From an American classic to a silly search-and-find, read the shocking reasons these books are “banned”—and why you should still read them.

MICHIGAN—The book banning movement is nothing new, but this year, Republican put forth a fresh effort to reignite it. Between January 1 and August 31, the American Library Association documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict books. More than 1,600 unique titles were targeted.

Those numbers were on par with 2021 levels—which was the worst year in book banning history, according to the ALA. And an additional four months of data is still under analysis.  

Why?

A handful of politicians and parents want to purge library shelves of so-called “edgy cultural commentary”, uncomfortable interpretations of reality, discussions of gender identity, and provocative stories that could lead to political questioning. Some of their attempts have been successful, but here’s a little secret: In America, you have the freedom to read books, even if they’re banned!

What’s the #1 most-banned book?

It’s hard to pinpoint just one, but the ALA tracks the 10 most challenged books each year.

This is its list for 2021:

  • Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
  • Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
  • All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
  • Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson
  • Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

7 Banned Books You Should Read (or Re-Read)

Reader’s Digest curated a list of 30 banned books every American should read.

We whittled it down to seven:

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
This autobiographical graphic novel follows the author’s journey as coming out as nonbinary to her family.
Banned For: Discussing gender identity, sexuality, and asexuality
Read To: Better understand and become a better ally to members of the LGBTQ+ community

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This novel transports readers to Afghanistan, where the son of a rich man and the son of his servant forge an unlikely friendship.
Banned For: Referencing sexual violence and “promoting Islam”
Read To: Appreciate the powers of redemption and love that transcend continents

Maus by Art Spiegelman
This graphic novel memoir details the horrors of Holocaust through cartoons.
Banned For: Nudity (of animals) and profanity
Read To: Understand that history can be uncomfortable and shouldn’t be whitewashed

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
The romance novel follows the passionate love story between a Mexican American girl and a Black boy in 1930s Texas.
Banned For: Graphic descriptions of teenage sex
Read To: Learn about complex topics like segregation, rape, and forbidden love

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Set in 1960s Alabama, the classic follows a young girl, her brother, and her dad through the arrest and trial of a Black man accused of raping a white woman.
Banned For: “Inappropriate” conversations about racism and sexuality
Read To: Remind yourself our country’s long-standing, deep-rooted injustices still exist today

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
After young Max is sent to bed without dinner, the story follows his dreams to a dark land where he becomes kind of the Wild Things and leads a loud, hair-raising “Wild Rumpus.”
Banned For: Implying childhood “starvation” and “disturbingly supernatural” themes
Read To: Feel like a kid again and escape into an imaginative world for a few minutes

Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford
Nope, this isn’t a joke! The illustrated book search-and-find book with barely any words frequently makes the ALA banned books list.
Banned For: An image of a partially-topless woman sunbathing in one scene
Read To: Feel like a kid again. C’mon. Everything can’t be serious!

Click here for 23 additional highly-recommended banned books.