Ignite Your Mind: 50 Years of Banned Books

I recently ran across an article that mentioned books being banned in 1637 America, 35 AD Rome, and 259 BC China, and I have come to the conclusion that books have been banned ever since people started writing them. Why? Well, I think Pete Hautman said it best, “Books are dangerous. They should be dangerous—they contain ideas.” At Half Price Books we celebrate the freedom of ideas, and we want to encourage people to (as Voltaire said) “think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.”

As we continue to celebrate our 50th anniversary, we would like to encourage you to ignite your mind, by reading some of the following books that have been banned over the last 50 years.


  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller—This humorous novel about pilots trying to prove they were too crazy to fly any more war missions, while being told that the fact the they didn’t want to fly made them sane, was banned in 1972 for indecent language. (I’m thinking if they were caught in a Catch-22, they would use some indecent language themselves.)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut—This anti-war novel infused with time-travel and alien abductions was banned in 1972 for its obscene language, depictions of sexual acts, and its lack of patriotism. (Poo-tee-weet?)
  • Forever, by Judy Blume—Published in 1974, this young adult novel of a girl’s first love, first kiss, and first time was banned for the frequency of sexual activity, using “four-letter” words and portraying disobedience to parents. (They do know that love and obey are also four-letter words?)
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown—This nonfiction book about the history of Native Americans in the late nineteenth century was banned in 1974 for being polemical. One school district official in WI was quoted as saying “if there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?” (Or, hear me out, they could just talk to their kids about the controversial parts and help their kids learn to think for themselves. Just a suggestion.)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee—Published in 1960, this story of a the trial of an African-American man accused of rape in a small Alabama town in the 1930s told through the eyes or a young girl whose father is a lawyer, is one of the most challenged books of all time for things like using the words “damn” and “whore lady” in 1977, to having racial slurs in 1985, to having a “white savior” character in 2020. (There’s always something.)


  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles—This coming-of-age debut novel about the dark side of adolescence, and named one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read was first challenged in 1980 for being a “filthy, trashy, sex novel” with offensive language. (Have they met teenagers before?)
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker—This Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning novel about the traumas and triumph of a poor, uneducated woman in rural Georgia was banned in 1984 for profanity, sexual explicitness and violence. In 2014, Walker was questioned about what she thought about her book continuing to get banned in different school systems, and she said, “it’s been banned so many times that I don’t really have much of a reaction, but just understand that sometimes you’re depriving your children of the opportunity to learn something new and something that might be very helpful.” (You go, girl!)
  • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle—This Newberry Medal-winning novel about children journeying through time and space to battle evil and save their father was challenged in 1985 because the book “opposes Christian beliefs and teaches occult practices.” Coincidentally, this book has also been challenged for being “too Christian.” (The Lord of the Rings had this exact same problem.)
  • The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton—Written by a 16-year-old girl in 1967, and based off an experience had by one of Hinton’s friends, this coming-of-age novel was banned in 1986 because drug and alcohol abuse were common in the story and almost all the characters came from broken homes. (What was the divorce rate in 1986? About 50%? Right.)
  • The Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson—This Newberry Medal-winning novel of friendship and loss was banned in 1986 for its use of profanity, especially the use of “Lord” as an expletive. (OMG!)


  • Daddy’s Roommate, by —One of the first children’s books to address the subject of homosexuality, this picture book was banned from almost the moment of publications in 1990. It was banned for references of homosexuality, and was the 2nd most banned book of the 1990s. The 3rd most banned was a similar book, Heather Has Two Mommies. (Because we don’t want our kids to be prepared for the real world, do we?)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood—This futuristic dystopian novel was banned throughout the 1990s for offensive language and graphic sexuality, but the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Joan Bertin told Newsweek that she suspects that the language complaints are a “ruse for other reasons,” and what they are really objecting to is the notion of a totalitarian society in what had been the U.S. which is unsettling to them.  (But isn’t one of the hallmarks of a totalitarian society banning books?)
  • American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis—Originally published in 1991, this book about a serial killer, told from the perspective of the serial killer incited boycotts before it was even published, and was the 53rd most banned and challenged book in the 1990s due to it’s “gratuitous, indefensible violence against women.” (The book is called American Psycho. What did they expect? Tea parties?)
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry—This Newbery Medal-winning dystopian novel about a 12-year-old boy who challenges the concepts his society is built on was banned in 1994 (originally published in 1993) for having  violent and sexual passages, and portraying infanticide and euthanasia. (You know, those were the things he was challenging, right?)
  • The Goosebumps series, by R.L. Stein—This series of children’s horror books have been banned and challenged in schools since 1997 for being “too scary for kids.” (Someone explain to them the definition of horror.)


  • The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling—It’s no surprise that this wonderfully popular series was banned and challenged in 2002 because of its focus on wizardry and magic, causing some people to call it satanic. (The Lord of the Rings drew fire during the 2000s for the same reason.)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou—This autobiographical book about how strength of character and the love of literature can help someone overcome trauma and injustice was banned in 2002 for being too explicit in its portrayal of rape and other sexual abuse. In 2014, Angelou was called the most banned author in the United States. When asked about it, she said, “I’m always sorry that people ban my books…And many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences. I feel sorry for the young person who never gets to read.” (Me, too.)
  • The Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey—This hilarious middle-grade graphic novel was first banned in 2003 for encouraging children to disobey their parents and also because it has partial nudity. (In the Night Kitchen is a picture book that has also faced this nudity charge. But Captain Underpants actually has underpants in the title. It shouldn’t have been a surprise.)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky—This coming-of-age story that takes a heartbreakingly honest look at high school was banned for having gay positive themes. (Welcome to high school.)
  • TTYL, by Lauren Myracle—The first novel written completely in instant messages, which follows three best friends through their sophomore year in high school, was banned in 2007 for offensive language, “crude references to male and female anatomy” and a “flirtation with a teacher that almost goes too far.” (I think “almost” is the compelling word in this sentence.)


  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins—This YA dystopian novel about a teenager fighting for her life and defying a government that wants to kill her was banned in 2010 because it gave a child nightmares. Other charges people have lobbied against this book have been that it’s insensitive, violent, anti-family, anti-ethic and satanic. (Well, I agree it’s violent. We are talking about a Thunderdome situation, here.)
  • Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi—This 2003 graphic memoir of the author’s experiences growing up in Iran received critical acclaim in the author’s current country, France, However, it was banned almost immediately in Iran. The U.S. banned the book in 2013 for being socially offensive and promoting controversial racial and political issues. (But it’s her story. It happened.)
  • Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher—A YA novel about a young girl who commits suicide was banned in 2013 for its portrayal of drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex and romanticizing suicide. (Sounds like being a teenager.)
  • Melissa, by Alex Gino—This middle-grade novel about a young transgender girl was banned in 2016 because it includes a transgender child and the “sexuality was not appropriate at the elementary level.” Bullying and a child refusing to take medicine are also listed as reasons this book had been challenged.
  • All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds—This 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor YA book and winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s literature about a specific instance of police brutality from the perspectives of two different high school students was challenged in 2019 for profanity, promoting anti-police views and for being “too much of a sensitive matter right now.” (Sensitive issues need to be talked about. Otherwise, how do we learn?)
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds—This book written specifically to help young people understand the history of racism and encourage antiracism for the future was challenged in 2020 because of the author’s public statements, it contains “selective storytelling incidents” and doesn’t encompass racism against all people.” (I think if someone learns not to be racist against one type of person, they can apply those same tenets toward other types of people.)

Books are still being banned and challenged In 2022 simply because they make someone uncomfortable, but as Judy Blume said, “Something will be offensive to someone in every book, so you’ve got to fight [the banning of books].” The best way to fight is to read, and let the ideas in books ignite your imagination, help you make sense of your own life and reach out to others whose lives and experiences are different than your own. You can find these dangerous books and more at your local HPB or at HPB.com.

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