Welcome to the AWM’s banned books reading list! Now more than ever, authors across the country are fighting against attempts to ban and challenge books. As a partner with the American Library Association’s Unite Against Book Bans initiative, the AWM commits to being a safe place to advocate against censorship.
From children’s literature to modern works to classic favorites, books in every genre are faced with limitations by book banning and censorship. Providing everyone with access to a wide variety of reading materials is important and empowering—children and adults everywhere deserve the opportunity to read books that are reflective of their experiences, histories, and communities, as well as the stories of others.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of banned or challenged books, especially considering that the total book challenges in 2023 increased 20% from the 2022 record, according to data obtained by the ALA. The ALA also has fascinating lists of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of recent years, which are all worth a read.
We challenge you to be rebellious and add these 11 books to your reading list!
You can find the shared list below on Bookshop.org, which benefits independent bookstores. We also strongly encourage you to support your local bookstore by visiting them in person or ordering online through them directly.
Maus by Art Spiegelman (1980)
Banned for: profanity and depictions of female nudity in its depiction of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust (McMinn County Schools, Tennessee, 2022)
Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story explores the horrors of the Holocaust through the author’s interviews with his father. Blending memoir, history, fiction, and autobiography, this unforgettable story employs postmodern techniques and drawings of mice and cats as Jews and Nazis. Maus is widely known as the greatest graphic novel ever written.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
Challenged for: “strong sexual content” (Howell High School, Michigan, 2008), depictions of child abuse (Colton Joint Unified School District, California, 2021), and because it is a “bad book” (Legacy High School, Colorado, 2014)
A national bestseller, Toni Morrison’s first novel tells the story of an 11-year-old black girl living in 1941 America who wishes for blue eyes so she can experience love and acceptance. The Bluest Eye is considered an American classic and an essential account of the African American experience following the Great Depression.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959)
Challenged for: being a “filthy, trashy sex novel.” (NY School District, New York, 1980)
Set during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a coming of age tale featuring two very different boys and one unforgettable summer. The American classic has been a bestseller for more than thirty years.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (2019)
Banned for: LGBTQIA+ content, sexually explicit images, and “evil, wicked” content (North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District, New Jersey, 2022)
Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir explores a moving and heartfelt journey from childhood to adulthood alongside an exploration of gender identity and sexuality. The American Library Association ranked Gender Queer as the most challenged book in 2021.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (1964)
Banned for: “sexist” (Boulder Public Library, Colorado, 1988)
Described as one of the most divisive books in all of children’s literature, The Giving Tree is a tender picture book that has been consumed by readers of all ages for more than 50 years.
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (2018)
Banned for: featuring LGBTIA+ characters (ImagineIF Libraries, Montana, 2020) and for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children, especially boys, into the LGBTQA lifestyle” (Upshur County Public Library, West Virginia, 2020)
In this modern fairy tale, a young prince is tasked with finding a bride and saving his kingdom from a terrible dragon. When he partners with a brave knight in a suit of shining armor, he realizes that maybe not every prince wants to marry a princess.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
Banned for: “opposes Christian beliefs and teaches occult practices” (Polk City Elementary School, Florida, 1985) and “listing the name of Jesus Christ today with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders when referring to the defenders of Earth against evil” (Tenth Street Elementary School, Alabama, 1990)
Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, Madeline L’Engle’s beloved YA novel explores the universes beyond through the eyes of a young girl named Meg Murry on a quest to save her missing father.
The 1619 Project edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2019)
Banned for: “attempts to deny or obfuscate the fundamental principles upon which the United States was founded” (Donald Trump, 2021)
Featuring contributions from over 30 writers, The 1619 Project aims to reframe our collective understanding of American history by placing slavery and the legacy of anti-blackness front and center. Editor Nikole Hannah-Jones received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2020 for her work on the book. Watch Hannah-Jones speak at the AWM for the opening reception for our exhibit Dark Testament.
Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
Challenged for: “vulgar, profane, and sexually explicit” (Berrian Springs High School, Michigan, 1981)
Featured in our exhibit, Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice, Richard Wright’s novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young Black man “caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic.”
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014)
Banned for: “promoting resentment toward a race or class of people” (Tucson, Arizona, 2010) and challenged for containing “marxism, incest, sexual explicit material, CRT” (McKinney Independent School District, Texas, 2022)
Spanning more than four hundred years, this vital book from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is the first to tell the history of the United States through the perspective of indigenous peoples. In addition to the original book, there is also a version written specifically for young people.
This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson (2021)
Banned for: “providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content.”
Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Intersex. Straight. Curious. This book is for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference. This book is for anyone who’s ever dared to wonder. This book is for YOU. This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it’s like to grow up LGBTQ+ also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.