Banned Books discussion

Teaching a class on banned books

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message 1: by Debbie (last edited Feb 01, 2008 06:03PM) (new)

Debbie I am trying to get approval to teach a class about banned books this summer at the middle school level. I have to submit a booklist along with my proposal and am looking for some controversial books that middle schoolers will enjoy.

The ALA website has given me a start, but can anyone tell me about books that caused a stir in 2007? Or banned books that you read as a teen that made a profound impression?

message 2: by Rui T. (new)

Rui T. Romano Almeida (rtra) | 1 comments The wikipedia has a very good list of banned books:

message 3: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro | 14 comments Im not certain of books in the US but some of my favorite were banned in other parts of the world. They were mostly banned cause of thought stirring or provoking content. I personally suggest The scarlet letter and A clockwork orange.

message 4: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 23 comments The "banned" books list at wikipedia only lists books that have been banned by governments or other similar entities. The "challenged" books list might be of more use:

Middle school's tough to choose for...some kids might not have the reading level for adult material.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is one of my favorites, and represents the politics angle. A Judy Blume book might be interesting both for an adolescent sexuality topic and for the history...are they still controversial? For kids that age, who may not be avid readers, it might be interesting to throw in something like Heather Has Two Mommies, which can foster discussion without the reading getting in the way, and also gets them to think about age-appropriateness. You could probably easily discuss Harry Potter without having to ask anyone to read a thing...97% will have already read the series. And it covers the "witchcraft scares the fundamentalists" angle. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) is one that doesn't get much attention anymore and covers the violence angle. Then all you need is a book that treads on cultural toes, though there's got to be something a little more relevant than Huck Finn. Am I missing any of the major reasons books get challenged?

message 5: by Debbie (new)

Debbie I have a lot of ideas, but finding books that are controversial but still appropriate for middle school is a fine line. For example, I have some students who are very mature and would love a book like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it's not for everyone.

Here is my list of possibilities so far:

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Forever by Judy Blume
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

Books not on the list because they are already commonly taught either at MS or HS level:

THe Giver by Lois Lowry
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1984 by George Orwell

What I'm looking to add to the list are the kind of life-changing, thought-provoking books that can rock a young person's world. Any suggestions?

message 6: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 23 comments I'm glad to hear that The Giver is often taught in schools...but given that you've discarded that one, Brave New World, and 1984, what do you have that represents the politics angle?

Beloved is an excellent choice for the cultural side, as is I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and The Bluest Eye (though all written, vocab-wise, for adults).

His Dark Materials and Harry Potter seem to cover the same basic territory...the anti-christian stuff. I'd make the Pullman series extra credit, so that some of your kids would read it, since nearly all of them will come already ready to discuss HP.

Isn't A Separate Peace covered in schools anymore? I just re-read it recently and wasn't as fascinated as I thought I would be. It also seems like, with The Chocolate War and The Outsiders, you've got the "kids can be cruel" aspect down.

I don't know all the books on your list, but except for the fact that I can't identify a politics book or an alternative-sexuality one, it looks like a great list. It's too many books for kids that age to cover, but if you sort it into categories (adolescent sexuality, politics, violence, kids-are-cruel, witchcraft/non-christian, alternative sexuality, cultural boundaries), then you can make sure they each read at least one on each topic.

I think a lot of these books can be life-changing for a variety of reasons, but kids who most need their lives changed by books like these are unlikely to get that permission slip signed, and kids who have permission are likely to have their horizons already broadened in some ways. You may be preaching to the partly-converted, but if so, your job is to get them fired up, get them talking about these topics and how books might get banned/challenged, and get them interested in the WHY.

message 7: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Lisa:

I am stuck on the politics angle. I am considering Fahrenheit 451 and The Handmaid's Tale.

message 8: by Salma (new)

Salma It's funny- a lot of the banned books I see here were on my reading lists at school growing up...then again I did grow up in Queens and Jersey.

BTW- why does A Separate Peace have 'banned' qualities? I read that in eight grade and was bored outta my mind.

message 9: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Salma:

Good question. I added A Separate Peace because it was on a banned book list, but I'm not sure why it was banned. I read it years ago, but it didn't make an impression on me.

I wish I taught at a district like yours. Mine has a couple of ultra-conservative decision-makers who are on a crusade to make sure we never talk about anything real. In a district with the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, we are not allowed to teach anything remotely resembling sex ed. Like if we don't mention sex, the kids will simply never figure it out! Egads!

message 10: by hhhhhhhhh (new)

hhhhhhhhh (hissingteakettle) | 1 comments Debbie, I think A Separate Peace would be banned for its violence (youth destroying the life of another) and for the shell shocked character who goes insane (does he not commit suicide? I wish I remembered). Plus it doesn't present a positive view on war-making or authority.

I can't believe it bored you, Salma! I was obsessed with this novel and read it repeatedly from middle school through high school. At the time, I thought it was beautifully written and tragic--a soap opera, complete with christ-like figure getting knocked off by his judas best friend. In hindsight, I think the biggest impression it made on me as a young queer person was the thwarted love story: the obsessive, jealous adoration the bookish protagonist had for his athletic, loveable roommate. I picked up on and appreciated the queer subtext nine years before I would acknowledge to myself I was gay. The concept of loving something so much and considering it so perfect that you have a deranged impulse to destroy it--i think there must be a word for that in German. : ) he'd rather kill him than express his feelings, which is one motivation for hate crimes and could be a real talking point with children just learning to recognize and express complicated emotions (if your district even allows that discussion--i live in florida, i sympathize).

i think i'll go place a hold on that right now, actually. it's overdue for rereading.

but i actually hopped on this thread to suggest "Radical Reads: 101 YA Novels on the Edge" by Joni Richards Bodart, isbn 0810842874, which has some compelling recommendations that if they weren't banned somewhere probably should be. also check out anything in LCN Z 657 or Z 658 at an academic or big public library (the censorship section), you might find some inspiration there.

good luck, i admire what you're doing for your kids.


message 11: by Skip (new)

Skip | 4 comments Where do you live?
It sounds like so many places.....

message 12: by Salma (new)

Salma Maybe I should give a A Separate Peace another try. I can't believe I'm admitting this on an intellectual forum, but the real reason I think I didn't like it is because the main characters are all male, and I read it when I was in my I-hate-boys phase. Yeah.

message 13: by Salma (new)

Salma Y'know- it seems from the reading list that any work with heart, soul, intensity and just plain and uninhibited passion is 'banned' material. I only hope in that case that I can write a book that will be banned someday. :-p

Debbie, just curious, what ARE some books that are considered appropriate reading in your school?

message 14: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 23 comments Animal Farm is another interesting politics one, and it might be old-school enough not to get taught in a lot of schools. This might be a really good time in history to get kids talking about government power and how it can be abused...

message 15: by Susanna (new)

Susanna It is taught in the district I teach in. 1984 is also taught. I did teach in a district where A Wrinkle in Time was banned.

message 16: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Skip - I'm in Wisconsin. Other places in the state are wonderfully liberal, but not my district.

Salma - Oh, you know, like Anne of Green Gables and stuff like that.

message 17: by Jenni (new)

Jenni Snider (jenni-lynn) | 2 comments One of the books that came up on my radar last year was "CUT". Read it and didn't think it was too bad, but some school psychologists think it should be banned because it may cause girls to try cutting themselves.

Just wrote a paper last semester on Banned/Challeneged books. Check out the Office for Intellectual Freedom, may be able to access through ALA.

Here's another great resource for titles:

Foerstel, Herbert N.
Banned in the U.S.A..: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries

Also check out old School Library Journal articles by Pat Scales. She writes a lot of stuff for them about Challenged titles. Good Luck!

message 18: by Salma (new)

Salma "Salma - Oh, you know, like Anne of Green Gables and stuff like that."

i LOVE Anne. That's one of my favorite series! I actually re-watch the movie made with Megan Follows every year.

message 19: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 23 comments a psychologist myself, I'm pretty sure books don't cause cutting. That's a pretty freakishly naive position, and I hate it when people in my field give the field a bad name like that. That makes me sad. And also makes me curious to read the book.

message 20: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Jenni-Lynn: Thanks for the resources.

Salma: I certainly don't have anything against Anne of Green Gables. I was just trying to give an example that was appropriately innocuous. I have plenty of classics on my bookshelves, but as I specialize in reaching reluctant readers, sometimes it takes something more cutting edge.

Lisa: I agree that reading something in a book doesn't make you go out and do it. In fact, I think it work in the opposite way. If you can experience something in a book, you don't NEED to do it. My mom told me recently that she worried about some of the stuff I read when I was a kid, but she figured she didn't have to worry about me getting into too much trouble, as I was always in my room reading!

message 21: by Jenni (new)

Jenni Snider (jenni-lynn) | 2 comments What in the world did they find offensive in Anne of Green Gables?

message 22: by Salma (new)

Salma nothing- she was saying that was one of the approved books.

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

I teach a class on The Holocaust, and every year I bring in a copy of "Mein Kampf" that is annotated at the top of each page to describe what's on the page. I let the students take it for a week at a time, as I want them to understand the weakness of Hitler's "economic" plan to rebuild Germany, and his hatred, inconsistencies and pure lunacy.

At least 2 - 4 students bring the book back immediately, or I get phone calls from screaming parents - they don't want that "trash" in their house. (I teach at a Jewish School.) When I try to explain that the book that changed Germany's future is, in fact, trash, and that's why I lend it out, I still have parents who threaten to burn the book if I don't come pick it up NOW.

I guess what's good for the all they care about in their chilrens' knowledge of how Hilter wasted his 9 months in prison by dictating this trash to a man he later had put to death, because he became "inconvenient."

message 24: by Jules (new)

Jules (julylynx) | 1 comments I don't know if this is a banned book but its a book I think teen girls should read and deals with a lot of radical feminist ideas. "Cunt" by Inga Mucsio. Its pretty easy vocab wise, not fiction however.

message 25: by Lisa (last edited Feb 25, 2008 04:08AM) (new)

Lisa | 23 comments I'm looking forward to hearing the reading list for your class. It sounds like you might be in a community small enough to challenge some real pieces of interesting literature, and maybe even small enough to push against some everyday reading. It's a situation calling for some serious provocation to enforce. Dear communities: Do you think this book hurts our children? If so, how?

message 26: by Debbie (new)

Debbie My proposal didn't get approved, so I will continue to be subversive and pass out books to students as they come to me.

message 27: by Salma (new)

Salma cool- you're like the teacher in Donnie Darko!:-)

message 28: by Elysia (new)

Elysia (elysia_rae) I hope you'll get an approval Debbie, kids my age (13) and older need to be reading these books and it would be fantastic if more teachers like you were trying to teach them in schools and get more people to open up to books and not be so close minded about them just because some may have ''inappropriate'' content in them. Books shouldn't be banned period.

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