Image reads "Caution: read at your own risk."

Freedom to Read Week

February 24 – March 2 is Freedom to Read week, an event that raises awareness of book censorship.

People regularly “challenge” books that they find offensive by asking libraries and schools to remove them from shelves and reading lists. Oftentimes, what one person thinks is offensive, other people think is an important work of literature.

So, to promote free expression, we’ve put together a list of some of the most controversial books the library owns. Enjoy and practice your freedom to read!

Cover image of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
The Harry Potter Series

Wait, Harry Potter is controversial? You bet he is! For instance, after a parent complained about the series’ depictions of magic and witchcraft, a Newfoundland principal ordered the removal of the books from his school. As it turns out, neither the parent nor the principal had even read the books!

Cover image of the book, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale imagines a dystopian future where women are subjugated and are valued only for reproduction. The book is dark but very thought-provoking. However, in Toronto, a parent objected to the book’s presence on the grade 12 reading list. The parent argued that the book contained anti-Christian overtones, and opposed the book’s profanity, violence and “sexual degradation.”

In this case, the school decided to keep the book on the reading list. Want to see what all the controversy was about? You can borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from the library, or check out the Emmy-award winning television adaptation!

Want to see what all the controversy was about? You can borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from the library, or check out the Emmy-award winning television adaptation!

Cover image of the book, PersepolisPersepolis

This award-winning graphic novel is about a girl’s experiences growing up during the Iranian Revolution. The book centres on themes of freedom and oppression. However, in 2013, a Chicago school district decided the book was inappropriate for students and removed the book from its schools. The district objected to the book’s depictions of torture, and worried students would not be able to understand the book’s message.

However, the school board’s decision was quickly met with backlash online. Many pointed out that the book’s black and white drawings were less graphic than the violence students saw when learning about other historical events. Eventually, a student-led campaign, as well as the attention of anti-censorship groups and the media, led the school board to reverse its decision.

Cover image of the book, This One SummerThis One Summer

Meant for readers 12 and up, this book deals with teen sexuality, unwanted pregnancy and depression. When the book was shortlisted for the Caldecott Medal, a prize given to books for children 14 years and younger, it gained attention. Perhaps thinking the book would be appropriate for younger readers, some people tried to have it removed from school libraries. But don’t worry, you can still find this book at Columbia College Library!

Interested in learning more about book challenges? Check out this list of the 100 most challenged books.