Looking for the best banned picture books for kids? These picture books for Banned Books Week for elementary students are engaging for primary and upper elementary kids. Banned and challenged books with lesson plans and activities linked. Picture books that have been banned, challenged, censored and more for your kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth or fifth grade students. Your students will delight in these classic and brand new books!
When is Banned Books Week?
Banned Books Week is normally held the last week of September each year. Recently, more and more books have been banned or challenged by a variety of schools and districts, but books have been banned or challenged just about since books were first published. Books have had to pass through state-run or religious censors, school boards and more. These books are just a few of the more popular and recent banned picture books.
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The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
This picture book was banned or challenged by a few schools due to its positive portrayal of Middle Eastern cultures.
In the Spring of 2003, Alia Muhammad Baker was the city of Basra’s real-life librarian. She was the keeper of cherished books and her library was a haven for community gatherings. But with war imminent in Basra, Iraq, what could this lone woman do to save her precious books? This true story of one librarian’s remarkable bravery reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge knows no boundaries.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Another banned picture book, this time for its LGBTQ+ leaning being seen as inappropriate for young learners by several schools.
At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo got the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own. A story great for talking about having same sex parents.
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
Another challenged picture book, again this book was challenged for its positive portrayal of Middle Eastern / Muslim cultures.
Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared. In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Lorax was banned in California and several other places because it was said that it negatively portrayed the logging industry and that it would lead children to oppose logging.
I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. Dr. Seuss’s beloved story teaches kids to speak up and stand up for those who can’t. With a recycling-friendly “Go Green” message, The Lorax allows young readers to experience the beauty of the Truffula Trees and the danger of taking our earth for granted, all in a story that is timely, playful and hopeful. The book’s final pages teach us that just one small seed, or one small child, can make a difference.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree was banned in Colorado in the late 90s because it was said that it was sexist. The boy was seen to be constantly taking from the female tree without giving it anything in return.
“Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.” So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein. Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk . . . and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older, he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
This book was banned, I believe, because of a racial slur used in the book. It was accurate for the time, though the book does not endorse it. More recently, it has been challenged due to claims of it being anti-American because it deals with the Japanese internment camps during World War II.
A Japanese American boy learns to play baseball when he and his family are forced to live in an internment camp during World War II, and his ability to play helps him after the war is over.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
This banned picture book is one of the more famous on the list. It was banned and has been challenged because speaking to animals is “blasphemous and unnatural.”
When Max dresses in his wolf suit and causes havoc in the house, his mother sends him to bed. From there, Max sets sail to an island inhabited by the Wild Things, who name him king and share a wild rumpus with him. But then from far away across the world, Max smells good things to eat…
Let the wild rumpus continue as this classic comes to life like never before with new reproductions of Maurice Sendak’s artwork. Astonishing state-of-the-art technology faithfully captures the color and detail of the original illustrations. Sendak himself enthusiastically endorsed this impressive new interpretation of his art.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
All the other bulls run, jump, and butt their heads together in fights. Ferdinand, on the other hand, would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when Ferdinand is picked for the bullfights in Madrid?
The Story of Ferdinand has inspired, enchanted, and provoked readers ever since it was first published in 1936 for its message of nonviolence and pacifism. In WWII times, Adolf Hitler ordered the book burned in Nazi Germany, while Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, granted it privileged status as the only non-communist children’s book allowed in Poland.
The preeminent leader of Indian nationalism and civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi—whose nonviolent and pacifistic practices went on to inspire Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.—even called it his favorite book.
Alma And How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
The anti-CRT movement has brought a variety of books to be banned simply for being diverse, this book is one of them.
What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.
If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark
Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
In our classroom safe and sound.
Fears are lost and hope is found.
Discover a school where all young children have a place, have a space, and are loved and appreciated.
Readers will follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where students from all backgrounds learn from and celebrate each other’s traditions. A school that shows the world as we will make it to be. As students come back to school, they need to know that they’re safe, making this another one of my favorite September read alouds!
Carmela Full Of Wishes by Matt De La Peña
When Carmela wakes up on her birthday, her wish has already come true–she’s finally old enough to join her big brother as he does the family errands. Together, they travel through their neighborhood, past the crowded bus stop, the fenced-off repair shop, and the panadería, until they arrive at the Laundromat, where Carmela finds a lone dandelion growing in the pavement. But before she can blow its white fluff away, her brother tells her she has to make a wish. If only she can think of just the right wish to make. Another one of my favorite September read alouds especially for Hispanic Heritage Month!
Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker
You’ve likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do you know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home? As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps on the road, the number of dishes and spoons she washed in the kitchen sink, everything! Boundless, curious, and excited by calculations, young Katherine longed to know as much as she could about math, about the universe.
Drawn Together by Minh Le
When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens—with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
Crown by Derrick Barnes
The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
We are resilience, We are hope, We are dreamers.
Yuyi Morales brought her hopes, her passion, her strength, and her stories with her, when she came to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.
Dreamers is a celebration of making your home with the things you always carry: your resilience, your dreams, your hopes and history. It’s the story of finding your way in a new place, of navigating an unfamiliar world and finding the best parts of it. In dark times, it’s a promise that you can make better tomorrows.
Encounter by Jane Yolen
When Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492, what he discovered were the Taino Indians. Told from a young Taino boy’s point of view, this is a story of how the boy tried to warn his people against welcoming the strangers, who seemed more interested in golden ornaments than friendship. Years later the boy, now an old man, looks back at the destruction of his people and their culture by the colonizers. A great story for Indigenous Peoples Day!
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
The confident Black narrator of this book is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and no doubt he’ll see them through–as he’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny, and a good friend. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s so often misunderstood and called what he is not. So slow down and really look and listen, when somebody tells you–and shows you–who they are. There are superheroes in our midst!
Islandborn by Junot Diaz
Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else.
Hers was a school of faraway places.
So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
A heartwarming story about the new girl in school, and how she learns to appreciate her Korean name.
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what happens when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious about fitting in. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she decides to choose an American name from a glass jar. But while Unhei thinks of being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, nothing feels right. With the help of a new friend, Unhei will learn that the best name is her own.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad
A powerful, vibrantly illustrated story about the first day of school–and two sisters on one’s first day of hijab–by Olympic medalist and social justice activist Ibtihaj Muhammad.
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty
Every morning, Abuelo walks Sofia to school . . . until one day, when Abuelo hurts his ankle at a local landfill and he can no longer do so. Sofia (aka Sofi) misses her Abuelo and wonders what she can do about the dangerous Mount Trashmore. Then she gets an idea—the town can turn the slimy mess into a park! She brainstorms and plans and finally works up the courage to go to City Hall—only to be told by a clerk that she can’t build a park because she’s just a kid! Sofia is down but not out, and she sets out to prove what one kid can do.
Teach Us Your Name by Huda Essa
Embracing the diversity of our names is one of the first steps we can take to show our appreciation of diversity and inclusion. Everyone has a name and every name has a story. Teach Us Your Name focuses on the many stories and ways we can all connect by helping children take pride in their many identities and to utilize the opportunity to learn from others. This book lends itself to countless invaluable discussions about cultural norms, languages, unconscious bias, and much more. Most of all, Teach Us Your Name is focused on showing respect for ourselves and all others.
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero
When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she’s always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her. But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.
Hair Love by Matthew Cherry
Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own. It kinks, coils, and curls every which way. Zuri knows it’s beautiful. When Daddy steps in to style it for an extra special occasion, he has a lot to learn. But he LOVES his Zuri, and he’ll do anything to make her — and her hair — happy.
Best Banned Picture Books
What are some of your favorite banned picture books? Are there any must read banned children’s books that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!