Banned Book Reading Recs: Wisconsin Bookstore Owners Share Their Favorites

By Salina Heller

October 3, 2023

Wisconsin is home to 50 independent bookstores. For them, Banned Books Week is more than just a celebration of the right to read–it’s a reminder of the challenges book lovers face.

As Republicans continue to challenge the books offered by local libraries, neighborhood schools, and small booksellers, we talked to three local bookstore owners–from Menomonie, Spooner, and Wausau–about their favorite banned or challenged books and why you should read them.

RELATED: Banned Book Backlash–How Wisconsin Libraries Are Fighting to Keep All Titles on Shelves

Here are 10 titles to add to your reading list:

Ann Vogl, Owner of Dragon Tale Books, Menomonie

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

“This is one of the most challenged books over the last ten years, but it’s a great young adult novel that tackles many tough issues, like poverty, alcohol, bullying and sexuality.”

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

“This graphic memoir explores the author’s journey from adolescence to adulthood. I think many teenagers struggle with fitting in, but this book shows additional gender identity struggles and their difficulty to fit into a strict binary system.”

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

“This is the second book in a great fantasy romance series. The first is loosely a fairy Beauty and the Beast. But the second takes an unexpected turn, and you’ll be swept up in all the politics, power, and passion.”

Banned Book Reading Recs: Wisconsin Bookstore Owners Share Their Favorites

Photo courtesy Ann Vogl

Carol Blizzard Dunn, Owner of Northwind Book & Fiber, Spooner

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

“This was banned in the past primarily for containing witchcraft, but the thrilling stories are really about friendship, loyalty, and right and wrong.”

The Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“This is a moving story of a boy killed by police who meets other fallen ‘ghost boys.’ It was banned for depictions of racism and police brutality, but I would recommend it because we see too many similar stories in the news.”

The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones

“This has been banned because it makes people uncomfortable about our history. I recommend it for that very reason. It reframes our understanding of how whether we are white or black still affects so much today.”

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

“This picture book is about the true story of two male penguins in a zoo that raise a penguin baby. It was banned for perceived homosexual overtones, but it’s just a charming book about diverse families.”

Banned Book Reading Recs: Wisconsin Bookstore Owners Share Their Favorites

Photo courtesy Carol Dunn

Jane Janke Johnson, Owner Janke Book Store, Wausau

Hatchet by Gary Paulson

“This superb Newberry award-winning young chapter book is a coming-of-age story about wilderness survival.”

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

“This Caldecott award-winning storybook is a masterpiece of fantastical monsters. It has entertained kids for 50 years!”

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

“Anne represents a generation of Jews, some who survived WWII, and some who did not survive. We must never forget.”

Banned Book Reading Recs: Wisconsin Bookstore Owners Share Their Favorites

Photo courtesy Jane Janke Johnson


  • Salina Heller

    A former 15-year veteran of reporting local news for western Wisconsin TV and radio stations, Salina Heller also volunteers in community theater, helps organize the Chippewa Valley Air Show, and is kept busy by her daughter’s elementary school PTA meetings. She is a UW-Eau Claire alum.



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