We become better readers and thinkers when we apply critical thinking to challenging books, rather than dismissing them. There are lots of good reasons to choose not to read a book. It might be too old for you, or it might not align with your moral code. However, trying to prevent others from reading books that you don’t like—or I don’t like—goes against the spirit of literature and learning. So, while I’ll never read Captain Underpants again, because I think that kid is a brat, I respect your right to laugh hysterically when George and Harold dump water on Krupp.
Here are some banned or challenged books that we SOLARIANs love. Would you consider reading them?
My favourite banned/challenged book is The Giver. I’ve probably read it five or six times, seeking resolution in the pages for that ending. I recently learned that there are now three more books in the series, and they probably clear up the ambiguity. However, as much as I love The Giver and have enjoyed other Lois Lowry books, there is no way I’m reading the rest of the series. The magic of The Giver for me as a child was the feeling of loss and fear at the end of the book. It was my first experience with an ambiguous ending. And, that magic is something I would never take away from anyone.
The Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz are soooo good. I remember checking them out of the library for sleepovers as a kid and taking turns reading these terrifying stories with creepy illustrations by Stephen Gammell. I still get chills thinking about the scarecrow story … I would never want the book banned though! I fully intend to read these stories to my future children and terrify them as well.
My favourite banned/challenged book is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. I think that it is such an important story for youth to experience. I read the book as an adult and then taught it is as a novel study to a group of Grade 10 students. By depicting one girl’s experience with sexual assault and her means of coping through isolation afterwards, Anderson helps her reader understand a victim’s point of view. This novel may help young girls recognize the risks involved in attending high school parties. It may also help boys comprehend the potential damage they could cause if they chose to force non-consensual sex on one of their peers.
There is small space on my bookshelf at home for the childhood books that I loved. There are my favorite series, and then a handful of other books that had an impact on me in some way. The Face on the Milk Carton is one of those books. I was surprised to see it, and many other books I read as a teen, listed on the banned/challenged book list. As a teenager, I always found the situations that Caroline B. Cooney put her characters in a little reaching, but I always loved to read about their struggles and their successes. The Face on the Milk Carton was a book that made me realize that happy endings (like a kidnapped child being reunited with her family) have their own challenges and that situations are never as simple as they may seem to be.
I spent a summer in my early teens reading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. That fall, I began Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. Absorbing those two series back-to-back created quite the contrast. I wasn’t as aware of the religious overtones in Narnia until I read His Dark Materials. I was raised Roman Catholic, and Pullman helped wake me up to the negative aspects of organized religion.
Often, authors get criticized for provoking the reader. Good art is meant to provoke! I admire any author who forces readers to carefully consider human society and what we’re capable of as a species. As far as banned/challenged books, Lord of the Flies by William Golding is a close second to my favourite (Pullman’s His Dark Materials).
The four books on the “banned” list that I used almost yearly when I was teaching Grade 6 are: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I chose these books for classroom use because I felt (and still feel) that they can add to a student’s life experience. Whether the book focused on friendship and loss (Terabithia), family and undiscovered worlds (Wrinkle), self-reliance (Julie), or an alternate reality and euthanasia (Giver), they all brought something new and worth talking about to a class discussion. These stories are very relatable for younger grades, and children become active, engaged readers when perusing these novels. The stories challenge students to think “outside the box” and to me, this is a primary role of education.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is such a terrifying vision of dystopia. Hits the nerve of any bibliophile. Given many of the books that have been previously banned, Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t seem so farfetched.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes because of what it says about the ethics of science and about our ingrown prejudice of the mentally disabled, which is just as relevant today. I also like how the book continues to be controversial. Despite this, it is still covered in schools, driven by teachers who understand its literary and social merits.