Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week

As a parent, I admit that I have a liberal perspective about what my kid can read. She started reading The Walking Dead comic books in 2nd grade with her dad, a consummate lover of comic books or graphic novels. At first, I felt a little uncomfortable with the content, zombies and violence, but she was reading with a trusted adult.  She read Divergent and the Hunger Games series last year as a fourth grader, because she was ready to read them on her own. We read Lois Lowry's The Giver together this past summer, because  we needed to talk about the issues that the book raised. I take a different approach in my classroom, however, based on my belief that teachers are "in loco parentis" during the day. 

We must always be mindful of our students, our purpose, and our community when we make instructional decisions about the books we choose to teach.  I always have sent a letter hime to parents at the beginning of the year to tell them about the diversity of books in my classroom library including content as well as let them share any values that I should be mindful of when recommending independent reading books to their child. 

My favorite often challenged book is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I once sat on a committee to review that book after a parent challenged the use of it for AP summer reading. A committee of twelve, with members from the community and teachers from different disciplines read or reread  the book, reviewed the complaints, and made a recommendation.  I found that in my rereading of the book, the first at age 20, the second at age 34, the book had evolved into a classic. We decided that the book should be read with teacher support during the year to address the issues that arise in the text.  The parents left satisfied that their concerns had been addressed and the teacher was satisfied that she could continue to use the book. We had a plan in place. Each school should have a protocol in place to deal with such issues when they arise. The best place to find help is here at NCTE's sitehttp://www.ncte.org/action/anti-censorship. 

After my experience on the committee, I made sure that I had a clearly defined purpose and rationale for teaching titles such as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to my students.  What I discovered is that the details that we pay attention to as we read to ourselves independently differ from when we find ourselves reading a book aloud to our students or to an imagined audience. We must take care. 


  1. "We must always be mindful of our students, our purpose, and our community when we make instructional decisions about the books we choose to teach." This definitely resonates with me. Last year, I taught reading in a low-SES, diverse area. After my first novel choice, it became clear that to be successful in having the students connect to the novels I chose, I needed to select stories that they could relate to. "Maniac Magee," in my opinion, probably stuck with them more than "The Witches" because it is a fictitious tale of the life they lead. I appreciate your acknowledgement of this. You've hit the nail on the head.

  2. Letting students choose books allows for some of the same controversies. It is not possible to always be on the same page as parents. We do the best we can, and if we are thoughtful, no one can ask more of us.


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