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Banning books in classrooms and school libraries is not new, but it has recently become a subject of considerable political debate.
The 1987 novel by Toni Morrison Beloved was a central talking point in the closing weeks of Virginia’s gubernatorial race. In October, Texas State Representative Matt Krause asked schools in his state to confirm whether they had books from a list of about 850 titles. Krause said he chose these books because they “might cause students to experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any form of psychological distress due to their race or gender.” .
According to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, the books that received the most challenges in libraries and schools in 2020 were those that dealt with “racism, the history of Black Americans and Diversity in the United States “.
How should parents react to this news and the books their children read? Barrie Hardymon, editor-in-chief of NPR and Traci thomas, host of Batteries podcast, joined guest host Ayesha Rascoe to talk about the banned book lists.
All three explain why it is important for children to discover books freely, even if it means starting a difficult conversation with them. They also discuss their favorite – and least favorite – books that often appear on banned books lists.
Why is this book banned?
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Thomas notes that in Krause’s list and other lists of banned books, the story theme is frequently targeted.
“I have seen a lot of books by black authors, by colored authors talking about race,” says Thomas. “I’ve seen a lot of books by and about queer authors, especially the more recent listings targeting trans and genderfluid authors. which shocked me a bit. It’s weird to be like, ‘Let’s challenge Ruby Bridges.’ “
Hardymon points out that books on sex and puberty are often banned.
“I noticed that one of the books on this was a body development book in Spanish, [Qué pasa en mi cuerpo? El libro para muchachas by Lynda Madaras]. And I thought, there was something like that, would you lock the door on so many people? … What a nasty thing to do. That one really, that one killed me. ”
Forbidden books that deserve to be read widely
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Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved became one of the most discussed banned books in 2021, and it’s one of Hardymon’s favorites on the banned books lists. “This book is the book that made me realize what fiction can do,” she says. “You’re going to come out of this experience feeling… like you’ve been off Earth for a little while. And once I realized that the written word could do that, it opened so many doors for me. “
Hardymon also recognizes that graphic novels are an entry point into the world of literature for young readers. She quotes Alison Bechdel Fun Home: a tragicomic family like a layered but accessible achievement in the genre.
Thomas wishes to encourage teachers to consider teaching popular and new books to their classes, not just the books traditionally included in the literary canon.
“I feel like there’s this obsession behind teaching kids those books that are important or deemed necessary, and hard to read. Like Jason Reynolds who writes for young people, loves young people, and he writes great stuff for young people. And I do think Jason Reynolds’ work will last a long time for young people, but also if he doesn’t I think young people should now read people writing to young now. “
Hardymon and Thomas suggest reading these frequently banned books:
- Beloved – Toni Morrison
- Drama – Raina Telgemeier
- Fun Home: a tragicomic family -Alison Bechdel
- Heavy: an American memory – Kiese Laymon
- Calvin – JR Ford and Vanessa Ford, illustrated by Kayla Harren
- All the American boys -Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds
- Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you – Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi
- Class law and New kid – Jerry Craft
Don’t ban books, but reconsider some
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Advertising around banned books lists can provide an opportunity to rethink which books should be given a place of privilege in classrooms.
Hardymon reflects on William Styron’s novel Nat Turner’s Confessions, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968, for being one of those books.
“[William Styron is] a white writer from the South … He imagined the journey of the Nat Turner slave rebellion to Virginia. First of all, it is certainly interesting, perhaps in a college-level class, to analyze a white writer’s attempt to write the history of slavery. And in the classroom where you maybe talk about who can write what stories, fine. But if you’re going to present your students – and let’s say we’re in high school – you know, a story of slave life, you wouldn’t want to give them, I don’t think, a story from a southern white writer. . “
Hardymon instead suggested other novels that offer a postmodern look at slavery written through a black perspective:
- Middle passage – Charles R. Johnson
- Dessa Rose -Sherley Anne Williams
- The known world – Edward P. Jones
While Thomas admits hers is an unpopular opinion, commonly banned books that she dislikes are part of JK Rowling’s Harry potter series.
“I agree that books maybe nice, maybe they are good. But for me… when we talk about students, the term is co-opted to mean white students, straight, cis. And I don’t know. that if, in a broader sense, if we claim to love, see and support all students, that the work of someone who does not see, love and respect all humans and people with different gender identities, should be what we think of and talk about as the greatest thing that ever existed. “
Instead, Thomas suggested authors who write fantastic novels with a young age group in mind, but also write inclusively:
- Akwaeke Emezi
- Solomon River
- George M. Johnson
- Call of Kacen
- Nnedi Okorafor
This episode of ‘It’s Been a Minute’ was produced by Audrey Nguyen and adapted for the web by Nathan Pugh and Liam McBain. Our intern is Nathan Pugh. Our editor is Jordana Hochman. You can follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.