Banned and Challenged Books: Staff Picks for the 2019 Reading Challenge

February 25, 2019 | Wendy B.

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Are you taking our 2019 Reading Challenge? So are library staff all across the city. In honour of Freedom to Read Week, we decided to ask them about their favourite books for the category, "A book that has been banned or challenged". 

About Freedom to Read Week

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages all of us to reaffirm our commitment to intellectual freedom. Books, magazines, newspapers and other materials are challenged in Canada and around the world nearly every day. Each challenge seeks to limit public access to materials in schools, libraries or bookstores. Libraries are on the frontlines of the fight to protect books and other materials from censorship.

If you'd like more ways to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, City Librarian Vickery Bowles is joining a panel discussion titled "On the Frontlines" at the historic Glad Day Bookshop on Wednesday, February 27 – doors open at 6:30 pm, panel starts at 7 pm.

Staff Picks

Here are some of our staff's favourite books that have been banned or challenged, including children's books, young adult and adult books.

If you have already read a banned or challenged book, any of these titles can be used for the Reading Challenge category "A book recommended to you by library staff". We've also included other categories these books could be used for.


Myrna's recommendation: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Why did Myrna pick it?

"It is shelved in adult non-fiction, but I would recommend it to a teen and that is part of the controversy that has led to it being challenged. It is one of my favourite books of all time (graphic or otherwise). I love Satrapi's sense of humour, which is a difficult balance in a book dealing with so many heavy political and personal topics. I also highly recommend the 2008 film adaption of the book."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A graphic novel
  • A non-prose book
  • A book set in a country you'd like to visit (Iran)


The Hate U Give

Alice's recommendation: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Recommended age: 13 and up.

Why did Alice pick it?

"This book has been challenged in the U.S. despite being one of a very few book I would say should be a must-read for EVERYONE. It's an important book, filled with insights into the daily life and headspace of a young black girl and her awareness of how her complexion affects her life in both big and small ways."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book by an author from a visible minority
  • A book from The List: Great Reads for Youth


Angus Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

Kara's recommendation: Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. Recommended age: 11 and up.

Why did Kara pick it?

"I read this series all the way back in high school and it's one that I still re-read today. Rennison's voice was so iconic for Georgia I haven't yet come across something similar. Georgia is your everyday English teen, dealing with parents who are lame and embarrass her, a sister who is driving her nuts, teachers who she hates, and a cat that is trying to kill the neighbour's poodle. The frank discussions about sex between Georgia and her group of friends (she refers to her love interest as "Sex God"), along with their overall way of talking has lead to numerous challenges against the series."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book that has been adapted into a movie or show



Amy's recommendation: George by Alex Gino. Recommended age: 10 and up.

Why did Amy pick it?

"Published in 2015, it's been on the ALA's list of Challenged Books since then. It was #5 on the top 10 list in 2017 and #3 in 2016. On the ALA site it states, "Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child." I didn't find this title on the OLA lists but I would be surprised if it's never been challenged in Canada.

"I meant to read George when the book first came out and didn't get around to it. I'm going to resolve that now."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book by an LGBTQ+ author


This One Summer

Sarah's recommendation: This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Recommended age: 12 and up.

Why did Sarah pick it?

"It really captures the confusion, nervousness and excitement of being on the cusp of adolescence. The two friends in this graphic novel still take comfort in their childhood rituals, but their eyes are opening to some of the hard realities of growing up. Gorgeous illustrations of the beach/lake setting in blues and indigos reflect the emotional mood of the characters. ALA says it was challenged "because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A graphic novel
  • A book by a Canadian award-winning author
  • A book by an LGBTQ+ author
  • A book by an author in a visible minority


Love and Rockets

Wendy recommends: Love and Rockets, by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. 

Why did Wendy pick it?

"This graphic series was challenged at an Ontario public library in 2011 by a patron who was disturbed by its sexual explicitness and depiction of violence. Admittedly, there's a lot of sex and violence in the series, but also humour, pathos, insight and imagination, framed in an addictively eccentric kind of magical realism."

 What other categories could you use it for?

  • A graphic novel


Naked Lunch

Sarah's recommendation: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs.

Why did Sarah pick it?

"According to ALA, it was "found obscene in Boston, MA Superior Court (1965). The finding was reversed by the State Supreme Court the following year." All I know is it was my gateway into all the literature of the Beat Generation poets and writers when I discovered it on a shelf in the back corner of my high school library. Thanks for bravely purchasing it, whoever added it to the collection back in early-90s Etobicoke!"

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book that has been adapted into a movie or show


The Satanic Verses

Eunice recommends: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.

Why did Eunice pick it?

"As Rushdie said in a 2015 interview, "It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance, while being skeptical about their ideas, even criticising them ferociously."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book set in a country you'd like to visit (India, the U.K.)
  • A book about mental health

Other recommendations:

Both staff and members of the Reading Challenge Facebook group have given additional recommendations of banned and challenged books:

Other reading lists on banned and challenged books:

What are your picks and recommendations? You can share in the comments below.