Why Banning Books Is a Bad Idea


Lord of the FliesI’m a conservative mother.  I don’t let my kids watch PG-13 movies until they are 13. And I reserve the right to label some books as “PG-13” as well.  But would I want them banned from schools and libraries?  No way.

We need to be cognizant of what we expose ourselves and our children to.  According to the ALA site, most book bans start from this premise: to protect children.

But removing books from public access doesn’t sit well with this word nerd.  Especially since I know that in our society, explicit language and sexual content abound on radio, TV, and the Internet.  We could take Looking for Alaska out of the library.  But a kid can go home and watch a You Tube video that glorifies smoking and sex but lacks the important and eloquent messages that come along with Alaska: the struggle to handle ambiguity; learning to grieve; finding one’s place in a confusing world.

One also wouldn’t learn any cool new vocabulary.  😉

My husband, aka Devil’s Advocate, points out that watching TV and viewing You Tube are private activities.  Libraries and most schools are public institutions.  But please.  Wouldn’t it be better for kids to read, think about, and discuss the controversial topics of racism or abuse or sexuality in the context of a book?  Perhaps, best case, under the guidance of an adult/parent/teacher?

Most Frequently Banned

13 Reasons WhyHere’s the list of the ten most banned/ challenged books of 2012:

  • Captain Underpants
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Thirteen Reasons Why
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • And Tango Makes Three
  • The Kite Runner
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Scary Stories
  • The Glass Castle
  • Beloved

Have you read any of these?  I have.  And I can understand the concern about offensive content.  I couldn’t even get through Beloved because of its raw and powerful description of the ramifications of slavery.  And I’m no fan of Captain Underpants, but if it gets a kid interested in reading, why not?

Now, if any of my children come home with 50 Shades of Grey, I’ll tell them it’s rated R, and they need to wait until they are eighteen. Yikes.  Would any school librarian really buy that for the library?

Here is a list of often banned classics:

  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Color Purple
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Gone With the Wind
  • The Lord of the Rings

These books are all icons of literature, and their value far outshines their offensive content.  Again, I have never liked The Catcher in the Rye, but I want my kids to read it and discuss it with me.  My thirteen year old recently read Lord of the Flies, and we compared it to The Hunger Games in its commentary on human nature.  Later, we could add Heart of Darkness  to that reading list.

Why Banning is Bad

In short, I realize that some words offend. But having no words at all would be much worse.  I don’t want to perseverate on controversial issues, but I can’t hide from them either.  Why not start the conversation with a book?

How do you feel about the idea of banning books with offensive content?  

Thanks for sharing your ideas!



Julia Tomiak

I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.


  1. I agree 100% with everything you said in this page. It shows us how powerful our government can be without people like you guys chillin here

  2. i would like to use this entry of yours of book banning in my persuasive essay against booking banning based on the book huckleberry fin, i would like to ask you if you would let me, you will be quoted on my persuasive essay. Thank you in advance and great writing Julia!

    1. Adriana,
      I’m glad you found this post helpful, and as long as you use it as a reference, and do not copy it and submit it as your own writing, I give you permission to use it. Thank you for asking for permission. Book banning is a great subject for a persuasive essay; good luck with your assignment!

  3. You are very right, Julia!

    Kids have access to everything parents want to ban in books on the internet, which is often not monitored as closely by parents as it should be. And as you said, they are liable to encounter the same words and ideas presented in a way that doesn’t encourage them to think and learn.

    I had a parent object to a library book her son brought home — a biography of Jackie Robinson that blatantly discussed the racism of his time and included nasty quotations from his contemporaries. She ended up having to sit down and explain this to her son, and she thought he was too young to hear it.

    But honestly, she sat down and explained something important to her son. Wasn’t that the point of the book? I am betting the author would have been pleased the conversation took place, even though the mother was wishing she didn’t have to have it.

    Maybe she was hoping she’d never need to explain this to her son, but I am thinking that, sadly, is a naive thought. Racism is not a natural state. It’s taught. And if the parents don’t take the time to teach AGAINST racism, some outside influence might beat them to it and teach the opposite stance.

    1. Dianne, thanks for this excellent example of how books can encourage discussion. Racism is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed with children. NOT talking about it will only precipitate the problem. I appreciate you sharing an “insider’s perspective” as a teacher!

  4. You make some great points, Julia. I like the idea of a rating system similar to film. The only problem is that I’m not so sure kids (or parents) would adhere to them, anyway. However, I’m all for open discussion between parents and children. (Also, I’m glad I’m not the only person who doesn’t like The Catcher in the Rye.)

    1. Jen, I think that “Catcher” is a guy thing! And I agree about a rating system- not everyone may not adhere to it, but at least it would help concerned parents make decisions and alert them to potential conversation opportunities!

      1. I actually loved Catcher in the Rye when I read it in college, instead of in high school. I hate his constant swearing because it’s like every other word, but I’ve found it to be quite enlightening to my own life, as I’ve aged. And your rating system is perfect!

        1. Interesting insight, Emma. Perhaps I should read it again, too, and maybe I’ll have better appreciation for it. Thanks for taking the time to share. 😉

  5. I would have to agree with you, as well, Julia. I think banning books is a horrible idea. I feel we as their parents need to guide them into making wise choices even when it applies to their reading materials and viewing pleasures! In my opinion, there is a major difference in difficult subject matter and “smut.” I would never condone my child reading something like “50” (even once they are adults) because I don’t feel there is anything positive to take from such book. However, you have given us a wonderful example of how to keep an open dialogue with our children rather than simply forbidding something “because I said so!” On a side note-had no idea some of these books were banned!

    1. Great distinction between “smut” and “difficult subject matter”. An earlier comment pointed out the difference between difficult content that clearly fits a character or story and stuff that is just added for sensational purposes, ie. “smut”.

  6. Very well said Julia! I appreciate you taking the time to address this issue. My older two have read over half of the banned classics and they have definetly brought great discussion in our home. Thank you for covering this so thoroughly.

    Bless you, Hester 😉

  7. Great post Julia! I agree with all of your thoughts on why books shouldn’t be banned. Plus, isn’t banning books an assault on Freedom of Speech? As parents, we should be knowledgeable about what our children are reading and seeing, in books, on TV, online. But I think ‘protecting them’ can backfire if we’re not careful. It’s like the kid who hides candy bars under her bed because her parents won’t let her have them. I’d rather let my children read a book (at an appropriate age), then have an open and honest discussion about it.

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