parents and schools around the country on various charges: portrayals of occultism, satanism, violence, and more. Harry’s heroic tale is set against a backdrop of “witchcraft and wizardry,” and some have failed to see that as a simple fantasy tale for children.
5. Where’s Waldo
It’s hard to imagine what one might find offensive about this affable photographer and his famous stripes. Waldo is always off on some new adventure, in locations around the world. But when you look closely at the pictures in your search for Waldo, you find all kinds of oddball characters and outrageous scenes. Some administrators weren’t too pleased when they found a topless woman in one of them.
6. The Lord of the Rings
This epic story tells the tale of good triumphing over evil, and of friendship and solidarity winning out over individualism. But some churches felt that the themes were a bit darker, and they burned copies of the book for its so-called “satanic” themes.
7. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank’s diary has helped put a personal face on the tragic story of the Holocaust and World War II. Despite its historical significance, a Virginia school pulled the book for its “sexually explicit” and “homosexual” themes.
8. Captain Underpants
This scantily-clad children’s hero topped a list of banned books for several years. Common concerns included charges that the book has inappropriate language and sexually explicit and anti-family themes.
9. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
A case of mistaken identity had Texas schools pulling this book from their shelves. The author has the same name as another children’s author with Marxist/communist philosophies. For the record: It wasn’t the same author.
10. Farenheit 451
It’s ironic that a book about book censorship was censored itself. But schools objected to the profanity in the book and pulled it from their shelves.