Banned Books Week is here! Intellectual freedom is one of my favorite things to discuss with students, so I've really started to look forward to this yearly event. I definitely take unrestricted access to reading materials for granted, but I have to remind myself that young people especially aren't always so lucky.
This year I was looking for a new way to pique student interest in frequently challenged books. I came across an idea (thank goodness for Pinterest) and ran with it: I covered frequently challenged books with black paper, then wrote the reasons for their challenge on the fronts with silver marker. I even used some direct quotes from published challenges--those were the highlights! Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is "frustrating garbage," while Salinger's Catcher in the Rye has morphed into "a dreadful, dreary recital of sickness, sordidness, and sadism." These types of claims about books in a school library are simply irresistible for students; circulation has skyrocketed this week, and most of the books leaving the shelves are indeed frequently challenged titles.
I also used Banned Books Week to partner with a classroom teacher for my reading enrichment unit (Task 1). These students had recently finished their discussion of The Giver, so it was a great time to tie in the topics of challenges, censorship, and unrestricted access to ideas. Most students were surprised to discover that The Giver is frequently challenged and even banned in some school libraries. We discussed the reasons for the challenges, why/if "mature" content has a place in the school curriculum, and why restricting access is so controversial. I wrapped up the lesson by recommending a few additional frequently challenged titles, then concluded with a book talk of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. When I got back to the media center later after all of my lessons, my library assistant told me two students had been by already to check it out. Now that's what I call a successful book talk!
Such moments are a bright spot for me because I feel like fostering a love of reading in my patrons is by far my biggest challenge as a media specialist. So many of these kids are just not interested, or they claim they don't have time to read; they're taking too many AP courses, or they're too wrapped up in athletics, or band consumes their life. Of course, I have my die-hard readers who can't live without a book, but this mindset seems to be the exception. Lack of interest in reading is a problem I'm actively trying to address.