This is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association asks us all to take a few minutes to celebrate our freedom to read and the freedom of our libraries to provide a wide and diverse selection of texts. So I thought I’d share some thoughts about how I’ve handled the issue of book challenges in my world.
I’m in my thirteenth year of teaching middle school English and have dealt with a handful of book challenges in those years. Most never went through a formal challenge process but required discussion with parents and administrators all the same.
I’ve stood alongside other members of my department and library staff to defend books by Maya Angelou, Mildred Taylor, Bruce Coville, Lauren Myracle, Sonya Sones, and more. After a particularly troubling challenge to the Orca Soundings series for reluctant readers last year, members of our department made a commitment to be more proactive — to talk more with parents about the challenges and responsibilities of providing books to middle school kids whose ages, developmental levels, and needs are so diverse.
Here are the thoughts I shared with the parents of my students at Open House this year…
Our school librarian does a phenomenal job making sure that there are books of interest to every student in our building. That’s a lot of students. A lot of different students.
This middle school serves sixth graders as young as ten years old and eighth graders as old as fifteen. Five years is a big gap, and those are no ordinary five years. The difference between ten and fifteen is the difference between Legos and iPods, the difference between trick-or-treating and Homecoming Dances. The difference between child and young adult.
Our kids are not only different ages; they arrive at school with different reading levels, different backgrounds, and different experiences that have shaped their lives in both positive and negative ways. They have different needs when it comes to reading.
The book that is perfect for your wide-eyed sixth grade girl isn’t likely to be a good fit for a fifteen-year-old boy repeating eighth grade. The book that eighth grader will read and love is probably not one that would be right for your sixth grader right now. But as teachers and librarians, we have a responsibility to serve all of the kids who come to us. We have a responsibility to offer literature choices that speak to all of them and meet all of their diverse needs.
Kids, in general, do a fantastic job self-selecting books, and when they find they’ve picked up something they’re not ready for, they’re usually quick to put it down and ask for help choosing something else. As teachers and librarians, we’ll offer recommendations and steer kids toward books that are age-appropriate, and we encourage you to talk about books with your kids. We have multiple copies of many titles in our library. Let us know if you’d like to check out two copies of a book so you can read together. And if you find that your student has chosen a book that you think might not be the right book for him or her right now, talk about that, too.
We respect your right to help your own child choose reading material, and we ask that you respect the rights of other parents to do the same. If you object to your child reading a particular book, send it back to the library, and we’ll help your student find another selection. We’ll put the first book back on the shelf because even though you don’t feel it’s the right book for your child right now, it may be the perfect book for someone else’s.
Our library will continue to have a wide range of choices for kids – to meet all of their varied needs and help them all develop a love of reading. If we can ever be of help to you in recommending titles for your family, please don’t hesitate to ask.