‘The Color Purple’ and 30 Other Banned and Challenged Books You Should Be Watching
Last week, the movie The Color Purple garnered an Oscar nomination for Danielle Brooks as best supporting actress. Days later, its source material, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning novel by Alice Walker, was permanently removed from schools in Clay County, Florida.
The Color Purple is among the thousands of books that have been swept up in the wave of book banning documented by PEN America in the past several years; the novel has been pulled from shelves in at least three counties since 2021.
Fellow Oscar nominee Killers of the Flower Moon has run into trouble in Oklahoma, where teachers have said they don’t know if it’s legal to teach the David Grann book that inspired the Oscar-nominated Martin Scorcese movie. It tells the true story of how white settlers in Oklahoma murdered members of the Osage Nation in the 1920s.
Dozens of banned and challenged books have been adapted for the screen, and while they aren’t all Oscar nominees, many are as beloved as the books. Here is an (incomplete) list of books-turned-movies or TV shows that have been challenged, pulled from shelves, or permanently banned from schools across the country (although, like most book bans, primarily in Florida).
American Born Chinese
The bestselling graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang was a National Book Award finalist and is now a series on Disney Plus starring Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan. It was pulled from shelves in Clay County, Florida, and Madison County, Mississippi.
The Starz fantasy drama series is based on Neil Gaiman’s book series of the same name, which was pulled from shelves in the 2022-2023 school year in school districts in Missouri, Michigan, and Texas.
Arthur the aardvark may seem an unlikely target for a book ban, but Florida being Florida, here we are. In July 2023, a repeat book challenger in Clay County challenged Arthur’s Birthday, saying the book “damaged souls.” The offense? Francine suggests a game of spin the bottle. “The entire book is about being inclusive of all friends and not only inviting boys or girls (based on your gender) to your birthday party,” the Florida Freedom to Read Project said at the time.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved was banned more than a dozen times in the 2022-2023 school year. The story of a formerly enslaved person won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year after its publication, and was a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award. The 1998 film version was directed by Jonathan Demme and stars Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Thandiwe Newton.
The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question by Stan and Jan Berenstain was among the 176 books in the Essential Voices Classroom Libraries Collection that were removed from classrooms in Duval County, Florida, in January 2022 for “review.”
Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants was among the most challenged books in the 2010s, according to the American Library Association. Objections to the book seem to have waned since it became the subject of a movie and animated series.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 1983 National Book Award for Fiction. The 1985 film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg was nominated for 11 Oscars and earned Whoopi Goldberg a Golden Globes Best Actress award. It was turned into a Broadway musical, now the basis of the 2023 film. It has also been swept up in the wave of book banning documented by PEN America in the past several years; the novel has been pulled from shelves in at least three counties since 2021.
Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, part of the Divergent series, was also pulled from shelves in Clay County, Florida, in the 2022-2023 school year for review. The popular dystopian book series was made into three movies starring Shailene Woodley.
Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert, was among more than 300 books pulled from shelves in Collier County, Florida, last year in an effort to comply with the state’s da’s HB 1069, a law that broadened school board oversight of library collections, expanded mechanisms for challenging books, established that challenges to content that “depicts or describes sexual conduct” are valid, and barred instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity through 8th grade. Timothėe Chalamet stars in the Dune movies, with part two set for release in March.
The Fault In Our Stars
John Green’s young adult love story about teens with cancer was made into a 2014 movie starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Green has been one of the most frequently banned authors since PEN America began tracking in 2021. “Ultimately, if you have a worldview that can be undone by a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel,” he told PEN America.
The novel by Winston Groom – which served as source material for the 1994 movie that won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Tom Hanks – was also pulled from shelves last year in Collier County.
Game of Thrones
George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire became a phenomenon for HBO. A Game of Thrones was also pulled from shelves in Collier County.
Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newbery Award-winning dystopian novel, considered a modern classic, shows the dangers of blind obedience. The 2014 PG-13 movie starred Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. It was pulled from shelves in the Frisco Independent School District in Texas, while the graphic novel adaptation was removed in Wentzville, Missouri and returned to shelves after PEN America and 27 authors sent open letter calling on Missouri schools to reverse any bans enacted in response to a new law, SB 775.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood’s classic novel was one of the most banned books in U.S. schools in the 2022-2023 school year, according to PEN America’s research. It describes a dystopian future in which the protagonist is not allowed to read. The Emmy-winning TV series starred Elizabeth Moss as Offred.
The Hate U Give
The bestselling and award-winning novel by Angie Thomas was one of the most banned books in the 2021-2022 school year, according to PEN America’s research. Its main character witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend at the hands of a police officer. The 2018 PG-13 movie starred Amandla Stenberg.
Alice Osman’s graphic novel series, based on her popular webcomic, tells the story of two teenage boys as they meet at a British grammar school and fall in love. It’s now a Netflix series and was also permanently removed from Clay County, among other districts.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel was banned in Frisco, Texas, in the 2021-2022 school year. The novel was turned into a three-part film series by Peter Jackson starring Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan.
The Hunger Games
The blockbuster Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins was pulled from shelves in Penncrest School District, Pennsylvania, in the 2021-2022 school year. The movie series helped star Jennifer Lawrence catch fire.
Stephen King’s books were removed en masse from Collier County, and It has also been targeted in Escambia County, Madison County, Virginia, Conroe Independent School District in Texas. The novel has been adapted for the screen several times, including the popular 2017 movie and sequel.
Killers of the Flower Moon
The Oscar-nominated film is based on the book by David Grann, Barnes and Noble’s first-ever author of the year. In 2022, a teacher in Oklahoma bought copies of the book for 11th Grade English, but the teacher decided not to give it to students because of a new Oklahoma law.
Looking for Alaska
John Green’s bestselling novel – one of NPR’s Top Ten Best-Ever Teen Novels – was one of the most banned books in the 2022-2023 school year, with 27 total bans.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The cult-favorite coming-of-age story by Stephen Chbosky was one of the most frequently banned books of the 2022-2023 school year. The 2012 film starred Emma Watson.
The award-winning 2009 movie Precious was based on the novel Push, by Sapphire. Push has been frequently banned in the last several years, making PEN America’s list of the most frequently banned books in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year.
Red, White and Royal Blue
Casey McQuiston’s bestselling romance about America’s First Son falling in love with the Prince of Wales was a TikTok phenomenon that turned into an Amazon Original movie The New York Times described as a film with “a giddy premise” and “the derring-do to succeed.” The book was banned a dozen times in the 2022-2023 school year, with a third of the bans happening in Florida.
And then the censors came for Elmo. In York, Pennsylvania, school officials banned a Sesame Street/CNN town hall addressing racism. It’s not the first time Big Bird has ruffled feathers. Back in 1970, Sesame Street was banned from broadcasting on Missippi’s state-run television because the state was “not yet ready” for a show that depicted Black and white kids playing together.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s celebrated young adult novel and its graphic novel adaptation have been pulled from shelves at least 20 times since 2021. Her story of a girl who stops speaking after a sexual assault was made into a movie starring Kristen Stewart.
Stamped from the Beginning
Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi’s bestselling exploration of racism–and antiracism–in America, was adapted for young readers into Stamped, with Newbery Award-winning author Jason Reynolds. Together, the books have been banned in at least 20 school districts.
Some kids may never find out if they are Team Edward or Team Jacob. The bestselling books by Stephenie Meyer that inspired the hit movie series starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, was pulled from shelves in the Frisco Independent School District and Bristow Public Schools in Oklahoma.
Water for Elephants
The circus love story by Sara Gruen was made into a 2011 movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon and a Broadway musical opening in February 2024. The book has been banned in more than 20 school districts, including eight in Florida.
The Who Was Show
This Netflix comedy for kids is based on the popular “Who Was…” series of biographies for young readers. Who Was biographies of Malala Yousafzai, Venus and Serena Williams, Jesse Owens, Barack Obama, Frida Kahlo, Rachel Carson, Maria Tallchief, Derek Jeter, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Lucille Ball, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Michelle Obama, Sonia Sotomayor, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sojourner Truth were all pulled from shelves in Central York, Pennsylvania. Who Is the Dalai Lama was banned pending investigation in Duval County, Florida.