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20 Books We Bet You Never Knew Were Banned

They were taken off the shelves for the craziest reasons.

1 / 20

The dictionary

Wait…what? Some students working on their spelling might have been out of luck when the teacher asked them to “look it up.” In 1987, the Anchorage School Board in Alaska banned the American Heritage Dictionary because it had “objectionable” entries, like the slang definitions for “balls,” “knocker,” and “bed.” A California elementary school banned Merriam Webster from its shelves because the definition of oral sex was “not age appropriate.”

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2 / 20

The Lorax

Dr. Seuss may have endeared the hearts of millions, but The Lorax, about the perils of deforestation, didn’t sit well with California loggers. One community banned the book for its negative portrayal of the industry.

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3 / 20

Yertle the Turtle

Anti-deforestation wasn’t Dr. Seuss’s only political message to make schools squirm. One Canadian school announced Yertle the Turtle one of its banned books in 2012 because of this line: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom, we too should have rights.” Apparently, that line was too partisan for a school that had banned political messages.

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4 / 20
james and the giant peachvia

James and the Giant Peach

No matter how you feel about human-sized bugs, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach seems innocent enough at first glance. Some schools have challenged it for language, and tobacco and alcohol references. But perhaps the oddest? In 1999, one small Wisconsin town officially made it one of its banned books after claiming a scene when the spider licks her lips could be “taken in two ways, including sexual.” Can’t say that would have been our first thought.

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5 / 20

Where the Wild Things Are

It was tough enough for author Maurice Sendak to get his borderline dark and scary children’s book published. When it finally did hit the shelves, it got in even more trouble. Where the Wild Things Are is now a fun classic, but it was initially banned because little Max’s punishment was starvation—well, lack of supper—and the story had supernatural themes. Here are the 50 dumbest laws in every state.

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6 / 20
where the sidewalk endsvia

Where the Sidewalk Ends

You might want to reread Shel Silverstein’s collection of poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends—you may have missed something in its quirky, funny, and touching verses. According to some schools, the book actually promotes everything from drug use and suicide to ignoring parents and telling lies. Yikes.

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7 / 20

Harriet the Spy

Who knew a child misfit could create such a stir? Sure, kids loved Harriet for her strong will and rebelliousness, but critics argued the “spy” was less of a good-girl Nancy Drew and more of a mean-spirited gossip. Some schools banned Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy to keep students from the bad influence.

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8 / 20

The Giving Tree

To some, this was Shel Silverstein’s sweet story about unconditional love. But to one bitter Colorado librarian who took it off the shelvesThe Giving Tree was just plain “sexist.”

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9 / 20

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Might as well stop trying to wrack your brain for what in the world could have been grounds to take Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? out of schools. It was all an awkward mistake. Eric Carle might be a famous children’s illustrator, but the Texas State Board of Education wouldn’t approve the storybook after recognizing writer Bill Martin Jr.’s name from another book: Ethical Marxism. There was just one problem—the political Bill Martin was not the same Bill Martin Jr. as had written the children’s book. Next time, maybe the school board should do its homework.

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10 / 20

The Diary of a Young Girl

No, Anne Frank’s diary hasn’t been removed from libraries because of the terror of hiding from Nazis. Schools have deemed some of the 14-year-old’s descriptions of her anatomy as “pornographic.” More cringe-worthy? One Alabama textbook committee asked for it to be banned because it was “a real downer.”

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11 / 20

Charlotte’s Web

The unlikely friendship between a pig and spider sparked a much bigger controversy among Kansas parents in 1952. They had Charlotte’s Web banned because talking animals went against their religious beliefs, arguing humans are “the only creatures that can communicate vocally. Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God.” We wonder what they’d think about the Cat in the Hat and Mickey Mouse and the three little bears and …

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12 / 20

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck’s work of fiction was based on the reality of the Dust Bowl that left migrants homeless and in search of work. In Kern County, California, where the protagonists land, the real-life county board of supervisors didn’t appreciate the author’s portrayal of how locals didn’t help migrants. A 1939 vote removed The Grapes of Wrath from the area’s schools and libraries.

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13 / 20
to kill a mockingbirdvia

To Kill a Mockingbird

Despite being so beloved, Harper Lee’s novel is still the fourth most-challenged or banned classic book. Advocates of banning it argue its issues with racism and sexuality aren’t suitable for young readers. These are the high school English class books everyone should read again.

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14 / 20
where's waldovia

Where’s Waldo?

The Where’s Waldo? books barely have any words, so on what grounds could they possibly be banned? While readers were searching for Waldo after the book was originally published in 1987, they spotted something: a partially topless woman sunbathing in a beach scene. People complained, and the book found itself among the top 100 most banned books in America between 1990 and 2000. More recently, Where’s Waldo? Santa Spectacular was banned in Texas prisons because it contained stickers.

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15 / 20
black beautyvia

Black Beauty

Anna Sewell’s classic tale of a majestic English horse was banned for a troubling reason. During the apartheid in South Africa, the white National Party mistakenly thought the book was about a black woman and deemed it unfit for the public. Check out more bizarre things that have been banned around the world.

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16 / 20
alice's adventures in wonderlandvia

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This whimsical novel by Lewis Carroll has been adapted numerous times in literature, on stage, and on screen, but it’s not beloved worldwide. In 1931, the governor of China’s Hunan province banned the book because of the talking animals. He believed it was “disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level” in that way.

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17 / 20
harry potter seriesvia

The Harry Potter series

Despite their widespread popularity, the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling have been challenged by Christian religious leaders and groups, with some even calling them “satanic.” Schools across the country have banned them for their themes of magic and sorcery, as well as their portrayals of death and evil. Don’t miss the 15 movies you never knew were banned in America.

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18 / 20
twelfth nightvia

Twelfth Night

The Bard is not immune from censorship either. Twelfth Night was banned by a school district in Merrimack, New Hampshire, in 1996 because of its mentions of cross-dressing and same-sex romance. In the play, a woman disguises herself as a male page and falls in love with her master. Here are more of the most controversial books of all time.

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19 / 20
brothers grimm fairy talesvia

Brothers Grimm fairy tales

You may know that many Disney movies are more kid-friendly, light-hearted versions of the surprisingly dark fairy tales written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 1800s, and these original stories have had their fair share of controversy. In 1994, The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm was banned in certain classrooms in the Kyrene Elementary School District in Arizona for “excessive violence, negative portrayals of female characters, and anti-Semitic references.” Just a couple years earlier, two self-proclaimed witches called for Hansel and Gretel to be banned from schools, saying it portrays witches in a negative light.

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20 / 20
little red riding hoodvia

Little Red Riding Hood

The controversy around this fairy tale doesn’t stem from the Brothers Grimm original so much as the way it was adapted. A school district in Culver City, California, banned the 1983 illustrated version of Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman because it was seen as promoting alcoholism. The cover shows Red carrying a bottle of wine in her basket, and later in the book, her grandma drinks half of the bottle “with a red nose.” Don’t miss these 50 things you won’t believe are banned across the 50 states.

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Reader’s Digest editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of revenue from our partners, such as Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected].

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.

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