It’s Banned Books Week. Iowans told us their forbidden faves

A banned book display at the Reading in Public book store in West Des Moines. Some of the books in the display were recently pulled from shelves in the Urbandale School District. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Amie Rivers

October 5, 2023

In honor of National Banned Books Week, which takes on even more importance this year in Iowa, we asked you for your favorite banned books.

Starting Line readers put 48+ books on this list. But a few rose to the top of the pile.

The three most popular banned books

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” the 1960 novel about racial injustice in a small Southern town by Harper Lee, was the far-and-away favorite of the bunch. Some of you couldn’t believe it was still being challenged and banned in schools.

“Required reading in seventh grade for me,” Brooke H. said. “Unbelievable.”

“The Diary of a Young Girl,” published in 1947 by Anne Frank’s father after she and other members of her family were killed in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, was No. 2 on your list.

Anne Frank, who was between 13 and 15 as she wrote in her diary during her family’s time in hiding, was upfront about the changes in her body during puberty and her romantic attractions, including toward a female friend. It’s been challenged and banned in various places since 1982.

Coming in at No. 3 on the list was George Orwell’s “1984,” a dystopian science fiction novel warning against government overreach that was published in 1949. Those who have challenged the book do so on the grounds of its relatively tame sex scenes and supposedly pro-communist message.

‘They teach empathy’

Several newer books made the list too, including “The Hate U Give,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” “Gender Queer” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Many of the newer books feature nonwhite characters experiencing injustice, or queer or nonbinary characters exploring their newfound bodies and attractions.

“So many banned books expose us to a culture we don’t live in,” Paula B. said. “They teach empathy. Each is unique. We learn from everyone and everything. We learn what to do and what not to do. We understand ourselves more as we react to the words we read.”

“I love every single book on the banned list!” said Maralyn S. “When you look back at history, only bad people banned books.”

Others said they took inspiration for their next novels from some Iowa school districts’ banned lists. That included Matt E., who said he was starting with “the 65 on Urbandale’s banned book list … then I’ll just keep going from there.”

If that’s you, too, here’s a list of 38 challenged or banned books that Iowans think you should definitely read for yourself:

The full list

In alphabetical order:

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” (2007) by Sherman Alexie (“Y’all, it’s so good!!” – Paula B.) (“Yes, this is one of my favorites, too. I’d love it even if it weren’t on the banned and challenged lists!” – Karen M.)

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884) by Mark Twain

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” (2020) by George M. Johnson (“Recommend audiobook read by the author!” – Pamela M.)

“Animal Farm” (1945) by George Orwell

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (1970) by Judy Blume

“Beloved” (1987) by Toni Morrison

“Between the World and Me” (2015) by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“The Bible” (1611 – King James version) by various authors

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” (1967) by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (an accidental ban in Texas)

“Captain Underpants” series (1997) by Dav Pilkey (“I don’t have any kids, but find it hilarious that Captain Underpants was challenged in 2018. I used to work in a bookstore and I cannot for the life of me fathom why anyone would dislike a young child book series enough to want it banned.” – Ben K.)

“The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) by J.D. Salinger

“Catch-22” (1961) by Joseph Heller

“The Diary of a Young Girl” (1947) by Anne Frank

“Fahrenheit 451” (1953) by Ray Bradbury (“Which, unsurprisingly, features the banning and burning of books.” – Fred S.)

“The Family Book” (2003) by Todd Parr

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” (2019) by Maia Kobabe (“I was in my 60s when I read this, and I learned a lot about gender identity that I never understood before.” – Calvin H.)

“Go Ask Alice” (1971) by Beatrice Sparks

“The Grapes of Wrath” (1939) by John Steinbeck

“The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985) by Margaret Atwood

“Harry Potter” series (1997) by J.K. Rowling

“The Hate U Give” (2017) by Angie Thomas

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969) by Maya Angelou

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) by Harper Lee (“Required reading in 7th grade for me. Unbelievable.” – Brooke H.)

“The Kite Runner” (2003) by Khaled Hosseini

“Looking For Alaska” (2005) by John Green

“Lord of the Flies” (1954) by William Golding

“Maus” (1980) by Art Spiegelman

“Melissa” (2022, previously published as “George” in 2015) by Alex Gino

“Of Mice and Men” (1937) by John Steinbeck

“1984” (1949) by George Orwell

“Nineteen Minutes” (2007) by Jodi Picoult

“The Outsiders” (1967) by S.E. Hinton (“My son is currently reading it for seventh-grade lit class. It’s a classic!! ‘Stay golden Pony Boy.’” – Adam P.)

“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” (1977) by Mildred D. Taylor

“Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969) by Kurt Vonnegut

“Strega Nona” (1975) by Tomie dePaola

“And Tango Makes Three” (2005) by Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson and Henry Cole (“One of my daughter’s favorite books when she was little!” – Jane M.) (“It’s such a sweet book” – Niki S.)

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1943) by Betty Smith

“A Wrinkle in Time” (1962) by Madeleine L’Engle


Amie Rivers

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  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.



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