29 books that were challenged in Canada

Freedom to Read Week, which takes place Feb. 19-25, 2023, highlights the importance of Canadians' intellectual freedom.

Freedom to Read Week takes place Feb. 19-25, 2023

Freedom to Read Week is a week-long Canadian event that celebrates freedom to read and "encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom."

The 2023 edition is taking place Feb. 19-25, 2023

Here are 29 books you may be surprised to learn have battled attempts at censorship in Canada. The information was provided by Freedom to Read Week and the Book and Periodical Council. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale is a bestselling novel by Margaret Atwood. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Released in 1985, The Handmaid's Tale was Atwood's breakthrough book on an international scale. The modern classic tells the story of a handmaid known as Offred who is trapped in a society where her only purpose is to conceive and bear the child of a powerful man.

The Handmaid's Tale won Atwood her second Governor General's Literary Award and scored her first nomination for the Booker Prize. It has since undergone several adaptations, for film, stage, ballet, opera and most recently TV as well as a graphic novel. 

Reason for censorship: Violence and offensive language

Atwood is one of Canada's best known and most prolific writers. She has written more than 40 books in nearly all literary forms including short stories, nonfiction, children's books and the stage.

LISTEN | Margaret Atwood talks about The Handmaid's Tale in 1985:

In conversation with Peter Gzowski, the author describes the setting of her dystopian new novel and says she had many sources of inspiration for its grim vision.

​Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson is the author of the children's novel Bridge to Terabithia. (Katherine Paterson, Thomas Crowell)

​Bridge to Terabithia is the story of two lonely children who become fast friends and spend their days after school creating their own magical kingdom in the forest.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Paterson is an award-winning children's writer. She has received the Newbery Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. 

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is the creator of the Harry Potter series, a collection of fantasy novels for children, which was adapted into a film series. (Mary McCartney, Bloomsbury)

The Harry Potter series is an iconic, bestselling YA series about a boy wizard who is admitted to a magic boarding school and his battle against the dark forces that linger in this world. The stories were later adapted into a popular film series. There are seven books in the series.

Reason for censorship: Satanism and witchcraft

British author J.K. Rowling was a single mother who relied on welfare before coming up with the idea of Harry Potter on a delayed train trip. Under the pen name Robert Galbraith, she has since authored The Casual Vacancy, a novel for adults, and a series of mystery novels.

LISTEN | Seeing Harry Potter as a sacred text:

The Bible, the Torah, the Qu'ran... and now, Harry Potter? Casper ter Kuile is a Harvard-educated minister for non-religious people. His new podcast 'Harry Potter and The Sacred Text' treats J.K. Rowling's books as instructive, inspirational texts.

The Holy Bible

The Bible is considered to be the bestselling book of all time.

The Bible is collection of sacred texts regarded by Christians as a true record of the relationship between humans and God. It contains the New and the Old Testaments.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

WATCH | What it's like reading the Bible from start to finish:

Florenceville-Bristol man wants to read the entire Bible in 2020

3 years ago
Duration 1:05
Philip Davis embraces resolutions every year and in 2020 he wants to rea the Bible from start to finish.

Star Wars: A New Hope by George Lucas

George Lucas is a filmmaker and the creator of the Star Wars franchise. (Chris Pizzello/AP Photo, Random House)

Originally entitled Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, this book is a novelization of George Lucas' first Star Wars film in the original trilogy, released in 1977. The story centres on the life of Luke Skywalker. The film series is one of the most successful in history, with nine films.

Reason for censorship: Unknown reasons

LISTEN | How Star Wars resonates with Indigenous audiences:

Star Wars is a franchise beloved by many, but it's especially loved by Indigenous fans who see parallels between Star Wars and the stories of their own communities.

The Wars by Timothy Findley

The Wars by Timothy Findley won the 1977 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. (Penguin)

In The WarsRobert Ross, a 19-year-old Canadian, decides to enlist in the First World War after the death of his sister to escape his grief and downtrodden life in the Victorian era. The story follows his submersion in the realities of the war. The Wars won the Governor General's Literary Award for English-language fiction in 1981.

Reason for censorship: Sex and violence

Findley is also the author of Not Wanted on the Voyage, Headhunter and The Piano Man's Daughter. He died in 2002.

WATCH | An archival interview with Timothy Findley:

Authors : Timothy Findley

12 years ago
Duration 24:49
Joyce Davidson interviews Timothy Findley, Canadian scriptwriter, novelist, and winner of the Governor General's Literary Award.

Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen

Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen are the author behind the Chicken Soup book series. (HCI)

Chicken Soup for the Soul is a series of inspirational stories from people who have overcome obstacles and dealt with life's challenges.

Reason for censorship: Unknown reasons

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

The graphic novel cover has an image of five people standing in a line across the cover with their backs to the reader. The first is a man in a plaid shirt. To his right is a woman in a dress with black hair flying and then to her right is a boy in a red cape. To his right, a larger man in a number nine hockey jersey with a hockey stick in his right hand and last is a shorter person in a long coat. They stand on top of black ground. Underneath their feet is soil with the lines of tree roots. The background and the roots are turquoise blue.
Jeff Lemire is the author of graphic novel Essex County. (The Canadian Press/Cole Burston, Top Shelf Productions)

Essex County is a graphic novel that explores what it means to live, work, dream and even die in a Southwestern Ontario rural community. The population of this fictional landscape is represented from childhood to old age through its characters Lester, Lou and Anne. The illustrated black and white panels show the characters' stark external world and the vividness of their interior lives. Essex County was on Canada Reads 2011, when it was defended by Sara Quin.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Jeff Lemire is a New York Times bestselling graphic novelist whose work includes RoughneckEssex County, The Underwater Welder, Royal City and Gord Downie's Secret Path. The Toronto comic creator has also worked on Justice League and Green Arrow for DC Comics and Hawkeye for Marvel.

LISTEN | Jeff Lemire takes the Proust Questionnaire: 

The graphic novelist and cartoonist on his favourite fictional character, his idea of perfect happiness, and why David Lynch and Tom Waits are heroes to him.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

English writer Anthony Burgess is the author of A Clockwork Orange, first published in 1962. (Evening Standard/Getty Images, Penguin Modern Classics)

In A Clockwork OrangeAnthony Burgess' depiction of the future, criminals wreak havoc when the sun sets. The book follows Alex, a sadistic 15-year-old boy and member of a street gang, who begins to commit heinous crimes against people. State authorities attempt to reform him with little success. A Clockwork Orange was first published in 1962. It was named one of Time's 10 best English-language novels since 1923. In 1971, it was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film by Stanley Kubrick.

Reason for censorship: Unknown reasons

Burgess was an English writer and composer. A Clockwork Orange was his most notable work. He also produced more than 250 pieces of music. He died in 1993.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

David Guterson is a novelist and essayist, best known for his book Snow Falling on Cedars. (Harcourt)

Set in an isolated community called San Piedro Island, Snow Falling on Cedars follows the death of a local fisherman in 1954, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto charged with the murder. In the trial, it becomes clear that there is more at stake than deciding Miyamoto's fate. The community is faced with the memory of its Japanese population being exiled as their neighbours watched. Snow Falling on Cedars won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award and was made into an Oscar-nominated film in 1995.

Reason for censorship: Sex

David Guterson is an American novelist. Snow Falling on Cedars is his best-known work. He is also the author of East of the MountainsOur Lady of the Forest,The Other and Ed King.

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is about a girl on a quest in a parallel universe. (Sarah Lee, Random House)

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman is a three-part series of fantasy books, including The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, that follows two children as they wander through parallel universes. The series has won several awards and has been adapted into a play, radio drama and a feature film.

Reason for censorship: Sex, violence, offensive language, satanism and witchcraft

Pullman is a bestselling British novelist. His Dark Materials is his most notable work. He was knighted in 2019 and the Times named him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine 

R.L. Stine is the creator of Goosebumps, a series of children's horror fiction novellas. (Getty Images, Scholastic)

Goosebumps is a horror fiction series for kids, in which the stories follow children who find themselves in scary situations. Sixty-two Goosebumps books were published between 1992 and 1997. The series also inspired a TV series and a feature film. 

Reason for censorship: Violence

R.L. Stine is a popular American horror writer for kids and young adults. He also wrote the Fear Street series for teen readers and several stand-alone titles.

LISTEN | R.L. Stine reflects on his legacy of writing scary stories for kids:

Young readers can thank R.L. Stine for putting visions of ventriloquist dummies, haunted summer camps and even evil sponges in their minds. The author of the wildly popular Goosebumps books is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the series with a revival of one of his creepiest characters ever: Slappy, the evil ventriloquist dummy. With Halloween around the corner, Stine looks back at his legacy of scares and shares his thoughts on why his books got even reluctant readers turning the pages.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the Banks of Plum Creek is the fourth of nine books in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, a collection of autobiographical children's novels. (HarperCollins)

In the fourth book of the Little House series, On the Banks of Plum CreekLaura Ingalls and her family leave their little house on the prairie and settle in a little house made of sod beside the banks of beautiful Plum Creek. Their father builds a sturdier house with real glass windows and a hinged door. A grasshopper plague and unforgiving blizzard cause trouble.

The Little House series was published between 1932-1943. There are eight books in the series. The series inspired the popular TV show Little House on the Prairie.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Wilder was an American writer whose own childhood in a pioneer family inspired her work. She died in 1957. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a literary classic by Mark Twain. (Legend Times Group)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a literary classic that tells the story of 13-year-old Huckleberry Finn, who in an attempt to escape from his abusive father, fakes his own death. He meets a runaway slave and they travel down the Mississippi River together on a raft. This book is still considered one of the great American novels of all-time and compulsory for fiction readers. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in 1884 and has inspired several film and TV adaptations.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Mark Twain was the pseudonym for Samuel Clemons, an American writer and humorist. His other notable book was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which is a prequel to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He died in 1910.

WATCH | Looking at Mark Twain's characters:

A look at Mark Twain's characters

4 years ago
Duration 0:44
Sandra Muse Isaacs reads through Mark Twain classics and discusses the inaccuracies.

The Best of Drawn & Quarterly edited by Chris Oliveros

Chris Oliveros is the founder of Drawn & Quarterly and was the publisher for over 25 years, from 1989 to 2015. (Drawn and Quarterly)

Drawn & Quarterly is a independent comics publisher based in Montreal, which originally began as a magazine. The Best of Drawn & Quarterly is a collection of the best entries from Drawn & Quarterly's first two years in print. The magazine later flourished into a comic and cartoon publishing company.

Reason for censorship: Sex and violence

Drawn & Quarterly currently publishes several well-known artists, including Michael DeForge, Lynda Barry, Chris Ware, Chester Brown, Julie Doucet, Seth and Adrian Tomine.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Daniel Keyes, given the Author Emeritus honor by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2000, is the author of science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon. (Aurea/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Harcourt Brace)

Flowers for Algernon, originally written as a novella and published by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, centres on a man with an intellectual disability who goes through an experimental operation to artificially increase his intelligence. In the process, his IQ shoots from 68 to 185, and the effects are life-changing. The novel was published in 1966 and won the Nebula Award for best novel that year. Flowers for Algernon has been adapted several times, as a radio drama, rock opera and for film and TV.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Daniel Keyes was an American science fiction writer, Flowers for Algernon was his most notable work. Over the course of his career, he won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award and was named Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2000. He died in 2014. 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee smiles before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House in 2007 in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

To Kill a Mockingbird is a gripping, coming-of-age story set in the South, where prejudice and inequality are prevalent. It centres on the perspective of a young girl whose father, a lawyer, risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime. To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains a fixture on school reading lists. The 1962 screen adaptation won three Oscars, including a best actor trophy for Gregory Peck's portrayal of Atticus Finch.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for the book after it was published in 1960. It remained the only book of her career until she published a sequel called Go Set a Watchman in 2015. Lee died in 2016 at the age of 89.

LISTEN | Harper Lee was an author full of secrets:

Mary McDonagh Murphy made a documentary about the beloved and famously-private writer and says, with Lee's death at 89, there are many questions the world will never have answered.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger was an American writer best known for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye. (Hulton Archive/Little, Brown And Company)

In The Catcher in the Ryedejected 16-year-old Holden Caulfield leaves his preparatory school in Pennsylvania and travels to New York for three days, where he has encounters with colourful characters and experiences that get him into trouble. The Catcher in the Rye was originally published as a serial and was released as a book in 1951. It was named by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

J.D. Salinger was a reclusive American author. He published several notable works, including Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey and The Catcher in the Rye, but didn't publish anything after 1965. He died in 2010.

LISTEN | Why do so many people love Holden Caufield?

Readers from around the world celebrate Holden Caulfield, the irresistible hero of J. D. Salinger's most famous book, The Catcher in the Rye in this documentary by IDEAS host Paul Kennedy. Holden hates phonies, and teenagers of all ages have loved him for more than half a century.

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito/Penguin Modern Classics)

Lives of Girls and Women chronicles a young girl's experience growing up in rural Ontario in the 1940s. The protagonist, Del Jordan, grapples with the crises that accompany the journey into womanhood. Lives of Girls and Women was first published in 1971. It was adapted for TV in 1994.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Munro has published 16 collections over her illustrious career. Her work has won the Nobel Prize for literature, two Scotiabank Giller Prizes, three Governor General's Literary Awards and the Man Booker International Prize. Her other books include Dance of the Happy Shades, The Love of a Good Woman and Runaway.

LISTEN | A rare conversation with Alice Munro:

A rare conversation with Canada’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In this interview from 2004, Eleanor speaks with Munro about her Giller Prize-winning collection of short stories, Runaway.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, who's written over 30 children's books, is the author of The Giver, a YA dystopian novel. (Larry D. Moore, HMH Books for Young Readers)

The Giverset in a dystopian society, tells the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly idyllic, albeit dull, uniform world — until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory. He begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community. The Giver was published in 1993. It won the Newbery Medal and was adapted into a film in 2014.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Lois Lowry is an American writer and a two-time Newbery Medal winner for Number of the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994). She is also the author of the memoir Looking Back: A Book of Memories.

Princess on the Brink by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot is the creator of The Princess Diaries. Princess on the Brink is part of the series of books. (Thesupermat, HarperCollins)

Princess on the Brink is the eighth book in the Princess Diaries series. The story follows Mia, now a junior in high school, as she faces all the challenges that come with being an upperclassman, including her boyfriend's possible move to Japan. The Princess Diaries is a popular YA series that was adapted into a film franchise in 2001.

Reason for censorship: Sex and offensive language

Meg Cabot is an American author who has published more than 50 books for adults and young adults. She is best known for the Princess Diaries series. 

Foxfire by Joyce Carol Oates

Foxfire, published in 1993, is by novellist and short story writer Joyce Carol Oates. (Oregon State University, Plume)

Foxfire is set in a blue-collar town in 1950s upstate New York, this novel follows five high school girls who form a gang dedicated to pride, power and vengeance against a world riddled with male oppressors that seems made to denigrate and destroy them. Foxfire was published in 1993, and was adapted into a film in 1996.

Reason for censorship: Sex, violence and offensive language

Joyce Carol Oates is an American novelist, literary critic, professor and playwright. Her other books include them, Black Water, What I Lived For and The Wheel of Love.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

Mordecai Richler was a Canadian journalist and author best known for his novels The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney's Version. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press, Penguin)

In The Apprenticeship of Duddy KravitzDuddy, a brash third-generation member of a Jewish immigrant family in Montreal, torments his teachers at the Jewish academy. He takes on four jobs in an effort to "be somebody" and eventually develop the lakeshore property of his dreams. In the process, he learns a few lessons about living. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was published in 1959 and was adapted into a film in 1974.

Reason for censorship: Unknown reasons

Mordecai Richler was one of Montreal's most iconic novelists. His legacy includes the novels Barney's VersionThe Apprenticeship of Duddy KravitzCocksure and St. Urbain's HorsemanHe won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction twice, once in 1968 and again in 1971, and received the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 1997. He died in 2001.

WATCH | A look at the life of Mordecai Richler:

Look Back | The Life of Mordecai Richler

7 years ago
Duration 2:14
It's been 15 years since the passing of the brilliant and controversial author Mordecai Richler.

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence was a Canadian novelist and short story writer. She authored The Diviners, published in 1974. (New Canadian Library)

The Diviners, part of a five-book fiction series, tells the story of Morag Gunn, a writer and single mother who grew up on the Canadian prairies and has no intention of leaving, because she believes the experience makes her tough. She struggles to understand the loneliness her teenage daughter feels. The Diviners was published in 1974 and won the Governor General's Literary Award for English-language fiction.

Reason for censorship: Sex and offensive language

Margaret Laurence penned several classic Canadian novels throughout her celebrated career. She twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction — first in 1966 for A Jest of God and again in 1974 for The Diviners. She died in 1987.

WATCH | Looking back on Margaret Laurence's Manawaka series:

Margaret Laurence discusses her Manawaka series in 1966

2 months ago
Duration 5:20
The author talks about her novels The Stone Angel and A Jest of God. Aired Sept. 20, 1966 on CBC's The Umbrella.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

British novelist and playright William Golding was best known for his book Lord of the Flies, published in 1954. (Faber & Faber)

In Lord of the Flies, a group of young boys are marooned on a deserted island. Once order is gone and resources become scarce, divisions form and chaos ensues among them as they each attempt to survive in the wild. Lord of the Flies was published in 1954, and is widely considered to be one of the best and most influential English- language novels.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language 

William Golding was a British novelist and playwright. Lord of the Flies was his first book. He would go on to publish 11 more, including the Booker Prize-winning Rites of Passage. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1983. He died in 1993. 

Hold Fast by Kevin Major

Hold Fast, first published in 1978, was the first book by Kevin Major. (Victoria Wells, Groundwood Books)

Hold Fast is about two brothers, Michael and Brent, who are uprooted from their tight-knit Newfoundland community and eventually separated when their parents are killed in a car accident. Hold Fast was published in 1978 and won the Governor General's Literary Award for English-language children's literature.

Reason for censorship: Unknown reasons

Kevin Major is a Canadian author who has written books for young people in addition to books for adults, poetry and plays. In 1992, he won the Vicky Metcalf Award, which is given to a children's book writer for their body of work.

Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker

Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker won the Canada Council Children's Literature Prize in 1979. (Penguin)

Underground to Canada is a historical novel for young readers that tells the story of escaped slaves from the United States who travelled into Canada through the Underground Railroad. It was published in 1977.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language

Barbara Smucker was an American children's book writer who lived in Canada. In 1988, she won the Vicky Metcalf Award, which is given to a children's book writer for their body of work. She died in 2003.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

Cecily von Ziegesar is best known for her novel Gossip Girl, which was adapted into a popular TV teen drama series. (Cecily von Ziegesar, Poppy)

Set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Gossip Girl is a series of novels that give an inside look into the glamorous, yet tumultuous, lives of a group of teenage socialites and all the drama that ensues within their circle. The book series inspired a popular TV show of the same name that ran from 2007-2012.

Reason for censorship: Unknown reasons

Cecily von Ziegesar is an American author best known for Gossip Girl. She is also the author of the It Girl book series, a spin-off of Gossip Girl.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was the author of novella and literary classic Of Mice and Men, first published in 1937. (Penguin Random House Canada)

Of Mice and Men is a novella that tells the story of two migrant ranch workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, who travel through California during the Great Depression in search of new job opportunities. Of Mice and Men was published in 1937.

Reason for censorship: Offensive language and religious issues

John Steinbeck was an American author. His other notable books include East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1962, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. He died in 1968. 

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