SUPPORT AND READ BANNED & CHALLENGED BOOKS!
Our fundamental freedom to read continues to be challenged. Children’s books are constant targets of book-banning efforts in school systems and public libraries. Random House Children’s Books is committed to those who stand against censorship, and we continue to publish books that celebrate the freedom of expression. We are proud to support our authors’ right to write and our readers’ right to read.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
—The First Amendment
Here are some suggestions on how to facilitate conversation in your classroom, community, or library for banned books week.
Looking for book recommendations for banned books week to give your readers? Here are some picks from Random House Children’s Books Staff that will empower readers.
DISCUSSION TOPICS AND ACTIVITIES
Invite discussion about the various themes of the chosen book. Remind readers to look at the full work and to not take challenged information out of context.
Stress the importance of freedom of choice—to pick up a book or reject it. Most readers will innately reject what they aren’t ready for.
Author meaning—Ask book group members to think about what the author might have meant when he or she wrote the book. For instance, why might the author have chosen to include particular language?
Opposing viewpoints or healthy discussion? When there are conflicting opinions about the book being discussed, it is important to encourage opposing viewpoints so that all students understand that their views count. This is the very basis of the First Amendment!
Challenge vs. Censorship—Have the class discuss the difference between a book challenge and censorship. How might some book challenge cause school officials to ultimately censor a book? Ask students to find out the school district’s policy regarding issues related to questionable books and materials. Invite a school board member or a district official to speak to the class about local challenges.
Dramatic Presentations—Stage a talk show featuring a parental challenge to one of the books shown on the poster. The host or hostess of the show should give a brief synopsis of the book and an overview of the challenge. Guests should include: parents who oppose the book, parents who support the book, a school or public library board member, a librarian, and several young adults who have read the book. Ask students in the audience to be prepared with pertinent questions. A Banned Books Week theme is “Let Freedom Read: Read a Banned Book.” After the class has participated in a thorough discussion about the First Amendment and the freedom to read, ask them to prepare a dramatic interpretation of the Banned Books Week theme. Encourage them to perform for a PTA group and other classes in their school.
Essay Writing—Contrast the meaning of intellectual freedom and censorship. Have students write an essay that explains the thought that intellectual freedom is about respect, and censorship about disrespect.
Let the Press Know! Encourage students to write an editorial for the local newspaper about Banned Books Week and teenagers’ right to read.
Explain the Situation
When faced with a challenge to a book in your collection, explain your selection process—and the legal protection of that policy—to the complainant. Advice from the ALA:
Each library has its own selection and collection development policies. . . . Selection is an inclusive process, in which librarians seek materials that will provide a broad range of viewpoints and subject matter. This means that while library collections have thousands of items families want, like and need, they also will have materials that some parents may find offensive to them or inappropriate for their children. Because an item is selected does not mean the librarian endorses or promotes it. He or she is simply helping the library to fulfill its mission of providing information from all points of view. (Source: www.ala.org)
Know the Facts
As public institutions, libraries cannot discriminate based on age, sex, race, or any other characteristic. Therefore, a library cannot legally restrict access to materials based on age—a common request of concerned adults in relation to children’s material.
Reach Out to Your Local Community and Media
The library is a public institution and their goal is to serve the people. Incorporate the public because the books in your collection belong to all citizens.
Know the Full Substance
Be ready to discuss controversial subjects with your students and be prepared to address parents’ concerns. Develop a written rationale to articulate the reasons for using a particular literary work in the classroom. According to the NCTE: Rationale development should be a part of thoughtful planning for classroom instruction. If we have not reflected on the whys of what we teach, we will be unprepared to meet the needs and challenges of our students and to respond to potential complaints, either from parents or from others in the community who seek to influence the curriculum. . . (Source: www.ncte.org)
Provide parents with a copy of the written rationale, as proof of how the title in question fits into the curriculum. If a parent raises a challenge, advise them to read the entire book, and explain the danger of interpreting language or actions outside of the context of the story.
Discuss the Situation
Talk to other teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, principals, and the board of education to explain the situation. Getting their support will make a big difference—multiple voices are louder than one.
Learn the Details
Be familiar with your material selection policy, including local criteria, the methods for choosing materials, and who selects materials. Know your school’s method for dealing with complaints. Make sure the entire school staff is aware of the policy for handling challenges and will strictly adhere to these policies.
Contact National Organizations Who Can Help
Numerous national organizations provide information, tools, and support, including the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression. Click here for contact information and Web site addresses for these and other censorship experts.
Know the First Amendment
Freedom of speech is a powerful tool supported by law that protects your rights and the rights of your readers. Click here to download a printable copy of the First Amendment.
Be Familiar with the Definition of Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. For a fuller analysis and defense of this right, read the Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A here.
Research Past Cases
Over the years many books have been challenged. Responses to these challenges are archived on several Web sites, including www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill. Use these past examples to support your defense.
SAMPLE LETTER TO THE EDITOR
When you choose to fight censorship, remember that you are not alone. Raising community awareness and enlisting support are key steps toward removing book bans and guaranteeing intellectual freedom. The media can serve as a powerful source of support. By filling out this form letter and sending it to various newspapers, magazines and other media outlets, you can spread the word and begin to form a united front against censorship.
Copy this letter and paste it into your own document:
As you know, (Organization) has recently challenged the right of the children of our community to read (Book/Author). In a way, this is an honor—(Book) takes its place beside other books that have been banned, titles including such classics as Little House on the Prairie, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hamlet, and Of Mice and Men. Certainly, (Book) is in august company.
Censorship—the suppression of ideas or other information that a portion of the population finds objectionable—is an abrogation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It is this amendment that guarantees us the right to free speech, and by extension, freedom to read. When censorship is applied to what our children read, even for what appears to be the noblest of motives, we teach the young a far more harmful lesson than any work of literature ever could. We teach that the few can disrupt the rights of all. We teach our children that they are not capable of learning to think for themselves, to make considered and thought-out decisions. We teach that conformity is worth more than true learning.
This is a lesson we cannot support.
The American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Coalition Against Censorship, The Center for the Book, and The Library of Congress are just a few of the organizations that agree with us. So does the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment states simply and clearly: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
We are writing to invite your support for our children’s constitutional right. Our children deserve the best we can offer—limitless ideas and the freedom to read about them.
ORGANIZATIONS THAT CAN HELP
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004-2400
National Coalition Against Censorship
275 7th Ave
New York, NY 10001
National Council of Teachers of English
1111 Kenyon Road
Urbana, IL 61801-1096
Portions of Talking About Banned Books were prepared by Pat Scales, Children’s Literature Consultant, Greenville, South Carolina.