May 25, 2006

Assigning Banned Books

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:32 pm by mrsmauck

My initial reaction to this post at Education Matters on parents’ moral outrage to required reading lists at an Illinois high school was dread. I’m planning on doing a freedom of speech unit with banned book projects, so the idea that parents could attempt to limit our reading choices is chilling. I’ve only read one of the particular books under fire at Lennie’s school–Kate Chopin’s The Awakening–but I plan on reading Slaughterhouse-Five and Beloved this summer. I come from a journalism background, but I’ve never been a bulldog reporter: I worked at the Entertainment section for most of my two-year college newspaper career, and I do freelance PR writing now. However, freedom of speech is a right I hold near and dear. Banning books obviously infringes on this right.

BUT…there’s a difference between banning a book and assigning a book in class. President Eisenhower once said,

Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

Can I get an amen? Censors are taking away our right to choose. But don’t teachers possess a little of that potent power that censors claim? I want to choose books that touch the hearts and open the minds of young people, but I don’t want to offend anyone’s sense of decency. Last year in my Native American lit class, we were assigned a book that was so repugnant with dirty sex and nasty language that I felt sinful just reading it. Parts of it read like porn. (The book was Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart). Although there were important dystoptian themes of social responsibility and environmentalism, I couldn’t process them well because I was reading in dread of the next graphic scene. I don’t want to generate that kind of response from anyone. The parents don’t concern me too much, but I don’t want to abuse my power to select what the kids read and offend someone. I checked out the ALA’s 100 most banned books from 1990-2000, and here are some of the ones I read as a young person and still feel fondness and familiarty when I read the titles. Many of these I’ve re-read as an adult. The numbers represent their ranking on the list.

9. Bridge to Terabithia: I sought out my own Terabithias after this, my own magical places of solitude where I reigned as queen.

14. The Giver: I remember looking up from the book and observing color for really the first time in my life. A world of black and white! A world of no variation in God’s great landscape! Oh, the tragedy.

21. The Great Gilly Hopkins: Sometimes I wonder if Gilly’s experience with Trotter is what inspired my mom to become a foster parent. I respect her so much for that, and I saw our most difficult foster kids as Gilly.

22. A Wrinkle in Time: I took this blog’s URL from this book! Those ghosts of stars, Ms. Which, Ms. Whatsit, and Ms. Who, were haunting and entertaining at the same time! Meg was like friend to me.

27. The Witches: Okay, I’ll admit it: this book freaked me out as a kid. But I loved it! And re-read it! And watched the TV movie version repeatedly! It was good-scary.

29. The Anastasia series: Anastasia was another of my book-friends. I kept notebooks of lists, like her, and picked up words that I liked to use in conversation. This is still where I get my mental pictures of Boston.

30. The Goats: I was probably in middle school when I read this, and the idea of being hated so much by your peers absolutely scared me out of my head. But then the idea that you can find friendship even in these horrible circumstances comforted me.

38. Julie of the Wolves: A teenager caught in an arranged marriage escapes into the Alaskan wild, thinking she’ll find safe haven in her penpal, who lives in California. Oh the irony!

41. To Kill a Mockingbird: Hands down, one of my favorite books of all time. This is how I learned about civil rights and inequality. Scout is one of my favorite book-friends.

51. A Light in the Attic: What on earth? How could this book be challenged? This was my introduction to poetry, and I devoured all of it!

So I guess what I’ve decided is there are plenty of “banned books” (which are actually technically “challenged books“) that are perfectly appropriate, beautiful to read, and meaningful to young people–evem innocent little old me. I’ll leave you with two quotes on censorship from one of my favorite YA authors, and an author whose books are frequently challenged and/or banned, Judy Blume:


Censors don’t want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way, the shelves in the school library would be close to empty.

But it’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.


  1. Courtney said,

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I contemplate my banned books research project. There are numerous banned books out there that I just don’t think will be appropriate for ninth graders- I really like Eisenhower’s quotation about that!! By the way they dress, some ninth graders don’t seem to have a well-defined personal sense of decency!

    And the reason I first came to your blog is b/c of the Wrinkle in Time reference. I love Madeleine L’Engle!

  2. Kim said,

    Courtney, I would definitely create a decent list of books that have been “challenged”–the ones I’ve read and still consider them appropriate and valuable.

  3. Onyx said,

    You must read Chris Crutcher’s Sledding Hill. It deals with banning. Crutcher is a superb YA author

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