Read Between the Lines: Challenged Reads


By Shelly Robertson Birdsong

In the spirit of Back to School time, here are a few of the books that are controversial in many parents’ eyes and often become subject to being banned or challenged as reading options for students in American schools. This is a sampling of the different variety of books that are banned or challenged each year but are, in most cases, considered great examples of American literature. Maybe you need a refresher read from your own school days this summer or, in fact, you never had the opportunity to enjoy one of these classics.

– Courtesy of the American Library Association and

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 12.22.48 PMAdventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark  Twain

This book has been challenged and banned in numerous locations and times because of its incessant use of racial slurs. The novel’s preeminence derives from its wonderfully imaginative re-creation of boyhood adventures along the mighty Mississippi River, its inspired characterization, the author’s remarkable ear for dialogue, and the book’s understated development of serious underlying themes: “natural” man versus “civilized” society, the evils of slavery, the innate value and dignity of human beings, the stultifying effects of convention, and other topics. But most of all, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful story filled with high adventure and unforgettable characters (including the great river itself) that no one who has read it will ever forget.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 12.22.31 PMThe Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

This book, challenged due to its use of profanity throughout along with the portrayal of events like prostitution, depression, and alienation. But anyone who has read other Salinger works should not be surprised by the fact that his first novel is full of children. The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield.  There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 12.22.24 PMTo Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This novel has been challenged over the years for its use of profanity and racial slurs. But it is an unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic. Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 12.22.41 PMBridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

It has been challenged or banned because of the disrespect the children show to adults, and the confusion of combining fantasy with reality, and profanity. However, the Newbery Medal-winning novel is a modern classic of friendship and loss.

Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, out paces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to deal with his grief. In addition to being a Newbery Medal winner, it was also named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and has become a touchstone of children’s literature.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 12.22.16 PMLord of the Flies – William Golding

This novel has been challenged and in many cases banned because of its use of profanity, sexuality, racial slurs, and excessive violence. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954, igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored upon its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought and literature. Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first, it seems as though it is all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious and life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic and death. It is labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse.

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