Banned Children’s Books We Love


This week is Banned Books Week and I wish I could say that no picture books are ever banned but sadly that is not the case . Parents are by far the most frequent challengers and school libraries are by far the most frequent place to make a challenge.  I hope no matter what your personal feelings about a book may be that you are as outraged as I am that books are still being banned in this day and age. I know that some of you aren’t comfortable reading some or maybe all of these books with your kids and as a parent you get to make the rules at your house for your family and I respect that. We are all capable of setting rules for our own families that fit with our own boundaries but banning books from schools and libraries is not the answer. That one book that you may disagree with may be the one book that sparks a love of reading and learning for a child .

The Sissy Ducklingby Harvey Fierstein is a lovely book. As a mom to a son I worry about him getting teased when he is older if he isn’t into sports, or likes to bake cookies more than play video games. This book address that, in a cute but frank way. I especially love how the dad isn’t super happy that his son is into more traditionally girly things. I think that even though we hope that all parents would be immediately supportive the reality is, that parents are human too and acceptance can take time even when there is lots of love. ETA: Now that my son is almost 6 and very into sports and very into pretty much everything that is stereotypically “boy” I use this book to teach him the other side. To see that all people are unique and to respect everyone for that uniqueness not for their ability to fit some societal mold.

So why was it banned? The reasons given were gay positive themes.  As you will see that is unfortunately a recurrent theme on this short list.

The Family Book by Todd Parr is a book that doesn’t give readers a narrow definition of family , it doesn’t say that your family has to look a certain way, or be the same as your neighbors. As a teacher I really appreciated the matter of fact way it embraced diversity. Kids see that families are not all like theirs and it’s important to validate the truth while recognizing that while they may not all look alike, all families are made with love.  Great book , cute illustrations and children love it.

This book wasn’t banned 10 years ago it was just recently banned from use for an elementary school curriculum about diversity, tolerance and bullying. It was banned from a curriculum about tolerance. Am I the only one who sees the irony? The issue was with it’s pages that state that some families have 2 moms and some have 2 dads. It makes me sad that some children who do have 2 moms or 2 dads won’t get a chance to see their family reflected in this bright, fun and diverse book.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson is a much debated book. It’s the true story of two male penguins in central park zoo who didn’t have any interest in the girl penguins but definitely liked each other. When the zoo keepers noticed that they were in every way a matched pair they also noticed that they prepared for a baby just like the other penguins. Time after time they were sad until they were given an egg to care for. Just like all families love and care is what matters when creating a family and baby Tango and his two daddies have thrived . My son loved this book and asked me to please go see the penguins when I was in NYC. I didn’t have time to but I wish I had. Their story simplifies a very debated topic and I think it’s a great book not only to explain how all families are different but also how love and care are really what makes a family even for penguins.

This picture book was the most frequently challenged and banned book of 2010, 2008, 2007 and 2006. A true story about a family of penguins. Wow.

In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection) by Maurice Sendak is one of the many books I remember exactly where I was when I first read it ; Coquitlam Public Library sitting in the shag carpeted row boat amazed that the main character Mickey had no clothes . Which is exactly why it got banned.

First let me tell you about the story if you have never read it. Mickey falls out of bed and into the night kitchen where the bakers try to bake him and ultimately he saves the day and falls back into bed and back to sleep. For me this story is about power and freedom and how kids don’t get to feel that day to day but free from reality at night in their sleep they can. Even as a little girl giggling at the pictures in the book I read the words and felt the freedom from being little that Mikey felt. When I read it to my son he giggled and giggled at Mickey’s body. I was sorta hoping he’d be more mature than I was at 5, we always expect the best from our kids right? Like me he still got the heart of the story and even expressed that Mickey was naked because he was dreaming and got to do whatever he wanted.

So why was is banned? That whole lack of clothing issue really upset a lot of people. So much so that it’s been in the top 25 banned books for decades.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig is a book many of you may recognize from your own childhood . I remember the sweet story from my own. Sylvester is a little donkey who finds a magic pebble and after discovering that it grants wishes he makes a terrible mistakes and turns himself into a rock. As a rock he is unable to wish himself back into a donkey and is left to sit silently while his parents are frantic, search and finally grieve. Sylvester almost gives up himself until by chance his parents come across his rock and the magic pebble and he is turned back into his “true self”.  My son loved the story and I loved how when we talked about it he expressed so much empathy for Sylvester and his parents. The obvious message that you have to be careful what you wish for is a powerful one for kids learning about consequences. The other messages which for us were the more important ones were that  family bonds can break through anything and that no matter what even if he is a rock I would never give up on him.

Now it sounds like a great book right? It is. So why was it banned? When Sylvester goes missing his parents go to the police who are portrayed as pigs. All the characters are animals and my son didn’t make the connection because he’s never in his life heard anyone refer to police officers as pigs. I thought it was tongue in cheek but in 1977 it was enough to get banned.

Would you ban these books?

Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup has great posts about banned books and self censorship  and an Open Letter To Parents That Ban Books In My Libraries on that I encourage you to read .

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  1. says

    Shared this post and love it. We are planning a special In the Night Kitchen activity in honor of banned book week – have been meaning to do it the last couple of nights, but I will definitely do it tonight or tomorrow night – cannot wait to share it! I read an article recently about some librarians who drew a diaper on Mickey!

  2. says

    I too shared this post on my centre’s blog (I really hope that’s alright!). Thanks so much for putting what I was thinking into words! You used nicer language than I would have – I probably would sworn……

  3. Amy says

    I agree with you, that validating the truth is important and recognizing that families are different. But I also feel sexuality is an issue to be discussed at home, and reading books such as some of the ones listed above can start conversations that I prefer to have with my children, not conversations I want their teachers having with them.

    • Holly says

      The fact of the matter is alternative families ARE a part of our Canadian society now, and they have just as much of a right to be portraied in literature as anyone else. If you feel that you would like to be the one that has the conversation with your child, I respect your wish, however I suggest you do it before your child begins school in the public school system. If you take the time to explain to your child that there are different types of families, you wont have risk the teacher doing it for you.

  4. maria says

    I own Sylvester and The Magic Pebble, but I can’t great through this book without crying so I don’t read it to kids. Basically, it’s the parents-worst-nightmare story: my child went out, something bad happened to him, and he never came home. Kids do love the magic quality of the story. Despite the happy ending, this book sent me screaming. Of course, the only reason I know about it is because nobody banned from my library. Parents, be brave to share your fears and your values with your kids. Let books be the jumping off point. You can always “speak the truth in love.”-Ephesians 4:15

  5. says

    I’m going to go buy ALL these books now!! I LOVE Todd Park and we have several of his books on family, but not this particular one. I think it is perfect for my almost 4 year old. We live in an area where there are many different kinds of families and I want her to grow up having compassion and understanding of all people, no matter the color of their skin (she is bi-racial) or their sexual preference. Thank you thank you for this list!

  6. says

    Sylvester and the Magic Pebble was one of my favorite books as a child. I never even thought about the police officers being pigs as a problem. Then again, I was probably 5 when I first fell in love with the book.

    The sad thing about the book about the penguins being banned is that it is a TRUE story! How can you ban a non-fiction book?

    I think everyone should remember what Voltaire is attributed to saying, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  7. Allyson says

    My goodness like so many of the comments above, Thank you for filling out a reading list for me!!! Sylvester and the magic pebble is one of the most emotional and evocative children’s books I have read with my son. The cuddles after it are always so much the sweeter. To think that it was banned is stunning to me. The other books will be brilliant discussion starters! Once again thank you for the list.(and a great website)

  8. says

    I make it a point of reading and promoting banned books. At my elementary school book fair, I pointed out And Tango Makes Three was banned because it’s about a gay couple to my kids’ Kindergarten teacher when she asked for book recommendations. Of course, she bought it!

    We have a lot of gay couples as parents at our school so this book is perfect for kids in the context of understanding our differences.

    And Tango Makes Three is the only picture book on the post I did about a year ago Challenged or Banned Boks:

    • Nancy says

      Cassie, if you want to be the one to pick your child’s books you can never let him/her go to school, daycare, a friend’s house, the church nursery, gma’s house or ANYWHERE without you. And at what age do you stop being the one to choose? It is impossible to have complete control or what your child sees, hears, reads. The best you can do is provide a context for them to evaluate/respond and a safe place to ask questions.

  9. says

    I still own Sylvester and the Magic Pebble from my childhood. I grew up with police officers spoken negatively about as pigs and I’ve never made that connection in the book. Hmmm. I can see where parents worry about what books their kids are exposed to in the public realm, but if you’re sending your kid into the public realm they’re likely to be exposed to those themes first hand before any books have a chance to come along to expose them. What’s the point of having banned books if teachers and libraries are bringing them into the schools anyway? Seems like a waste of energy that could be spent to alleviate childhood hunger or homelessness, things that are actually detrimental to a child’s development.

  10. says

    Thank you for your post. I must admit it is the first time I have heard about banning children’s books. It is good to be aware of the fact that there books that are not wished to be read. Parents or parents to be should keep this in mind. As it is with story books- they can increase our emotional intelligence as we become empathetic, compassionate and understanding to what happens to actors in stories we read. So books that picture life situations that are stereotypically not seen as ideal or normal- a boy having an interest in baking rather than video games or a family that consists of more than two parents should be presented to our children. It is through this life situations that we can teach them to be understanding and not having negative attitudes to what is different from what is seen as normal.

  11. Teressa says

    The reason some parents have a problem with school libraries, as well as other venues carrying, introducing these books and themes is their children have access to them without their knowledge therefore not allowing them the opportunity to discuss the themes and share their own views, answer questions small children always have when new ideas are introduced. Would you want pedophilia discussed in a book found in your child’s school library of a 5-8 year old, or a theme such as found in Silence of the Lambs? If you as a parent want your child exposed to them, that should take place at your own home. What you are saying is you know better than all other parents what is best for all children. Just not so. Ever! Some themes should only be introduced at school if brought up by a child and then handled on a case by case basis according to maturity. Maturity for parents is as well a broad issue when discussing these type issues it appears.

  12. Cgeddes says

    I laughed when I saw “In the Night Kitchen” on the banned list. I recently checked this book out from the library with my son and realized as we were reading it “okay, there is a penis in this book!” Of course my son giggled too but I found it to be a great teaching opportunity. If I’m not offended by or laughing about Mickey’s naked body, then I’m teaching my son that that is a subject that’s not taboo and if he ever needs to talk about it I will take him seriously.

  13. Kay says

    I feel like society today is becoming more and more intollerant and banning these books that teach tolerance to our youth is probably the reason why. We have young adults who don’t learn about tolerance, diversity, and how to treat others that are different from them kindly, because they don’t learn it from their parents and they aren’t able to learn it through reading and books. I am not saying that the parents are teaching the kids to be intolerant or bully others but the parents are so afraid to let the kids read these books and learn things on their own that they forget that they themselves will not come across some of these issues in real life to teach the kids how to deal with them. The kids grow up not knowing any better. They were raised in this bubble where all they learned was what was OK’d by the parents and the parents point of views, breeding a generation of bullies, shooters, loners, and whatever other name the media gives them.

    • Kathy says

      Really? When was the last time you heard about a homeschooled bully, shooter, or loner. Because in this modern world, the only examples of sheltered children are those that are educated at home. If you wanted to look it up, there are more and more studies popping up comparing children educated at home to those exposed to public schools. In fact I don’t remember ever hearing of anyone shooting anyone because their parents didn’t expose them to homosexual books in the second grade. I could be wrong. I have been wrong before. I doubt it though.

      • Allison McDonald says

        I don’t think there is a debate about homeschooling here. I think that Kay’s comment is about wishing to only teach one view as being acceptable and that can happen in any sort of schooling. I think sheltered can mean many things.

  14. Liz says

    I LOVE and own all of the books on this list. I may not be able to read them to my students at school but I will surely read them to my own children at home. Tango Makes Three and the Family Book are two of my kids’ favorites.


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