Lately, it seems like every other day there’s a new headline about yet more challenged or banned books. While I’m glad that the media is finally paying attention to the issue, it’s hardly a new problem. Parents have been storming schools demanding the removal of books that they don’t like pretty much since the invention of the school library.
Titles geared towards the middle grades make up a pretty decent-sized chunk of banned book lists. Some of these challenged titles below probably won’t surprise you, especially if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in the US these days. Others, though, came as a total shock to me. Check them out, then consider reading them with your own tweens.
Most Challenged & Banned Books in Middle Schools
Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) puts out a list of the most frequently challenged books for the year before. They usually release it in September for Banned Books Week, and the list for 2021 isn’t available yet. So, I used their 2020 list combined with recent headlines to come up with the list below.
I am only including books that are written for middle-grade kids. When possible (not all books have this option), I embedded a preview of the Kindle version so you can check it out without leaving my site. I’ll also include the synopsis and the reasons given by those who challenge these titles.
FYI, this post includes affiliate links. If you buy anything through them, I get a small fee at no extra cost to you. That said, I encourage you to borrow these books from your local library.
Also, I should make this clear upfront- while I usually try to keep the majority of my posts politically neutral, book banning is NOT a neutral topic. You’re either for or against it, and I’m vehemently against it.
Middle-Grade Banned Books at a Glance (Quick List)
Check out the table below for a quick look at all of the titles, then read on for more details about each.
You may also like these 13 great places to find free books for kids online.
1. George by Alex Gino
LGBTQ books made up 80% of the top 10 most challenged, restricted, and/or banned books in America in 2020, according to the ALA. Gino’s George, a middle-grade story about a young girl who was born a boy, was #1 on that list.
When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.
Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
The most common reason cited is the book’s LGBTQIA+ content. Others include “conflicts with a religious viewpoint,” and “not reflecting ‘the values of our community.'”
2. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Paterson’s heartbreaking Bridge the Terabithia is by far one of the saddest books I’ve ever read and probably traumatized an entire generation for life (I’m being dramatic there, in case it’s not clear). But that’s not a reason to ban it! In fact, it’s not even the reason challengers give.
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, outpaces 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 be able to deal with his grief.
Challenged for language as well as “promoting witchcraft.”
Get it on Amazon here. FYI, this one is currently FREE on Amazon Kids.
3. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the Bartimaeus series, is a best-selling fantasy novel for grades 5-8. Like many fantasy novels written for this age group, it’s frequently challenged and outright banned because it doesn’t jive with one religion’s ideology.
Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss.
With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.
“Dealing with the occult,” and other “religious” reasons.
4. The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
While Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, The Supernaturalist is actually one of his most frequently challenged novels.
In the future, in a place called Satelite City, fourteen-year-old Cosmo Hill enters the world, unwanted by his parents. He’s sent to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, Freight class. At Clarissa Frayne, the boys are put to work by the state, testing highly dangerous products.
At the end of most days, they are covered with burns, bruises, and sores. Cosmo realizes that if he doesn’t escape, he will die at this so-called orphanage. When the moment finally comes, Cosmo seizes his chance and breaks out with the help of the Supernaturalists, a motley crew of kids who all have the same special ability as Cosmo-they can see supernatural Parasites, creatures that feed on the life force of humans.
Banned by the Lackawanna School District in New York (along with six others, including the Amulet of Samarkand) for “occult themes.” Another common reason given is “grownups are portrayed negatively.” Gee, if we banned books because of that, half of all middle-grade reads would be on the chopping block!
Get it on Amazon (Currently free with Prime Reading)
5. New Kid by Jerry Craft
Jerry Craft’s graphic novel about a middle-schooler navigating between two different worlds is probably one of the most shocking books on this list, in a “why the heck would anyone object to this???” sort of way.
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
Parents object to this one because “it teaches critical race theory.” FYI, it doesn’t. Most parents who scream about CRT have no idea what it actually is. Others objected because it “made white children feel bad.”
6. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Like Bridge to Terabithia, Olive’s Ocean helps tweens make sense of grief, something that’s challenging even to us adults. I wish I had known about this book when my son was in 6th grade a couple of years ago. In the course of three months, he lost a great-aunt that he was very close to AND his dog.
Olive Barstow was dead. She’d been hit by a car on Monroe Street while riding her bicycle weeks ago. That was about all Martha knew.”
Martha Boyle and Olive Barstow could have been friends. But they weren’t — and now all that is left are eerie connections between two girls who were in the same grade at school and who both kept the same secret without knowing it.
Now Martha can’t stop thinking about Olive. A family summer on Cape Cod should help banish those thoughts; instead, they seep in everywhere.
And this year Martha’s routine at her beloved grandmother’s beachside house is complicated by the Manning boys. Jimmy, Tate, Todd, Luke, and Leo. But especially Jimmy. What if, what if, what if, what if? The world can change in a minute.
Language, some discussions about sex, and because it talks about death.
7. Totally Joe by James Howe
Howe’s second book in his Misfits series sheds light on what it’s like to be a tween with a very big secret. Novels like this are incredibly important for LGBTQIA youth, especially tweens who are just discovering themselves and who need to feel like they’re not alone now more than ever.
Joe may only be twelve-going-on-thirteen, but he’s known who he is from the time he was a little kid tottering around in his mother’s high heels. Now in the seventh grade, he wears green high tops with pink trim, has a (secret) boyfriend, and tells it all from A to Z in the alphabiography assigned by his favorite teacher.
The thing is, some of it is seriously private. It’s one thing for Mr. Daly to read it, but what if it falls into the wrong hands? Will he be teased forever about those high heels…and even worse, what will happen if his secret boyfriend is no longer a secret?
LGBTQIA topics and “inappropriate content.”
8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Diary of Anne Frank is considered one of the most important autobiographies of all time. It’s also one of the most frequently challenged and outright banned books ever.
In 1940, after Germany invaded the Netherlands, Anne and her family couldn’t leave the country, so they decided to hide in a warehouse in an attempt to escape the persecution of Jews by the Nazis.
For over two years, Anne wrote in her diary with an awareness that was extremely mature for her age. She detailed her experiences and insights while she and her family were in hiding, living in a constant fear of being arrested.
The Diary of Anne Frank’ is a record of her understanding of the war and showcases her incredible storytelling abilities in such horrific circumstances. In 1944, the Franks were found and sent to concentration camps.
Anne died before she turned 16, and her father, Otto Frank, was the only family member to survive the Holocaust. After the War, Otto returned to Amsterdam, where he found his daughter’s diary and then published i as The Diary of a Young Girl.
“Sexual content” and other objections to Frank’s discussions about male and female anatomy are typically at the heart of challenges to the novel.
9. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Telgemeier’s graphic novel Drama was banned by multiple school libraries (including Cedarburg in WI, and Franklin Middle School in TX) because it includes LGBTQ characters.
Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department’s stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget.
But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!
LGBTQ characters, and because some parents deemed it “too political,” which is basically short for “includes themes that my favorite narrow-minded politician disagrees with.”
10. Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Like Drama, Better Nate Than Ever centers around one tween’s passion for theater. Also like Drama, it features a subplot about a boy that begins to realize that he likes other boys.
Author Tim Federle wrote a fantastic piece on GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) about why he wrote the book and his thoughts on banning books in general. I recommend checking that out to learn more.
Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune?
With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.
LGBTQ characters and themes.
11. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
One of the most popular middle-grade books of the 21st century (and one of my favorite series ever) is also among the most frequently challenged and banned. In fact, it’s been a constant on every single banned book list since the first book in the series was released back in 1999.
Synopsis (in case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard of it)
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle.
Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!
Magic and witchcraft, typically. Other objections include characters; the use of “nefarious means” or a “Machiavellian approach” to attain goals.
Related: 20 Perfect Harry Potter Gift Ideas for Tweens & Teens
12. l8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle
Lauren Myracle’s l8r, g8r is geared towards older middle-graders age 13 and up (so roughly around 8th grade). Released (and subsequently challenged) in 2004, it’s popping up on banned book lists once again, especially in Texas.
First published in 2004 (holy moly!), ttyl and its sequels follow the ups and downs of high school for the winsome threesome, three very different but very close friends: wild Maddie (mad maddie), bubbly Angela (SnowAngel), and reserved Zoe (zoegirl).
Through teacher crushes, cross-country moves, bossy Queen Bees, incriminating party pics, and other bumps along the way, author Lauren Myracle explores the many potholes of teenagedom with the unflinching honesty and pitch-perfect humor that made this series a staple of young adult literature.
Reasons: “Inappropriate sexual content“
13. White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio
Another one on the long list of titles that conservative Texas parents want pulled from libraries across the state, White Bird is written by the same author who penned the heartwarming novel, Wonder. They’re making a movie out of it now, starring Helen Mirren and Gillian Anderson.
While I could only find one parent objecting to it so far, given the bizarre challenges to any book that presents Nazis in a negative light lately, it’s only a matter of time before others challenge it.
Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère’s heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.
Sara’s harrowing experience movingly demonstrates the power of kindness to change hearts, build bridges, and even save lives. As Grandmère tells Julian, “It always takes courage to be kind, but in those days, such kindness could cost you everything.”
One parent n TX objects to the fact that it’s biased against Nazis and could “skew” a young child’s mind. You really can’t make this stuff up, folks.
Sadly, this is far from an exhaustive list of books that are challenged or banned in schools. One Republican lawmaker in Texas, Matt Kraus, wants 850 titles from every genre and for every age group banned. He circulated a spreadsheet to schools demanding to know if any of the titles were in their libraries AND if any school funding went towards buying these books. Pretty sick, right?
Ultimately, it’s up to parents to decide what their kids (and ONLY their kids) can and cannot read. No parent has the right to restrict other children from accessing materials.
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