When I think about all the books I have read over the course of my lifetime, the ones I remember the most vividly are the stories that challenged me in some way. Many of them are novels (or nonfiction texts) that helped to shape my values and sparked interests, caused me to pursue certain career paths, or allowed me to understand other people’s lives and learn about cultures other than my own. Some of them made me cry, a few made me angry, and many of them prompted me to take some kind of action.

The following list includes just a few of the titles that had the biggest impact on me as a student (or as an adult):

  • Various stories written by Edgar Allan Poe
  • 1984 (George Orwell)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)
  • Angel of Mercy (Lurlene McDaniel)
  • Animal Farm (George Orwell)
  • Catch 22 (Joseph Heller)
  • The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
  • The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)
  • The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (Gayle Tzemach Lemmon)
  • Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year (Esmé Raji Codell)
  • Egalia’s Daughters (Gerd Brantenberg)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
  • Feed (Mira Grant)
  • Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keys)
  • The Freedom Writers Diary (The Freedom Writers)
  • The Giver (Lois Lowery)
  • Go Ask Alice (Anonymous)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  • The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
  • Hiroshima (John Hersey)
  • The House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros)
  • Maus (Art Spiegelman)
  • Night (Elie Wiesel)
  • Othello (William Shakespeare)
  • Out of the Dust (Karen Hesse)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
  • Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
  • Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  • Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
  • Ten Little Indians (Agatha Christie)
  • The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)
  • Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham (Christopher Paul Curtis)
  • Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (Joyce Carol Oates)

While there are certainly more titles that could be included on this list, it’s clear that reading has been a big part of making me who I am today.

But imagine for a moment that the titles in bold are removed from that list. Each of those books are titles that were challenged between 2002 and 2018, according to a list published by the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English). While I read many of these titles prior to those dates, a whole generation of readers would have missed out had these books been removed from their libraries and schools. If they had been successfully banned, my own students might never have had the opportunity to study and learn from several pieces of classic American literature.

“A dangerous book will always be in danger from those it threatens with the demand that they question their assumptions. They’d rather hang on to the assumptions and ban the book.”

Ursula K. LeGuin

This is why Banned Books Week is important. When we allow censorship to go unchallenged, opportunities for knowledge and growth are denied. If you have the opportunity this week, I highly recommend taking some time to browse the NCTE’s list. I think you may be surprised by some of the titles that you find.

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