The best books are the ones whose messages and stories stick with us our entire lives. These books become central to our experience, and the manner in which they affect how we understand the world can make them seem essential.
However, the best books are also often the ones that challenge the status quo. And when society’s norms are challenged, society tends to fight back in one way – by trying to eliminate the thing which is challenging it. Here are six of the most influential books of the last century that you didn’t know were once banned.
Where the Wild Things Are
The whimsical story of the excitable young Max, who is sent to bed with no dinner after a rambunctious evening, Where the Wild Things Are has been loved by children since it was published in the early 1960s. However, the mischievous behavior of its main character and sometimes dark visuals and storytelling elements made it hard for Maurice Sendak to find a publisher.
Once the book was published, it was banned in some areas of the United States, mostly southern states, for being traumatizing for children due to Max’s inability to control his temper and his resultant punishment, as well as supposedly promoting witchcraft with its monstrous characters.
The Diary of Anne Frank
The tragic (and true) story of an 11-year-old German girl and the trial she and her family endured while hiding from the Nazis during World War II was detailed in The Diary of Anne Frank. This book has helped introduce an entire generation to the horrors of conflict and the inspiration of hope. While the story takes place against a backdrop of unspeakable violence, it was not that violence that led to the book being banned in some parts of the United States.
The uncensored version of Anne Frank’s diary includes a brief passage regarding her thoughts on her changing body. The anatomical nature of these observations were deemed too graphic to be read by children and resulted in a short-lived ban of the book from some schools.
George Orwell’s celebrated allegorical tale about farm animals who take over the farm they live on in a communist-style revolution was not only taught in schools across the United States but was even promoted by the CIA. Of course, the greedy pigs who cause the eventual downfall of the farm had real-life inspirations, and as such, the leaders of communist countries such as the USSR and Cuba banned the book from being read in their respective countries.
To Kill A Mockingbird
Another book taught in schools across the country, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, is a story that examines racial intolerance and the loss of innocence in a universally praised manner. However, the book was seventh on American Library Association’s 2017 list of the top 1o most challenged books in the United States. The language, meant to reproduce faithfully the dialect of a fractured south, is most often to blame when the book is challenged.
Brave New World
Aldous Huxley’s cautionary imagining of a London 500 years in the future where books are banned, has, ironically, been banned itself in many countries. Upon its release in 1932, it was banned entirely in Ireland for the antisocial behavior it examined. It was also removed from school libraries in America as recently as the 1980s for supposedly promoting promiscuous sex.
These popular books by J.K. Rowling about the adventures of a boy wizard remain some of the best-selling books in history but have been challenged by religious groups from the day they were released in 1997. While most readers and religious organizations interpret the instructions of spells and potions as an analogy for how young people learn and grow in the real world, accusations of witchcraft and Satanism led to the book’s being removed from some school libraries, albeit only for a short time in most cases.