One of the most recent challenges I have seen on Facebook is to name 10 books that have stayed with you. I have taken that one step farther and added the criterion that the book has to be a challenged book. What’s the difference between a banned book and a challenged book? A challenged book is one that someone requested be pulled from a collection. A banned book has actually been pulled. Chances are your favorites have also been challenged by someone. That’s why we believe in everyone’s freedom to read and are not in favor of banning books and are marking Banned Books Week. Here are my favorites:
1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Meet Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace and Calvin O’Keefe as they journey to the planet Camazotz aided by Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit. They are going to try to save Meg’s father from “It.”
I read this in sixth grade and have always loved it. I can only guess that someone read the word “witch” and challenged the book without reading it.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
We’re all familiar with Gregory Peck’s performance in the movie version of this story. I assume this was banned because it deals with bigotry, rape and drug addiction. It has a white man defending a black man! It is a fine piece of work about the prejudices that remain in our daily lives.
3. 1984 by George Orwell
I read this in 1974. Somehow the date and the invasiveness of government seemed like fiction at the time. With computers and the Internet we really can be afraid that Big Brother (or someone) is watching. I assume it was challenged for violence, sex and language. It is now considered a classic.
4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
“Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” So begins Vonnegut’s classic book about the evils of war. It has some sex, but not graphic, violence, language and drugs. Vonnegut’s writing is cynical, subversive, and wonderful. War is not glorified by the survivor of the Dresden fire bombings. It is a hard novel to forget.
5. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins
The tale of Sissy Hankshaw is considered a counter-culture classic. Tom Robbins makes fun of everyone in this tale that includes homosexuality, hitchhiking, drugs, and whooping crane wranglers. Sissy was born with gigantic thumbs, so she is unable to do much besides hitchhike. This leads her to the Rubber Rose Ranch. Sexuality and language are probably the reason someone tried to ban the book.
6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
What can I say? This has swords, sorcery, wizards, elves, dwarves, evil and lots of violence. Good eventually triumphs and Tolkien is the standard by which all fantasy is measured. It must have been challenged because of the wizards. If you only read one fantasy series in your life, this is the one to read.
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
This book is a condemnation of the way we treat people with mental illness. McMurphy is a criminal who feigns insanity to avoid prison and challenges the authority of Big Nurse and her treatment of patients. It could have been challenged for any number of reasons: sex, violence, racism, drugs, or language. The book is better than the movie. You fall in love with Chief in both.
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy — it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. This contains violence and sex, but I’m assuming it was banned for its irreverent treatment of the U.S. Army and its regulations.
9. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
I trust I don’t need to describe these books to you. You have either read them or you won’t read them, but you must be familiar with them. I don’t understand trying to exclude the entire genre of fantasy because it includes magic. It is make believe. It is fiction. Sometimes I get very frustrated with the concept that fiction should always be realistic. Rowling incorporates many creatures from classical mythology in these books and the first few books are really funny. She’s a good writer and I recommend these as well as the detective novels about Cormoran Strike that she is now writing under the pen name of Robert Galbraith.
10 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In a place once known as North America, the nation Panem holds its annual “hunger games.” They select a boy and a girl from each of the twelve districts to compete in live games that take place in the Capitol and are televised. The games are to the death and help the Capitol to maintain control of the districts where food, clothing, and fuel are rationed. Life is cruel in the districts and the people in the Capitol are even more cruel in their excesses and their calloused enjoyment of the games. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta refuse to play the game according to the Capitol’s rules. Challenged for violence and portraying children killing children.
My list of banned books is full of fantasy, dystopia, anti-establishment sentiments and magic. Common sense media gave nearly all of these books five stars for quality, but suggested they be read by people over the age of 13 because of violence, language or sex. I would agree, but I urge parents to consider their child and their maturity as well as what you want them to read at a certain age. Don’t shy away from certain topics, but use them as the beginning of a conversation. Some of the best conversations you can have with your children are started by books.