9 Famous Books Wrongly Accused Of Being Pornographic


The Diary of Anne Frank isn't the first thing comes to mind when I hear the word "pornography."

But just last month, a Michigan mother decided that the iconic story of a 13-year-old girl hiding with her family from the Nazis was indeed "pornographic," and demanded that it be taken off her 7th grade daughter's curriculum. Pointing to a passage in which Frank talks candidly about her lady bits, Gail Harken said the book was inappropriate for middle-schoolers (who apparently don't know what a vagina is).

This isn't the first time the diary's discussion of female anatomy has trumped its historical significance; despite being one of the most important books of the 20th century and a canonical part of middle school literature, it remained in the top 10 of the ALA's list of books banned in American schools from 1990 to 1999.

Here are some more literary classics that have wrongly been branded as "pornographic." If you're looking for some steamy beach reads now that the weather's heating up ... well, you should probably look elsewhere.

1. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

By Judy Blume.

The reasons why this book has appeared on so many Most Challenged lists pretty much boil down to PERIODS = EWWW.

Margaret, the daughter of a Jewish father and Christian mother, struggles with questions about both her developing (or not) body and religion. The book has been called profane, immoral, and offensive, and banned in multiple school libraries across the country.

Margaret's tweenage obsession with getting her period and growing boobs is unlikely to shock anyone who has ever been a 12-year-old girl. Judy Blume detractors seem to have fallen victim to the same twisted thinking of those hoping to ban Anne Frank’s diary — that is, that pubescent girls shouldn't be allowed to read books that deal with topics they’re already constantly thinking about.

2. And Tango Makes Three

By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.

"Two penguins in the penguin house were a little bit different. One was named Roy, and the other was named Silo. Roy and Silo were both boys. But they did everything together."

Sounds pretty wholesome to me, but this heartwarming tale about two male chinstrap penguins raising a chick together at the Central Park zoo was the most challenged book of 2006, 7, 8, and 10 (in 2009 it was only the 2nd most challenged. Win?). Parents argued it exposed young minds to questions about homosexuality that they weren’t ready to have. Apparently its messages of love, tolerance, and that families come in all shapes and sizes weren't worth teaching either.

3. In the Night Kitchen

By Maurice Sendak.

Sendak’s enchanting children's book depicts the fantastical nighttime journey of a little boy, Mickey, “past the moon and his mama and papa sleeping tight” and into a bowl of cake batter. Mickey falls out of his clothes for about four pages along the way, before donning a new outfit made of batter.

In addition to being outraged over the book's allegedly gratuitous toddler nudity, various grown ups have asserted that In the Night Kitchen contains sexual innuendo due to the presence of “milky fluids” (also known as “milk”) and a giant (milk bottle) penis. Some took to defacing the book by drawing diapers on Mickey. Real mature, guys.

Sendak was distressed by the outrage his illustrations prompted. In an interview with NPR, he said, "You don’t go into a dream wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear or PJs. You go tutto. You go yourself, your being, and that’s why he was naked, and it was idiocy." Incidentally, while the sexual innuendos were unintended, the book was legitimately full of references to the Holocaust.

4. Lolita

By Vladimir Nabokov.

Lo. Lee. Ta. The famous tale of eloquent creeper Humbert Humbert and his doomed lust for the nymphet Dolores Haze is written so beautifully that you almost forget it’s about pedophilia. Upon its publication, Sunday Express editor John Gordon declared it both “the filthiest book [he had] ever read” and “sheer unrestrained pornography.” It has been banned at various points in France, Britain, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa, among many other countries.

Despite now being deservedly listed as one of World Library’s 100 Best Books of all time, reading Lolita may still earn you some funny glances on the subway.

5. Lady Chatterly's Lover

By D.H. Lawrence.

Saddled to a neglectful husband who has been paralyzed from the waist down, Constance (a.k.a. Lady Chatterly) engages in a torrid affair with the gamekeeper. Lawrence’s classic touches on the themes of class systems and sexuality, and Constance's realization of her need for physical intimacy caused quite a ruckus when the book was released in 1928.

Chatterly's combination of sex and flippant language proved so controversial that it spurred an obscenity trial when Penguin Books re-issued it in 1960. The publisher was acquitted, thankfully, and the case helped usher in a new age of literary freedom and an easing of censorship in British publishing.

6. A Farewell to Arms

By Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway's bleak World War I semi-romance tells the story of an American lieutenant, Frederic Henry, serving in the Italian army and his lady friend, Catherine Barkley. 

When the novel ran in a 1929 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, Boston banned the publication on the basis that the story was too sexual. This opinion didn't change much with time: in 1980, one New York School District deemed it a "sex novel." It currently ranks at #20 on the ALA’s list of Banned and Challenged Classics.

Is A Farewell to Arms actually pornographic? No. Is it depressing as hell? Yes.

7. The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood.

Offred (that's "Of Fred") lives in a dystopian, fiercely misogynist future state where women are assigned sharply delineated societal roles like wife, cook, and handmaid. As the last of these, Offred is given to a man for the sole purpose of bearing him children when his wife (supposedly) cannot.

Often viewed as both anti-Christian (the state justifies its actions through obscure Bible passages) and sexually explicit, Atwood's riveting feminist battle cry has received plenty of flack from conservative readers. The irony of banning a book that warns against the dangers of governmental control was probably lost on them, and Handmaid remained at #37 on the ALA's list of the 100 Most Banned Books from 1990 to 1999. 

8. The Bluest Eye

By Toni Morrison.

Morrison's first novel centers on Pecola Breedlove, a poor, black girl growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s. Rape and incest are present from it's opening paragraph, prompting some readers to call for its removal from school libraries across the country. In one Connecticut school district, a handful of officials running for Board of Education seats agreed that it was "pornography, pure and simple." It should be noted that they had not actually read the book, and instead based their arguments on CliffNoted passages.

While Morrison's novel is a tough read, to put it mildly, it's also a seminal piece of literature from a Nobel and Pulitzer-Prize winning author that confronts important issues of race, beauty, and self-esteem. It should be read with guidance — not banned.

9. Where's Waldo?

By Martin Handford.

A beach scene in the first edition of the beloved/time-wasting series originally contained a topless sunbather lying on her stomach. Because she is arching her back in response to being jabbed with an ice cream cone, you can spot an ever-so-tiny amount of boob and what may or may not be a nipple. Cries of "seditious imagery" prompted publishers to impose a bikini top in later re-issues of the book.

Now, I feel like you'd really need to be on the lookout for nudie images to spot this in the first place. I mean, I’m still looking for Waldo.

Here's the original page in full, see if you can pinpoint the offending scene in context.