Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Banned and Challenged Newbery Books

I had the privilege of serving on the 2024 Newbery Committee with such a group of rockstars. I could not be prouder of our winner, The Eyes and the Impossible by Dave Eggers and our Honors, Eagle Drums by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson, Elf Dog and Owl Head, by M. T. Anderson, Mexikid: a Graphic Memoir by Pedro Martín, Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow, and The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams by Daniel Nayeri. It’s gratifying to see these books join the company of so many impactful titles. 

You would think that books considered distinguished contributions to children’s literature would be free from challenges and bans. After all, the Newbery criteria states that a book receiving this award “displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations”. But medals cannot guarantee immunity from threats to intellectual freedom. There are over a dozen Newbery recipients that have encountered challenges and bans. 

ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles lists of the 100 most challenged books of the past decades. Several Newbery titles are very familiar to these lists. The 1963 winner A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle has been challenged ever since its publication. Since OIF has only been keeping records of challenges since 1990 it’s hard to determine an exact number but it placed as number 23 the 1990-1999 list and number 90 on the 2000-2009 list. With countless challenges and bans, 1994’s winner The Giver by Lois Lowry has placed each decade, number 11, number 23 and number 61 respectively. Katherine Paterson makes the frequently challenged lists with two different titles, the 1977 winner Bridge to Terabithia and the 1979 Honor The Great Gilly Hopkins

Due to concerns over inappropriate language, the 1996 Honor The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis was banned in a Utah school system and challenged in Virginia. Offensive language is frequently cited as reason for reconsideration for many Newbery titles like the 1970 winner Sounder by William H. Armstrong, 1975 Honor My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier and 1994 Honor Crazy Lady! by Jane Leslie Conly. While the 2007 winner The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron has not been officially challenged or banned it is often a victim of quiet censoring because of language. 

Other common reasons Newbery titles are subject to bans and challenges are violence, references to witchcraft and sexual content. 1973 winner Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George is listed at number 32 on the most frequently challenged books on the 1990-1999 list and number 91 on the 2000-2009 list for violence and sexual content. 2004 Honor Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes was the third most challenged book in 2007 for being sexually explicit. The 1959 winner The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, 1968 Honor The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and 1984 Honor The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain were all challenged for purportedly promoting witchcraft. 

In the past few years, organized political groups have been focusing on removing books about race, history, gender identity, sexuality, and reproductive health from America’s public and school libraries. These disturbing trends have caused even more Newbery titles to be challenged and banned. The 2020 winner New Kid by Jerry Craft and 1976 honor Dragonwings by Laurence Yep have been pulled from school curricula because their detractors believe they teach critical race theory. The 2022 Honor Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff quickly received backlash from certain groups for having a transgender protagonist and numerous school districts have debated over its inclusion in school curricula. And right as Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson won the 2023 Newbery medal, legislation in Florida was being passed that would all but guarantee it would be banned in schools.

I truly did not expect to find so many Newbery books on banned and challenged lists. Newbery winners are by no means exempt from controversy and many titles receive justified criticisms. I’ve always found the conversations around these books so enriching. The thoughtful, criteria focused discussions were the highlight of my service on the Newbery Committee. So to completely excise these books from collections with challenges and bans is a disservice to literature and to the young readers we serve. 


Today’s blog post was written by Caitlin Tormey, Librarian, Sacramento Public Library on behalf of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.  They can be reached at CTormey@saclibrary.org.

This post addresses the core competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group and IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.

One comment

  1. Kathy Smargiassi

    I am with you on book bans being bad for the stated reasons. But we also must recognize that some Newbery winners have not stood the test of time (especially some of the oldest ones).

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