Banned Books Week 2022: 18-24 September

This week (18 – 24 September) is banned books week, in which we highlight the books that have been most challenged and banned, both in the previous year and earlier.  We also celebrate the freedom to read, which is not universal across the globe.  Fortunately for us in Aotearoa New Zealand, we’re able to make our own choices on what to read.  That doesn’t mean there are no books that have been challenged or banned here, but they are few and far between.  Some do still carry restrictions on who can borrow them (not available to minors) but generally the percentage of banned books is very low for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Many people are surprised at the range of books that are challenged and banned around the world.  For example, books we take for granted now like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple and The Handmaid’s Tale have all been banned at some point.  Beloved children’s titles have been banned too; The Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine, I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and even Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants have been banned in the past.

This year’s list of most banned and challenged books is a fascinating one, and we thought we would share them here so that you can choose yourself whether you wish to read them or not.

Gender queer : a memoir / Kobabe, Maia
“In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.” (Adapted from catalogue)

All boys aren’t blue : a memoir-manifesto / Johnson, George M.
“In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.” (Catalogue)


Out of darkness / Pérez, Ashley Hope
“Loosely based on a school explosion that took place in New London, Texas in 1937, this is the story of two teenagers: Naomi, who is Mexican, and Wash, who is black, and their dealings with race, segregation, love, and the forces that destroy people.” (Catalogue)



The hate u give / Thomas, Angie
“After witnessing her friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter’s life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.” (Catalogue)



The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian / Alexie, Sherman
“Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.” (Catalogue)



Me and Earl and the dying girl : a novel / Andrews, Jesse
“Seventeen-year-old Greg has managed to become part of every social group at his Pittsburgh high school without having any friends, but his life changes when his mother forces him to befriend Rachel, a girl he once knew in Hebrew school who has leukemia.” (Catalogue)



The bluest eye / Morrison, Toni (eBook)
“Toni Morrison’s debut novel immerses us in the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family – Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola – in post-Depression 1940s Ohio. Unlovely and unloved, Pecola prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged white schoolfellows. At once intimate and expansive, unsparing in its truth-telling, The Bluest Eye shows how the past savagely defines the present.” (Catalogue)


This book is gay / Dawson, James
“Former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed YA author James Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it’s like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, this frank, funny, fully inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know – from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes, how to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell’s hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text make this a must-read.” (Catalogue)

Beyond magenta : transgender teens speak out / Kuklin, Susan
“Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.” (Adapted from catalogue)

To learn more about Banned Books Week, go to Banned Books Week | September 18 – 24, 2022

It’s Banned Books Week (in the US)

Each year in the US, hundreds of books are challenged for a variety of reasons – appropriateness for age group, content, language – and some of the books that do get challenged may seem a little surprising. Particularly in the last year or so, graphic novels have been heavily targeted. However, the most up-to-date list from 2013 states only 307 books were challenged in the US that year, which is the lowest number since at least the year 2000. You can find more information on the top 10 banned books in the US each year along with a breakdown of the most common reasons for censorship here. To bring a close to Banned Books Week, below we have compiled a few books in our collection that have been frequently challenged worldwide:

Syndetics book coverBone. Volume one, Out from Boneville / Jeff Smith.
The Bone series is a new addition to the latest list, a result of the more heavily challenged graphic novel selection. According to the American Library Association this challenge was based on the book’s “political viewpoint, racism, violence”.
“After being run out of Boneville, the three Bone cousins – Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, are separated and lost in a vast uncharted desert. One by one, they find their way into a deep forested valley filled with wonderful and terrifying creatures.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverLooking for Alaska : a novel / by John Green
Looking For Alaska was challenged in some US schools mainly for its inclusion of “inappropriate language”.
“In a stunning debut novel, Miles “Pudge” Halter befriends some fellow boarding school students whose lives are everything but boring. Pudge falls in love with Alaska, the razor-sharp and self-destructive nucleus. But when tragedy strikes, Pudge discovers the value of loving unconditionally.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe kite runner / Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a wealthy boy, and his best friend Hassan, who is the son of Amir’s father’s servant. It is a story of friendship, bravery and heartbreak and it complexly explores intricacies of Afghan culture. It was challenged for explicit content and religious viewpoints.

Syndetics book coverThe absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian / by Sherman Alexie ; art by Ellen Forney.
This book has topped the banned books list several times. Junior is a budding cartoonist living on a Native American reservation. A teacher at his school urges him to do more with his life than stay on the rez, so Junior moves to an all-white school, leaving him an outcast from his old life and a curiosity in his new one. It has been banned for graphic language, racism and explicit scenes.

Syndetics book coverTo kill a mockingbird / Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s novel was instantly successful, despite her publisher’s warnings it probably wouldn’t sell well. To Kill A Mockingbird‘s appropriateness in schools and libraries has been challenged because of racial slurs, profanity and blunt dialogue about rape. Despite this, it has sold over 30 million copies and been translated into over 40 languages.

Syndetics book coverThe Hunger Games / Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins’s popular novel has been challenged for being anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitive, occult/satanic and violent, yet it has been overwhelmingly successful.
“In a future North America, where the rulers of Panem maintain control through an annual televised survival competition pitting young people from each of the twelve districts against one another, sixteen-year-old Katniss’s skills are put to the test when she voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMy sister’s keeper / Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult’s popular novel-turned-movie has been challenged for numerous reasons, including explicit and offensive language and unsuitability for the intended age group.
“Kate Fitzgerald has a rare form of leukemia. Her sister, Anna, was conceived to provide a donor match for procedures that become increasingly invasive. At 13, Anna hires a lawyer so that she can sue her parents for the right to make her own decisions about how her body is used when a kidney transplant is planned. Meanwhile, Jesse, the neglected oldest child of the family, is out setting fires, which his firefighter father, Brian, inevitably puts out. ” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverNorthern lights / Philip Pullman.
Northern Lights (also titled The Golden Compass) has been challenged for its religious and political viewpoint. Some groups have opposed it for its “atheist undertones”.
“Orphaned ward Lyra Belacqua’s carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer. All around, children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.” (adapted from Goodreads)

Syndetics book coverHarry Potter and the philosopher’s stone / J.K. Rowling.
According to ALA, the association that organises Banned Books Week, Harry Potter is the most banned book in America. Given the recurring themes of death and resurrection, magic, and occasional violence, some groups have challenged these titles. But the other recurring themes of resilience, love and friendship have solidified Joanne Rowling’s well-known series as household titles in many places.

Syndetics book coverI know why the caged bird sings / Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s work has placed in the top 10 banned items every year in the last decade. Despite her numerous awards, her works have been frequently cited for containing explicit sexual content, as well as offensive language and violent imagery.
“Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local ‘powhitetrash’.” (Goodreads)