Banned Books Week: Roald Dahl


In celebration of Banned Books Week, we’re highlighting a few our favorite books (and authors) that have been challenged in schools and libraries because of content or appropriateness.

My wonderful 3rd grade teacher Miss Garrett read to my class every single day. This was the only part of school I ever liked. Ever. She covered a lot of classics, but her favorite author was clearly Roald Dahl. She read James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and The Witches. (Probably more, but in my defense 3rd grade was a long time ago.) Imagine my surprise as an adult to learn all of these titles have been challenged and/or banned! 

James and the Giant Peach

‘Something is about to happen,’ he told himself. ‘Something peculiar is about to happen at any moment.’ He hadn’t the faintest idea what it might be, but he could feel it in his bones that something was going to happen soon. He could feel it in the air around him … in the sudden stillness that had fallen upon the garden.

Number 50 on 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, 1990-1999

Four year old James loses his parents in a terrible rhinoceros attack. He is sent to live with two horrible aunts who abuse him, make him sleep on bare floorboards, never give him food or let him play with other children. Several years later James meets a mysterious man who gives him a sack of tiny glowing-green crocodile tongues. Filled with the promise of happiness and adventures, James trips and spills the magic tongues onto the roots of a peach tree. The peach tree becomes enchanted and one particular peach grows to be the size of a house. Inside this giant peach live a rag-tag bunch of insects who embark on an epic adventure with James at the helm.

Challenged and banned for:

  • Being too scary for the targeted age group
  • Promoting mysticism
  • Too many sexual inferences
  • Too much profanity
  • Racism
  • References to tobacco and alcohol
  • Promotes disobedience
  • Promotes drugs
  • Promotes communism 

And this passage was considered “too sexual.”

The walls were wet and sticky, and peach juice was dripping from the ceiling. James opened his mouth and caught some of it on his tongue. It tasted delicious.

The Witches

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.

Number 22 on 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books, 1990-1999

An orphan and his cigar-smoking Norwegian grandmother bond to outsmart the witches in this oddly plausible tale. And while this unnamed orphan is unfortunate enough to be turned into a mouse by the Grand High Witch of All the World, at least he and his grandmother have some adventures on the way.

Challenged and Banned for:

  • Being too violent
  • Anti-Feminist
  • Offends witches
  • Devalues the life of a child


“Do you like vegetables?” Sophie asked, hoping to steer the conversation towards a slightly less dangerous kind of food.

“You is trying to change the subject,” the Giant said sternly. “We is having an interesting babblement about the taste of the human bean. The human bean is not a vegetable.”

The BFG is about a little girl named Sophie, kidnapped by the Big Friendly Giant and taken to Giant Country. He confesses he is the world’s only good giant and that there is large group of giants who enjoy eating people. Sophie and the BFG become allies in their efforts to rid the world of bad giants and even involve the Queen of England!

Challenged and Banned for:

  • Too mature for the intended audience
  • Teaches poor moral values
  • Cannibalism

I would like to add that I have read all three of these books countless times and not once have I indulged in communism or cannibalism. As to the profanity…well, I can blame a lot of other things for that.



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12 responses to “Banned Books Week: Roald Dahl

  1. Tim

    And check those Quentin Blake illustrations. So creepy.

  2. Joelle

    My 6th grade teacher read James and the Giant Peach to us. It motivated us to be good all day, so he would read it. My 9 year old daughter LOVES Dahl.

  3. I love hearing the reason it was banned.

  4. Roald Dahl taught us that ‘if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely’. I don’t see how that’s ‘teaching poor moral values’. Although it did have some gruesome stuff, like the time they put a dead mouse in a candy store, I think they were great books and will always remain as apart of my childhood memories.

  5. lectorconstans

    It was getting to the point where anything abut anything more serious than puppies and kitties was under suspicion.

    Dahl had another side – or maybe just his same side under full daylight. A long time a go I read his “Kiss, Kiss” – a really dark story. It seems to be in collections now (see Amazon, ‘roald dahl’). Also, “Fantastic Mr Fox”, and screenwriter for a couple of Ian Fleming novels (“You Only Live Twice” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”).

    About cannibalism – what about “Jack and the Beanstalk”, or just about any of the Brothers Grimm stories. (It may not be true that our word “grim” comes from them.)

  6. James and the giant peach – I heard that is very good book, what do you think? Or there are better books from this list??

  7. Rebekah

    I love Roald Dahl’s work and am delighted to tell others to read these banned books!

  8. Witches is the absolute best. And also a little bit terrifying.

  9. Pingback: Book Review: “The BFG” | The Cheap Reader

  10. Pingback: Free Short Stories | Winter Hill

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