Friday, September 26, 2014

My Thoughts on Banned Books

*Note: This actually began as a Facebook post until I realized I had WAY more to say about it.*

So you may have heard that it's banned books week. Actually it's the tail end of it (I'll have to put next year's on my calendar). I've been reading a lot of articles and lists of why different books have been banned and wanted to add my two cents.

I've been teaching for nine years and have been actively reading ever since I learned how. The love for books was instilled in me at a very young age. My dad was an English major in college and read to me from the very beginning. Although I grew up in a Southern Baptist pastor's home in south Mississippi, though, my parents always tried to make sure I understood why they didn't agree with certain beliefs and lifestyles. We talked. I was encouraged to ask questions, and they would answer them to the best of their ability. I remember when "homosexuality" became a hot topic. I'm not exactly sure if I brought it up or not (it was around a presidential debate), but they explained what it was and why the bible says it's wrong. 
(I know that not everyone reading this agrees, and I'm sure some of you are mad that I even added that. Please know that I have given this topic MUCH more thought as I have gotten older and this has continued to become a less popular belief. If you disagree, I would love to have a deeper discussion with you about my beliefs, just not on here. I PROMISE you that I don't hate homosexuals and may even surprise you with some of the thoughts and conclusions that I have come to. Likewise, I am willing to listen to your side of the story.)

As I went to high school and college, I would always joke that everyone kept me sheltered, but that's only half true. Yes, I was kept away from the party scene and was your by-the-book "goody two-shoes", but I knew what was going on. I knew some of my friends drank, were abused, experimented with drugs or sex, etc. I see too many people now that are so scared of their children going off the deep end that they leave them completely ignorant of beliefs, ideas, and hardships that may make them sad or upset. I actually had a parent this week that didn't want her child to read The Whipping Boy because it was too sad, and "fifth grade is so young to even think about beatings". If that's the case, then we should never learn about the Holocaust or September 11 or almost anything else "hard" that happens in history.

The truth of the matter is that life is tough. Our children will grow up (whether we like it or not), and they will experience situations that are uncomfortable or just flat out terrible. It is our job as parents and teachers to prepare them for the real world. This is why I choose some books that may be sad or even terrible. I surely didn't read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, or Where the Red Fern Grows to my students for a good laugh (and yes, I read all of those books as read alouds to 4th graders, some for multiple years). But those book teach important life lessons. They create discussions where students begin to question actions and develop a strong sense of right and wrong.

Do I believe parents should be involved in the final decision of what their child reads? a point. Really ask yourself why you don't want your student to read the book. Are they too young for it? Then I would ask why. Is it because it will bring up topics that are inappropriate to dwell on at their age? Then I would probably agree with the parent. I personally don't agree with my students (3rd and 4th grade) reading The Hunger Games and thinking about children killing other children, although I tell them that they can read it IF their parents are okay with it. I would also not want my teenage daughter (if I had one) touching Fifty Shades of Grey AT LEAST until she was married. But if it's something they are already aware of (like war, death, divorce, historical events), then I would maybe read along with them and discuss it. Then if it seems like too much, you can always stop.

Please don't just "go with the flow" and prevent your child from reading just because someone said it was a "bad book". If you did, you probably would have never read Where the Wild Things Are (too scary). And seriously, can you imagine a world without Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Personally, I loved the fact that those terrible kids finally got their "just deserts" (and that is the correct spelling; I looked it up).

What are your thoughts? I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me.


  1. I think with everything we choose to use in teaching, it's important to read it ahead to be familiar with anything that may come up. I have had kids bring books up to me with curse words in them before, and I typically tell them it's the author's way of showing character traits, but it doesn't give us the right to use them. One book I had to read for my adolescent lit class that was banned was The Slave Dancer. It was a powerful book and scenes from the book really stuck with me, even now. It had graphic scenes of mistreatment and I believe it would have been very painful for an African American student to read. Would I use it in my classroom? I don't think I would. I just don't think I could knowing how it would make some of the students feel. Is The Whipping Boy in the same class?? No. Neither is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Is it fine to read independently with a parent? Absolutely, but I do think that parental guidance would be advised. Thanks for the great post. Great thinking material..

  2. I do agree that life is full of ugly truth and we do have to prepare our children for the real world. But not when they're nine years old. I am all for having frank and open discussions with my kids and we do that almost daily about everything and anything, but I also want my kids to be kids - innocent and sheltered and blind to the ugliness of the world (at least through elementary school.) There is plenty of time for my boys to learn the truth about the world. There is no rush.

    When my oldest was in 6th grade, the teacher assigned The Red Kayak, a book about some boys who sabotage a kayak which results in the death of a 3 year old boy. I did express my displeasure with the use of the book. My 11 year old son (who had a 3 year old brother at home at the time) did not need to have the image of a dead toddler in his psyche. The teacher said she was trying to illustrate that actions can have dire consequences. I think that could have been done with a different book for that age group. I am not opposed to exposing my children to any of this, but sometimes it is best to wait until they are older. They are only children for such a short time - why make it shorter?
    I feel the same way about 9/11 and the Holocaust. I absolutely want my kids to learn the truth, but in due time. If my kids came home from school and had been told about 9/11 in first or second grade, I would not be happy. Six year olds don't need that kind of truth in their heads.

    I am amazed at the insight my middle school boys have when we discuss difficult subjects. I love that we can talk about anything and work through all sorts of perspectives, emotions, and opinions. And I am open to my kids eventually reading absolutely any book on the planet.
    But I am glad I held out and gave them more time to be naive and innocent to the real world.

  3. I should preface my comment with the fact that I am not a parent (not yet). And I do understand and respect that parents have the best understanding of their children and how to raise/teach them about specific content such as death, violence, etc. Books are powerful ways to express and trigger discussions about such things but in a way that allows critical thinking and understanding the why's of certain character actions. I am a child, personally, that has always been more mature than my friends and childhood peers growing up. I had parents who were completely open to me asking questions about the world because, we all know, that there are moments of tragedy and ugliness. I think it's important for parents to judge what their child is capable of handling, at any age! One sibling is going to respond differently than another and I don't think there's anything wrong with either shielding and protecting their 'innocence' or exposing them to the complexities of the real world through books. I remember last year students who read the I Survived...series and they were about the Holocaust, 9/11, and the Titanic (to name a few). It's even interesting to hear the questions when learning about Native Americans and their history with the English or even Famous Americans. Luckily, they have no understanding of why people would do mean things to people with different colored skin. However, it's a part of our past that, in my opinion, needs to be discussed and truthfully. But again, I agree with all of you that ultimately it is up to the teacher to make a judgement call or even notify parents ahead of time about the books they want to use and it's up to the parent to make the call on what they think their children can handle and be open to exposing them gradually BUT reading with them so it's more of a discussion and you can moderate what they are reading about. Books are wonderful and engagement is a huge piece to how a chid develops their learning...I never understood these banned books and why they're banned in the first place but again I may have a slightly different understanding once I have children of my own! Thanks for posting about this! Great food for thought! :)

    Sliding Into Second Grade

  4. I love this post. I was a super sheltered kid growing up, but because I read so much and so fast, my parents couldn't censor my reading....not that I remember reading anything super scandalous. Sometimes I do wish books had some kind of rating system....not bannings. I recently read Looking for Alaska...and was a bit shocked by some of the content. It is not quite the same as The Fault in Our Stars and the hype from one book often inspires readers to read more of that author....and not all books are the same. A rating system may help people monitor and make choices good for each reader. Sorry for the rambling....I love reading "banned" books!
    Chickadee Jubilee

  5. I wish books had a rating system too! It would be so much easier than having to read every new book I want to recommend to students or add to my class library! And I definitely don't think books should be "banned." Great and interesting post!

  6. Anything on Where the red fern grows

  7. Anything on Where the red fern grows