It’s Banned Books Week. Here are ten books, which have been banned or challenged, that have shown up in Mrs. Chili’s classes.
*Edited to include some commentary. When I posted this, I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to elaborate…*
1. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I haven’t actually read this in its entirety yet, but I know for sure I’ve read a good portion of it in excerpts. It’s on my freshman syllabus; I expect we’ll get to it around January or February.
2. Separate Peace by John Knowles
Also on the freshman syllabus. I read this one in high school and remember not really loving it that much. I plan to revisit it before we read it, though, with my far more mature and trained eye to see what I make of it this time around. I’m planning on pairing this with a viewing of Dead Poets Society; those two works should make for some really interesting coming-of-age discussions.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I love this novel. I taught it to my juniors and seniors last year (after having read it only a month beforehand). While I can hazard a guess as to why some of the other books on this list have been banned or challenged, I can say with some pretty confident certainty that several religious groups found this one objectionable; it imagines a Puritan-like dystopia in which fertile women are used as surrogates for powerful men.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I can’t begin to tell you how important this book is in my curriculum. Again, my freshmen are getting this book, and I’ll likely pair it with The Book Thief (I did this last year to great effect). There is such richness to be mined from this unassuming little book, and I think that a lot of people will tell you that this novel was pivotal for them; I know it was for me, both as a reader and a teacher.
5. Native Son by Richard Wright
I taught this just before Handmaid last year, and I have to tell you that the entire unit was one long string of out-of-the-park home runs. This novel is SUCH a contradiction. It is a technically easy read; there are no complex vocabulary words and nothing mechanical that would keep even the most novice reader from getting through the pages. The concepts that the book deals in, though, deliver non-stop sucker punches to those willing to dig – no, make that scratch – below the surface of the plot. We could have talked about this novel for WEEKS longer than I scheduled time for, and the students referred back to this work as a touchstone for almost everything we read after that. Like Mockingbird, Native Son is a foundational piece in my curriculum, and I can’t imagine that ever changing.
6. Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally
This one was a bit of a cheat. I don’t actually teach the novel; I teach the film. Honestly, I don’t think that the book is terribly well written, and I feel like the style of the prose detracts from the vital message of the story. Speilberg’s film, by contrast, reaches into your chest from the first frame and doesn’t let go until LONG after the final credits have rolled.
7. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
To be honest with you, I’m not sure that I’ve actually read this novel. I want to say I have, but I can’t, at the moment, call to memory exactly what it was about. Regardless, it’s on my junior syllabus, and I’m eager to get to it (or get to it again, as the case may be). I have a deep and abiding respect for Toni Morrison, and I’m looking forward to the conversations this novel is sure to generate in my class.
8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This is our all-school read. Everyone should have the novel by next Tuesday, when we start reading as a community. Each of my three core classes has voted to defer the next novel in their reading list in favor of focusing on Alice for the month of October. Like Huck Finn, this is a novel I’ve never read from cover to cover… yet. I know the story well enough from the numerous excerpts I’ve read (and interpretations I’ve seen) to feel pretty comfortable teaching it.
9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
A teeny-tiny little wisp of a book – seriously; you could probably read it in one good pre-bedtime stretch – but it packs a pretty heavy philosophical punch. My freshmen are finishing their final wrestling with this novel this week. So far, we’ve managed to discuss the ethics of “release,” we’ve rooted around the idea that a dystopian novel critiques the present (and what Lowry was critiquing in this work), and we’ve chased down the reasons why human beings seem unable to deal with a perfect society; each of the kids commented that the novel was “creepy” because it was “too perfect,” and one boy (Goddess LOVE him!) brought up the scene in the Matrix where Agent Smith comments that their first attempt at the program failed because it was too good; there was no want or conflict, and the humans couldn’t handle it. “Whole crops were lost,” he said. The students had a GREAT time with that.
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
I’m relatively certain that all the Harry Potter novels have been banned or challenged at one point or another. This one is on the Film and Lit syllabus because, even though each of the novels deals with the theme of coming of age (Harry comes of age incrementally in each of the works), I really do think this one is where he (and his friends) turns the proverbial corner. While my students are a little daunted by the thickness of the tome (and I’m a little insecure about teaching the middle book in a long series), I’m desperately looking forward to this unit; I can’t wait to see how the kids re-approach a work they read as kids (and think they know).
Happy Tuesday, Everyone!