We’re amazed by some of the books for kids and young adults which have been often banned and challenged. S-Collection has another list of challenged and banned kids’ books. A definitive list isn’t possible, simply because there isn’t a central banning and challenging agency or process. Some books may be banned only in one library or school. These lists show books which have frequently been the subject of complaints and protests at libraries and schools.
We don’t want to give you yet another list, but we will be bringing you lesson plans for books from these lists all week, should you want to explore some of these books with your students.
Some of them may not be appropriate for your classroom, or there may be parts which are offensive to you or your community and you would prefer not to include them. Does that mean that these books should not be available to anyone in the library? It’s a question worth discussing.
Reasons for challenges
The reasons for challenges vary a great deal:
- Racial slurs and epithets Many parents don’t want their kids to hear or see offensive terms for people of other ethnic or religious backgrounds. Many don’t want their kids exposed to stereotypes of groups of people. We have a lot of sympathy for this point of view. But then what do you do with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Unquestionably a classic of American literature and an important book, this book uses the unquestionably racist language and ideas of the time to make some significant points about those very attitudes.
- Sexual situations and drug use We have a rating system for movies to shield children from adult behavior. What about books? Excellent award-winning books like Julie of the Wolves and The Giver have been challenged for this reason, as have sex education books. But is it the case that if we never bring up the topic, kids won’t think of it? Might it not be better to give kids the chance to think about these subjects in a supportive environment? Another award winner, Maurice Sendak’s charming picture book In the Night Kitchen, is another in this category. A little boy in a dream loses his clothes. I was really startled to hear that this book, one I loved to read to my own preschoolers, was considered sexy by anyone.
- Witchraft and magic It’s not only Harry Potter who has gotten in trouble for this. A wide range of fantasy stories including witches, unicorns, and such have offended people enough to create complaints. Other books in this category include favorite traditional Halloween stories and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis. Sometimes people want such books banned because they make witchcraft or magic sound appealing, and sometimes because they present negative images of witches. Either way, this can be a religious issue. It can certainly be difficult to discuss religion in the classroom. Still, religion and mythology are both part of human culture; is it honest to leave them out of education entirely?
- Violence We don’t condone excessive violence in materials for children. However, The Five Chinese Brothers was apparently banned because it seemed too violent. See our lesson plans and decide for yourself. Kipling’s classic Just So Stories have also been tagged for violence. Check out our Elephant lesson plans for ideas for reading “The Elephant’s Child” from this collection. If it’s just a matter of figuring out how violent is too violent, though, this may be a tough call.
- Politics I’m not sure if “politics” is exactly the right word for this group, ranging from the clever and thought-provoking chapter book Frindle to the environmental parable The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, plus clearly political books like Animal Farm. Sometimes these books are challenged for being “socialistic” or for showing disrespect for authority, sometimes for being political. Like religion, politics is part of human culture. I’m not sure that we want to send a message to the rising generation that being political is bad — at least, not if we want them to rock the vote when they turn 18.
We’re not saying that this is easy. We are saying that it’s worth thinking about and talking about.
What will you be doing for Banned Books Week?