In solidarity with the American Library Association, the teachers decided to offer banned books for the first session book club choices this year. According to the ALA website, the Banned Books Week event is held to bring awareness to our right to freely choose the titles we want to read, even if deemed unorthodox by some, and the right for authors to express personal ideas without fear of censorship. Looking through the list of banned or challenged books, you may be surprised to find some of your own favorite titles on the list. The titles offered this session to the students were:
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Where the Red Fern Grows by Woodrow Wilson Rawls
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
A Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
In Voyagers’ style, we did not simply inform the students that they were reading from the banned book list; we wanted the experience to stick with them longer. Hence, after starting the books, they would be taken away, prohibiting them from reading further. So, during the second meeting of book club discussion, Rich took a box to each group and dramatically removed the books from the classroom as he informed the students that this book was on the banned book list.
Rich recalls, “I had the pleasure of collecting the books from the students during the Book Club class of banned book week. I did my best to sincerely apologize about the mistake of giving banned books children and expressed my desire that they were not too badly hurt by what they had read already. The puzzled looks and furrowed brows I met while collecting the books in a plain cardboard box showed me that they clearly didn’t understand why the books were banned.”At first, many of the students were shocked.
“Well, I don’t think I like the book that much, but he can’t just take it away.” Shaelyn
“Wow, who told him to take the books? Did Karen ban them or someone else?” Paul
“Are we in trouble now?” Nelia
“This is not happening. I am going to get mine back.” Grace
“Well, I like the book and if I don’t get it back I will just get another copy and read it. I will finish this book.” Winnie
All of the groups gathered together to figure out what to do. By this point, seasoned students were on to the ploy, but they played along.
The students protest the confiscation of their books.
Rich explains, “Once the books were put in my office I met with all of the upper school students. I tried to calmly explain the reasons why each of the four books were banned but have trouble making myself heard among the arguments of the children and shouts of “Rich is whack!” The students eventually liberated (stole) the books from my office and handed them out. The staff then explained the reasoning behind what we did and explained the very real concept of banned books. The meeting ended with the children getting the books back.”
Human rights and censorship continue to be dominant themes of our Global Studies work. Many of the reasons proposed for banning books are because that book is telling a difficult truth and depicting life for people in hard situations. We believe that the only way to become an empathetic and informed citizen is to be exposed to, and to continue to have discussion about, these difficult topics in a supportive atmosphere.