The ALA publishes a book that lists every title of every work of literature/book that has been banned or challenged at some point and gives the reasons if they have access to them. The book is organized by author, but there are indexes where one can look up the works by title or by geography. I used this reference book every year when I would start my Celebrate Freedom to Read Book Projects with my 8th graders.
Let me give you a taste of what that day looked like in my classroom: Before that day, I would ask students to bring a copy of their favorite school-appropriate magazine to class. On the day I knew I would be presenting my kids with the concept of books being challenged or banned, I asked my kids to put their magazines on the corners of their desks and passed out a list (front and back) of books that had been banned or challenged—some of which we had already read in my classroom. I asked kids to go through the list and write next to each title an “R” if they had read the book, an “M” if they had seen the movie, or a “B” if they had done both, leaving alone the titles they did not recognize. While they were preoccupied with that task, I bustled around my classroom, seemingly in a grouchy mood, but really I was watching my kids go through the lists and I was looking at their magazines and thinking of the most absurd reasons I could confiscate their magazines and throw them in the trash….
When most of my kids were about ¾ of the way through the list, I would “stop and notice” someone’s magazine and react in horror. I would generally start with a magazine that catered to the female teen population; they were popular and easy to attack. I would go crazy about Horoscopes and publications promoting eating disorders, then I would take all of the magazines from that genre away and throw them in the trash! (OK, in a special trash can that I knew was clean….) Then I would find other magazines and come up with outrageous reasons to take them away and throw them in the trash. I only had to do this for less than five minutes before I stopped and asked my kids who thought I was being completely unfair. (My favorite reaction was a girl who said, “I thought you had PMS!”).
Then, as I passed back the magazines to my kids, I tried to get them to make the connection between me taking away their magazines and the list of titles on their desks. It was a difficult reach for them, because some of the titles included, The American Heritage Dictionary, the Bible and their language arts textbook, but eventually, they figured out the connection. That is when the hands would fly into the air!
Every kiddo had a book who wanted to know the reason for it being challenged. The rest of the class period was spent with me looking up book entries from my resource guide from the ALA so I could tell them when, why and where books had been challenged. My kids were stunned. They were outraged! Especially at some of the ridiculous reasons for some of the challenges… The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, was challenged, “in the Laytonville Unified School District because the book ‘criminalizes the foresting industry’” (Doyle 316). In 1983, four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee challenged, The Diary of Anne Frank, because it is a, “real downer” (Doyle 199). I’m sorry… Would they like a happy-go-lucky version of WWII Holocaust victims? Eventually the bell would ring, and I would still have students with their hands up, ready to miss part of their beloved passing period to find out why a book was challenged. It is a powerful introduction to encourage kids to Celebrate Freedom to Read!
Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read. McNaughton & Gunn, Inc.: Saline, Michigan, 2010.