“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
If you’re someone who reads our blog, chances are you are aware of the barrage of book bans, book challenges, and, yes, even threats of book burnings in the US these past several months.
The list of books being challenged is long, and the challenges have little to do with the actual educational value of the books in question. The challenges are all about preventing children from having access to and the freedom to choose books that center a range of perspectives and, more often than not, the perspectives of characters who have been underrepresented in libraries and classrooms for far too long. These challenges focus on books kids desperately need to better understand themselves, their peers, and the world they live in. (See Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s Windows and Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors for more information about this idea).
Because that’s what books do. They let us see ourselves. They let us see that we’re not alone in our struggles, our confusion, and even our joys. And, they let us see outside of ourselves into a wider world. They let us explore different perspectives, try on different points of view, and develop empathy.
I remember finding such a book in my local library when I was 10. Even though the book was about a 15 year-old girl, the heart of the book – the character’s fears, worries, grief, and guilt – mirrored by own, and reading it made me feel less alone and less broken in the year after my father’s death. The book was Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume – a book that has been banned for sexual content and language in school districts across the country. I’m forever grateful that no one deemed that book “too adult” or “inappropriate” for ten-year-old me. They couldn’t possibly have known how much I needed to travel with Davey that year and to read the words “We’re going to be all right,” at the book’s end.
As I look through the recent list of banned and challenged books, I don’t just see books, I see the faces of the students I have handed these books to, students I have had long and engaged conversations with about characters and settings and plot and life. I see students who read more, felt more, and thought more simply because they were given the choice to read a book that spoke to something they have experienced, or recognized, or wondered about.
I asked the other members of the blog to share some of the banned and challenged books they love. The list is varied – and not nearly long enough, but here are some of MUF’s favorite banned middle grade titles:
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Are You There God It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
New Kid by Jerry Craft
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
Melissa (Previously titled George) by Alex Gino
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkney
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Even the inspiration of this blog – From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg – has been banned.
This list is merely a tiny glimpse of the books being pulled off of school and library shelves. There are far too many more. The American Library Association has lists of Frequently Challenged Books on their website. It’s worth checking out.
If, like me, you are looking for ways to take action, check out the resources at:
The National Coalition Against Censorship
Texas Library Association
American Library Association
National Council of Teachers of English
Lots of people smarter than I am have written their thoughts on the subject as well. Check out Kate Messner’s post for an Open Letter that educators and librarians can share.
And, read this statement signed by authors, educators, librarians, booksellers, publishers, concerned citizens and organizations standing up for students and their First Amendment rights.
Please, comment below with your favorite banned/challenged book as well as any resources you’d like to share.
And remember, books are powerful. No one would want to ban them if they weren’t.