banned books for kids, YA banned books, YA challenged books, Phil Duncan's banned books

Three “Banned” Books Your Children Must Read

I’m so excited to introduce author Phil Duncan as my guest author today. His latest young adult book, Wax, is out (see bottom of post). Today, he has three banned or challenged books that he highly recommends.

By Phil Duncan

Much is made of banned and challenged books in schools, with constant debates springing up over age-appropriateness vs. freedom of expression and ideas. As a writer I am firmly on the side of fostering intellectual growth of children via challenging work, but I can also understand that some books — especially those aimed at young readers — might be too mature for certain age groups. So where is the middle ground in this politicized issue? How can we allow books to do what they’re meant to do — open up new worlds and ideas to our children — while also protecting young readers from material that may be too advanced?

The key to answering this question lies in investigating these books and finding out why they are “challenged” in the first place. Screening hundreds of books is a daunting task, so I’ve compiled a list of three books that I have read, either as a young reader, adult or both, that I believe are completely suitable for young readers (though they appear on the more conservative “challenged” books lists):

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

As one of the best young-adult novels of recent years, Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary… details the life of a young Native American protagonist who attends a nearby “white” school and the dichotomy that grows from juggling two very different lifestyles at the same time. While the book covers topics such as death, alcoholism, and poverty, these topics are approached softly through the eyes of a teenager, educating young readers on some very vital issues while also maintaining and the light, humorous air that only Alexie can achieve.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

I vividly remember reading this book as an 11-year-old when it was first published in 1995. As a young boy in a small rural town, this warm, loving novel about the Watson family and their journey from Michigan to Alabama was a well-rounded introduction to African-American family life in the 1960s and the tribulations of the Civil Rights Movement. While the book can be thematically very heavy, like Alexie’s novel we view everything through the lens of a child. The most chilling — and absolutely necessary part of The Watsons — details the bombing of a Birmingham church. While hard to read at any age, it imparts a valuable lesson on American history that will help shape the views and perspectives of a young reader.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

While Persepolis is a graphic novel, this series isn’t your typical comic book. Like the previously mentioned books, Persepolis details complex social issues from a child’s perspective — this time a young girl trying to make sense of the startling social changes in post-revolution Iran. At once gripping and hilarious, Satrapi gives us an autobiographical story that informs young readers of geopolitical issues that are still at the forefront 30+ years later.

Phil Duncan is the author of Wax, a young-adult novel published by RainTown Press, as well as of various short fiction published both in print and online. He is a graduate of Goddard College’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and the University of Washington’s English program. Duncan is a former Jacob K. Javits Fellow and recently served as a Creator-in-Residence at the Tokyo Wonder Site-Aoyama in Tokyo, Japan. He currently lives in Portland, OR.

Wax, Phil Duncan, best YA

Yancey Muncey is dead. Or, he was. Raised from the grave by the shadowy figure of Dr. Blankenship, Yancey is now back in high school, hanging out with his best friend, and working up the nerve to ask the girl of his dreams to the upcoming Halloween carnival.

But not everything is the same as it was before: Yancey’s eyes are yellow, his skin is blue, and he’s indestructible. As if that weren’t bad enough, Dr. Blankenship has made it his life’s mission to hunt Yancey down. Because the only reason Yancey is alive again is to help the good doctor destroy his rival.

An average boy with a new lease on an extraordinary life, Yancey must battle high-trained security and high school bullies in his quest to get back to normal. What’s the worst that can happen after all? He’s already dead.

Phil Duncan, Wax, best YA novel

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banned books for kids, YA banned books, YA challenged books, Phil Duncan's banned books

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I cannot believe The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 was banned. That is crazy.
    Erica recently posted…10 Best Kids’ Books of 2013 (Mid-Year Edition)My Profile

  2. Alexandra

    Unfortunately I haven’t read Persepolis yet – but I have seen the film.
    Amazing! I awlays pre-read the books I give to my kids or students so I guess I will have to finally read it 🙂
    Alexandra recently posted…Good habits: reading timeMy Profile

  3. I really like this post! I have to read The Watsons go to Birmingham. I’ve read some other of Mr. Curtis’ books and he’s a great author! 🙂
    Erik – This Kid Reviews Books recently posted…“The Circle: Book One of The Sidhe” By Cindy CiprianoMy Profile

  4. bamauthor

    I can’t see the sense of banning books. Certainly there should be age recommendations, but children who are drawn to the topic will find a way to obtain the book anyway.. In fact, banning the book will probably make it even more attractive.

  5. I agree with bamauthor’s comment about banning books.

    I let my 7yo read what she wants, and sometimes her choices surprise me. But I remember reading Julius Lester’s “To Be a Slave” when I was eight and – while the content is very mature (aimed at ages 12 and up – and yes, it is on at least one banned book list), I understood it and it was a good book for me to read, even that young. I do believe in parents discussing books with their kids, and to pay attention to how a book affects a child’s mood.
    maryanne recently posted…Music and ParentingMy Profile

  6. Karenda

    Every book my mother forbid me to read, I went out and read immediately. As a child if I had realized there was a list of banned books I would have read everyone.

  7. Dee

    Great list! And the author looks like a fun guy! I think Dylan would love to read his book. It’s hard to believe that banning books is still a concept. But I guess we have not stamped out closed-mindedness.
    Dee recently posted…From Moms Charlotte: Life as a mom of a child with ADHDMy Profile

  8. Great list – can you believe there was discussion of banning Mark Twain, what, was it last year? We’ve got to introduce to all and every piece of literature.

    Anyway, Persepolis is great – I highly recommend it. However, I would say that I was lost reading it because I didn’t have the historical knowledge of the Iranian Revolution, but, that’s a perfect opportunity for teachers to use for cross curriculum.
    Brittany recently posted…Bookworm’s Beach Books: Summer 2013My Profile

    • Hi Britanny,
      Thanks so much for your insight on Persepolis. From all the comments, it seems like a must-read. I had never heard of it before and now I will get a copy! I am using the banned books list to champion it as a summer reading list! The books that get that kind of attention are usually exceptional books I’ve noticed!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Small Business Website: Win One from Go Daddy!My Profile

  9. Renee C.

    It’s kind of sad really that it seems the underlying reason for banning these books are because they address socio-political issues that we often try to sweep under the carpet. Like, if we don’t talk about racism it won’t happen? I think kids are much more resilient than we think (if the purpose is to protect them). I also think that it would raise questions in their mind – and questions are a good thing! Great post!
    Renee C. recently posted…Book Review: The Adventures of Onyx and The Guardians of the StraitsMy Profile

  10. Ann

    I agree exactly with this view on banned books. Persepolis is great. I would like to read the Alexie book. My daughter doesn’t go for things that are too mature for her but if she did I think I would try to find her something similar but more for her age and have her wait. Although I do think books are a safe way to learn about life.
    Wax sounds spooky!
    Ann recently posted…Butterfly BushMy Profile

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