The 5 Weirdest Banned Books

We’re not done with Banned Books Week! Celebrated during the last week of September, this is the week that the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom raises awareness and provides data and resources for readers, librarians, teachers, and students to learn more about what books have been challenged during the previous calendar year.

Those who seek bans, censorship, or otherwise interfere with the public’s free access to books might have any number of reasons for doing so. Often groups and individuals trying to suppress a particular published work do so because they wish to protect potential readers (often and especially younger readers) from ideas they perceive as dangerous, damaging, or contrary to their own beliefs. The United States has a strain of Puritanism, after all. But these efforts have sometimes been downright bizarre. You’ll be amazed at some of these genuinely banned or challenged books:

1 ) The Complete Works of Shakespeare

High school English teachers take note. If you tell your students that “the Man” doesn’t want you to hear what “the Bard” has to say, they might be more inclined to do their assigned reading. Yes, Shakespeare has an amazing, centuries-long history of being challenged, banned, and egregiously censored. Highlights include banning the Merchant of Venice for anti-semitism in Ontario, even though the play is enormously popular in Israel. Or perhaps the banning of a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets in the Texas prison system, though that same system allows Hitler’s white supremacy handbook, Mein Kampf. Or even the banning of Twelfth Night in a New Hampshire town, basically a romantic comedy that includes a woman disguised as a man as a plot point (and played up for laughs), but which parents conflate with homosexuality (something they do not approve of).

Truthfully, Shakespeare includes plenty of real lewdness, violence, and adult themes. But one of the most adult things about the playwright’s works is his poignant exploration of all aspects of the human experience, from passion to regret to prejudice to love to heartbreak. Yes, amidst the constant neologisms and clever metaphors is some real talk. There’s so much to say and feel about Shakespeare. Being offended is a pretty narrow sliver in the space of what’s possible.

2) Merriam Webster Dictionary, 10th Edition

Yes, you heard that right. The dictionary was actually successfully banned. The ban occurred in Menifee Union school district in Southern California near the end of 2009. All copies of the offending dictionary were pulled from classrooms and libraries in that district while the school board and administrative offices meditated on the long-term solution. The problem? The dictionary included a brief and clinical definition for the term “oral sex”.

Good save, Menifee parents and educators. Better that the kids on the playground do an Internet search for that term instead. Google asks, “Do you want to turn safe search off?”

3) Anne Frank (The Diary of a Young Girl)

One common complaint of this non-fiction, real-life diary of the teenage girl murdered in a Nazi concentration camp is that it includes some sexual content, like the young Anne wondering about genitalia, pregnancy, and childbirth. But it’s the four 1983 Alabama State Textbook Committee members whose explanation for voting against the book made them famous in banned/challenged book history: they called the book “a real downer.” Definitely, let’s find some happier books about the Holocaust.

4) Charlotte’s Web

Yes, this children’s classic, heartwarming and, you would think, entirely inoffensive, has been banned a few times. What ridiculous reason this time? Was Wilbur the pig’s escape from slaughter offensive to hog farmers and bacon eaters? Maybe Charlotte the spider showed too much leg(s). (Get it?)

No, seriously, this book was actually challenged a few different times for a few different reasons, with it not always being successfully pulled from shelves. The one that jumps out at me is the Kansas parents’ group that worried that talking animals were an affront to their particular Christian worldviews, which put humans in a special place and animals at a lower level. A similar but secular argument against talking animals was made by a Canadian Education Committee Chair, which makes one wonder, is there any kind of education required to be an education committee member?

What’s strange about this one is that there are developing countries that have a big issue with talking animals as being unnatural or sacrilegious (and plenty more where talking animals are long-standing narrative tropes, including Chinese, Greek, Indian, and other Asian, European, and African literary histories). But in North America? This is where Bugs Bunny came from. What’s up, doc?

5) Where’s Waldo

I have no words. Just like this series of books. Which means the problem must be in the pictures. Maybe someone couldn’t find Waldo and thinks they’re the victim of an intricate practical joke. No, apparently, someone thinks they saw a topless sunbather somewhere and a bare breast was visible. What’s weird(er) is that no one is actually sure on which page or even in which book this alleged exposed body part can be found.

Is this one of those middle-school urban legends, like when that kid in your class said you could unlock a Ninja Mario power-up in Super Mario 64? Well, “Where’s the Mammary?” might be a fun party game for about 11 seconds, but the bare possibility (see what I did there?) is apparently still enough to get the books pulled from school shelves in New York and Michigan. So there you go.

All these challenges and bans serve an important purpose. Making the would be book-burners look ridiculous and hurting their cause (however well-intentioned they may be). Celebrate your freedom to read, this week and every week!

Also, were you able to find a topless Waldo or Walda? Sound off in the comments.

Photo credit: By Author

47 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 days ago

sad

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Kimberly W
Kimberly Wallace17 days ago

Really?!

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I27 days ago

Weird and Stupid! Thanks

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Kathryn I
Kathryn Iabout a month ago

AKA The Republican strategy to keep us all as ignorant as they are.

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Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Sheer insanity

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Aaron F
Aaron Fabout a month ago

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle...an older children's book...was once banned for it's "sexual" content...

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Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

If only we could ban willful ignorance!

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 months ago

Paul C.... I read Lady Chatterley's Lover as a teenager for the fact it had been banned and I quite enjoyed it. I was a bit shocked by the naughty parts but, I enjoyed the story. That was in the 60's.

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Michele B
Michele B1 months ago

whose bright idea were these books, and just what was their criteria? Senseless. If this is the product of someone's work days and paychecks, I'd HIGHLY suggest that they get their head out of their @$$ and stick it out ANY window or door and find something FAR more worthwhile to expend their time and energy on for crimminy sakes

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Lisa M
Lisa M1 months ago

Noted.

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