The forbidden knowledge of banned books
Banned books have the power to teach readers, especially young readers, valuable lessons. Sometimes, however, their content is deemed inappropriate for malleable minds, but, even then, it’s important for children to experience these pieces of literature.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been banned and contested since its publication in 1987 for dealing with sexual and racial violence. The novel takes place after the Civil War in a house inhabited by a former slave, Sethe, her child, Denver, and the choleric spirit of her first daughter. Beloved deals with racism, identity, loss, and what it means to be a mother. This eye-opening book teaches the reader lessons in humanity and tragedy through the eyes of a woman trying to survive her horrific past.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This novel, written in 1953, was banned for vulgarity and being “anti-religious.” Ironically enough, Bradbury’s novel is about censorship and the restriction of critical thinking in a world brainwashed by technology and narcissism. Guy Montag is a “fireman” tasked with burning books in an effort to keep the population compliant. However, he soon realizes that life is meaningless without the knowledge found within the books he destroys and struggles to escape a society comfortable with both ignorance and extreme violence. This novel remains relevant today and reveals the importance of knowledge in an increasingly uncaring world.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. This book has been banned for promoting the occult and anti-religious views in children with its fantastical themes and settings. Three children, Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin, meet three quirky witches who tell them of a great darkness consuming the universe. To defeat the terrible darkness, these siblings and their companion must embark on the journey of a lifetime, both throughout space and time as well as within themselves. L’Engle teaches children how to cope with loss and anger in healthy ways and that love is the strongest medicine.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel has been banned for violence, political views, and graphic pictures. Persepolis is a personal memoir of Satrapi depicting what it was like growing up in Iran during the cultural revolution in the 1970s. It follows her childhood, dealing with the oppressive regime, and her escape to Austria. She describes her struggle with her rebellious nature and being shunned by the Iranian government and white Austrians for being herself. This unique first-person view allows the reader to understand what it means to struggle with an identity controlled by social influences.
Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz. This series is banned for being too terrifying for children. These novels are a conglomeration of short horror stories that have frightened people since their first publication in 1981. Some stories include “Harold” about two farmers creating a scarecrow that slowly comes to life or “The Hook” where two teens learn that a crazed killer is on the loose. These stories may be banned, but they are perfect for a good scare at any age.
Honorable mentions include Things They Carried, A Light in the Attic, and, yes, even Captain Underpants. Books are banned in the name of protecting children, but when books can be banned for having LGBT+ characters or demonstrating a political opinion, maybe it is less about protection and more about censorship of information.