Today’s prompt asks what books you would put on your syllabus if you were teaching X 101 (YA fantasy 101, classics 101, etc). So I decided to do a topic that is near and dear to my heart — Banned Books 101. Some of the most proactive and important fiction has been banned because these books challenge conventional norms and forcing readers to confront uncomfortable truths. Here are the books I would teach in a course on essential censored reading.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Banned for: offensive language, racism
To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned consistently for its frank depiction of racism as well as the occasional swear word (quelle horreur). A school disctrict in Texas challegned the book because it “conflicted with the value of the community”. Racism is uncomfortable topic to discuss, but that makes it all the more important — especially when racism remains alive and well in today’s America. Attempting to ignore this book — and its message of institutionalized racism and discrimination — attempts to shut out both out history and our reality.
The Alice Series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Banned for: offensive language, being sexually explicit
Spend any time at all on my blog and you know that the Alice series holds a very special place in my heart. They made me love reading and made me less scared to grow up. Because they discuss sex, puberty, and bodies, they are frequently among the most challenged and banned books. But they also teach the important values of friendship and family, as well as answer questions that young readers may often feel too shy or embarrassed to bring up with friends or family.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Banned for: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, violence.
You have to admire Alexie for the laundry list of items his coming-of-age quasi-memoir has been banned for — he has managed to offend plenty of people with a lovely novel about a young Indian man leaving his reservation for the first time. Its a hilarious tear-jerker that teaches kids and adults alike about tolerance, bravery and forging your own path. Essential reading.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Banned for: satanism/occult
How can a series of books that teaches children (and adults) the values of friendship, bravery and sacrifice be banned? Because it has magic in it, of course. Parents have taken offense to the series because they believe in promotes “anti-Christian values”. For the generation the grew up on Harry, having Harry Potter on the curriculum serves to emphasize the sheer ridiculousness of some of the challenges made against banned books.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Banned for: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, ‘dirty talk,’ references to the Bible, and using God’s name in vain
There is a deep and pervasive irony in the concept of banning a book that’s all about the censorship of knowledge. For the uninitiated, the title is taken from the temperature at which paper burns — 451 degrees, Fahrenheit. Book burning and censorship features prominently into the story, so its a perfect study on what happens when we attempt to restrict information.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Banned for: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
Yes, there are humans in this word who take offensive with this GRAPHIC NOVEL CONTAINING GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS. Let me just say that graphic novels are some of the only books that can turn non-readers into readers, and this is a fascinating first-hand account of a time in a country that doesn’t get discussed often in American classrooms. The people who would ban this book are the people who are scared of people who are different. It’s that simple.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Banned for: Discussion of sexual assault, being “soft porn” (this is real life, they’re calling a rape scene soft porn).
This book nails the high school experience on the head. I went for so long without reading it, and once I did, boom – insta-favorite. It deals with rape in a powerful way without relying on graphic violence. Just because a book discussions difficult subject matter doesn’t mean its “wrong”; these issues need to be taught with maturity and grace, which LHA does exactly in Speak.
I know it’s supposed to be top TEN Tuesday, not top seven Tuesday, but nothing turns students off more than seeing a massive list of books at the start of their syllabus right? What do you think are some essential banned books?