Banned Books Week 2014

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– Banned Books Week is September 21-27, 2014 –

In honor of the upcoming Banned Books week, I encourage you to check out one of my earlier posts about banned and challenged books here. You can also visit the American Library Association’s website to learn more about Banned Books Week and to find lists of frequently banned and challenged books. You could also read my post about one of this year’s most frequently challenged books, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, by clicking on this link. Another great way to celebrate the week is to pick up a banned or challenged book at your local library. You’d be surprised at how many of your favorite books have stirred up controversy! Celebrate your freedom to read!

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Another Banned Book Sighting

diaryofparttimeindianMSN posted an article about a recent book banning in an Idaho school district. The novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is written by Sherman Alexie and is a 2007 National Book Award Winner. Having recently read this novel myself, I wanted to discuss this current event.

For those of you not familiar with the book, it’s about a teenager named Arnold Spirit, or Junior, who is growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Life on the reservation is tough and his family struggles to make ends meet. Alcoholism, violence, poverty, and death are things Arnold deals with on a regular basis. Wanting to create a better life for himself, Junior decides to leave the reservation school and attend a high school where everyone is white and seemingly better-off than him. Junior includes drawings and cartoons as he tells his story about not fitting in on the reservation or off the reservation.

I had heard a lot of praise about this novel—some from students themselves—so I decided to pick the book up when I saw it at the Half Price Bookstore. I had a little trouble getting into the story at first, and I wouldn’t say it was my favorite book, but I can appreciate Sherman’s intention and creativity. I can see how teens, especially those with difficult home lives, could relate to the book and find a friend in Junior.

According to the MSN article, parents in the Idaho school district felt that the book was, “was rife with profanity, racial epithets and anti-Christian rhetoric,” and that “the book contained sexually charged material inappropriate for their children, was peppered with pejorative terms for women, people of various races and those with learning disabilities and mocked Christian beliefs.” Furthermore, a mother counted “133 profane or offensive words in its 230 pages.”

In the age of helicopter-parents, are the parents in the article correct in believing the book is bad for their children? Well, there are some swear words and derogatory language, but to me, the parents completely missed the point of the novel. Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye all contain offensive language, yet they continue to be taught in schools across the United States. The reason for this is because parents typically understand that there is a message greater than the language and an educational value in the text. Why didn’t the parents see the value in a story of a boy who tries to improve his own life and faces adversity along the way?

The only time when I feel a book should be challenged is when it is inappropriate for a particular age group or maturity level. But in the case of the Idaho story, the book was being used in a tenth grade classroom. Tenth! Not middle school, not junior high—but real, live, high school students! Tenth graders are entirely capable of having conversations about tough topics. The book is recommended for ages 12 and up. With a Lexile text score of 600L, the book is actually fairly simple to read—especially for high school students. It surprised me that parents of tenth graders got so upset about a book being used in their child’s classroom. I’m curious to know what books are allowed in the classroom.

I love the message Gretchen Caserotti, director of public libraries in Meridian, shared: “Teen fiction is often a reflection and extension of adolescents’ realities. We believe books are a powerful and safe place for kids to see outside themselves and explore a world that is increasingly diverse and complex.” And her comment makes sense. That’s why adolescents have long been drawn to books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower: they’re looking for a bit of truth amidst the chaos of growing up.

What are your thoughts? Was the Idaho school district correct in banning the book from tenth graders? Have you read the book? If so, what did you think about it?

Entry #8 – Fahrenheit 451:

bannedbooks1When access to certain books is restricted, this is known as book banning.  Books can be banned for a number of reasons, mainly for political, religious, or ethical reasons.  It’s a serious form of censorship.  Related to this, challenged books occur when a person or group tries to remove a piece of literature from a library or school curriculum.  Sometimes these challenges make sense—like protecting children when a book is too mature for a particular age level—but sometimes books are challenged for silly reasons.  For example, see Buzzfeed’s list “15 Books Banned for the Most Absurd Reasons Ever” by clicking here.

As an English teacher and avid reader, I don’t like to see access restricted to books.  It seems that if a person has a problem with a particular book, that person should just not read it!  Simple, right?  If you’re a reader, you’ve probably read a lot of banned and challenged books.

One of the most frequently challenged/banned books is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Published in 1960, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel is challenged for its offensive language and racism.  However, racism is exactly what Lee seems to be fighting against in this classic novel.  Scout, Jem, and we as readers learn about life and how to treat one another through poignant messages such as

  • “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
  • “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
  • “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

If you’ve never read Harper Lee’s novel, or if it’s been decades since you’ve read it, I highly recommend that you check it out.  Chapter after chapter will remind you why this banned book is also on the Must Read list.

Check out how many books you’ve read on the American Library Association’s (ALA) Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books from 2000-2009:

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel by George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the creators of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

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