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13 Books That Were Banned For the Absolute Dumbest Reasons

· Updated on March 25, 2022

The American Library Association highlights the three most common reasons books are banned: they are “sexually explicit,” contain “offensive language,” and/or are generally “unsuited to any age group.” But the truth is a book can be banned for any reason—and boy, do we mean any reason. Every now and then, when objections to a book are indefensible, parents have to come up with some truly wild excuses.

Censorship is no laughing matter, but we’ll make an exception for the following thirteen cases of books that were banned for the absolute dumbest reasons.

  1. Maus

Art Spiegelman’s Maus is the most recent and arguably most puzzling ban yet (given that the Tennessee school board vote was unanimous). What kind of people could take offense to a book that illustrates the consequences of the Holocaust? Oh wait—we know the answer.

Why it was banned

Parents cited animal nudity and “rough” language. Because even in the midst of a genocide, you better not do a swear.

2. The Diary of a Young Girl

Another classic of Holocaust literature, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl gives readers a tragic, gripping first-person account of the atrocity from the perspective of a teenager. You’d think it would be required school reading, but the book has been challenged repeatedly for Anne’s descriptions of her emerging sexuality. But one particular criticism of the book, while dumb, is definitely accurate—we’ll give them that.

Why it was banned

The Alabama State Textbook Committee argued the book was inappropriate for being “a real downer.”

3. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

If there’s one book that is the embodiment of non-offensive neutrality, it would be the dictionary. Even the naughty stuff is too clinically described to be any fun. But for some people, the English language itself is a wicked tongue crafted by the devil.

Why it was banned

The 10th edition included a definition for “oral sex”.

4. Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s Web is a book where farm animals try to stay alive through the magic of advertising. What could be more American than that? But some parents were concerned, not with references to the slaughterhouse and death, but with anthropomorphic animals.

Why it was banned

Parents in Kansas challenged the book because cute talking animals represent the utmost blasphemy. “Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God,” they said.

5. Where The Wild Things Are

You might be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to ban Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s picture book about a child learning to master his inner wildness. Isn’t that basically what schools are for? But although the book is often challenged for its dark and scary imagery, some readers closed the book before they even got to those pages.

Why it was banned

Upon its publication in 1963, the book was often banned in the South because sending a child to bed without dinner was likened to child abuse.

6. 1984

With this ban on George Orwell’s 1984—the dystopian classic about government control, censorship, and the erasure of words—we’ve entered the metaverse. But given the book is full of doublespeak, it’s no surprise why some people missed the message.

Why it was banned

This book—whose nightmarish society is overseen by the menacing, Stalinesque Big Brother—was dismissed as “pro-communist.”

7. Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck is known for his everyman heroes—the little guy toiling to earn a meager living against the tides of market forces and uncaring bosses. It’s no wonder why Of Mice and Men, a tale about hapless migrant workers, was censored for being “anti-business.” But maybe everyman heroes are too relatable to badmouth—only that can explain the excuse one town came up with for banning it.

Why it was banned

A community committee in Mobile Alabama wanted to censor the book because it contains “morbid and depressing themes.” Wait, the Great DEPRESSION was depressing?

8. Little Red Riding Hood

Like a lot of classic children’s fairy tales, “Little Red Riding Hood” is full of violence. The wolf eats both her and her grandmother alive, a huntsman decapitates the wolf, and presumably the little girl and grandma crawl out of his bloody, still-warm remains. But all of that pales in comparison to the objection one school raised with the story.

Why it was banned

A California school board wanted to censor the 1987 version of the book because her basket includes a bottle of wine.

9. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Judy Blume’s coming-of-age young adult novels were iconic for an entire generation. They’ve been frequently challenged for a variety of reasons, usually having to do with their honest depictions of sexuality and religious iconoclasm. But of course the worst thing you can teach adolescents about is the realities of puberty.

Why it was banned

The book was banned for talking about menstruation.

10. Tarzan

Tarzan is a classic series following the archetypal wild child of the jungle. But although it’s about a regression to the laws of nature, it turns out to have been more modern than anyone gave it credit for.

Why it was banned

A public library in California banned the series because Tarzan and Jane cohabit in the treetops without getting married. Because even in the heart of the jungle, you better find a minister.

11. Twilight

Twilight is famous for being the absolute most chaste vampire romance in history. But that didn’t stop parents from taking issue with its depiction of the sparkly undead.

Why it was banned

A library in Sydney challenged this fantasy book because they were concerned children would think it was a true story.

12. Where’s Waldo?

In addition to asking “Where’s Waldo?” you might be wondering what poor Waldo could ever do to upset anyone—other than being difficult to find and (let’s be honest) a little smug about it. Nevertheless, some parents were determined to leave him lost for good.

Why it was banned

In a beach scene in the 1987 edition, a female beachgoer (whose back is to the reader) is implied to be topless.

13. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. is a simple picture book that is designed to teach toddlers about objects and shapes. So what could possibly be the problem? Was one of those shapes too voluptuous? Did it include sinful, sexy colors like red?

Why it was banned

This was a case of mistaken identity. The Texas State Board of Education confused the author with another Bill Martin who writes Marxist philosophy. On the bright side, that means a Marxist text got to stay in the library!♦

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