Raising a Ruckus

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain cover, Jim and Huck sitting by the river

Children's books have often served as lightning rods for controversy, with topics considered taboo—Death! Race! Sex!—and notions of child-appropriateness triggering sharp debate and vigorous efforts to limit or bar access to certain books. While acts of censorship are often driven by overt political or cultural agendas, other, more ambiguous cases blur the line between blatant suppression and well-intentioned editorial—or parental—judgment.

In the United States, censorship has typically been instigated by self-appointed gatekeepers, not centralized governmental authorities. Cold War-era authors Garth Williams, Madeleine L'Engle, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and Judy Blume saw their popular books routinely challenged, primarily by fundamentalist religious groups.

Nearly a century before, Mark Twain had divined an upside to such pious literary witch-hunts. When informed that the Concord, Massachusetts, public library had "expelled" Huckleberry Finn from its shelves, deeming it "trash," Twain crowed to his publisher, "That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure."


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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain cover, gold etching on green book cloth

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Written by Mark Twain

Illustrated by Edward W. Kemble

1884

Pippi Långstrump by Astrid Lindgren cover, a young girl with bright orange braids and a monkey

Pippi Långstrump

(Pippi Longstocking)

Written by Astrid Lindgren

Illustrated by Ingrid Vang-Nyman

1945

The Rabbits' Wedding by Garth Williams cover, a black and white rabbit holding paws and throwing yellow flowers

The Rabbits' Wedding

Written and Illustrated by Garth Williams

1958

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle cover, concentric circles around three figures on a dark blue background

A Wrinkle in Time

Written by Madeleine L'Engle

2012

The Beast of Monsieur Racine by Tomi Ungerer cover, a man and a mysterious creature

The Beast of Monsieur Racine

Written and Illustrated by Toni Ungerer

1971

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume cover, a girl sits on a white bed, against a yellow background

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

Written by Judy Blume

1972

The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman 1923 cover, a stereotype cartoon of a black boy is holding an umbrella

The Story of Little Black Sambo

Written by Helen Bannerman

1903

Little Black Sambo illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren cover,  a young boy is talking to a tiger who holds an umbrella with its tail

Little Black Sambo

Written by Helen Bannerman

Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

1948

Sam and the Tigers by Julius Lester cover, a well dressed boy is holding a green umbrella, a tiger lurks in the grass behind him

Sam and the Tigers

Written by Julius Lester

Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

1996

The Story of Little Babji by Helen Bannerman cover, a well dressed boy is holding a green umbrella and riding a tiger

The Story of Little Babaji

Written by Helen Bannerman

Illustrated by Fred Marcellino

1996

Raising a Ruckus