Banned books are some of the best, students say
by Staff Writer
When Countryside Montessori School students walked into school last week, they found quotes from some of American literature’s most renowned works posted to hallways, doors and lockers.
But imposed above each quote, in big, capital letters, was also the word “BANNED.” That’s right, books now considered mainstays in English classrooms – from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to George Orwell’s “1984” – were prohibited from being taught in certain schools throughout the country.
And some of those books continue to be banned, according to the American Library Association.
The display, organized in honor of national Banned Books Week, understandably confused many students. Some had read these books for years without knowing of the controversy they might have raised.
“Students tend to think that book banning was something that happened in the 1930s,” said Lindsay VanLoon, an English teacher at the north Charlotte private school which also draws students from Huntersville and University City. “The quotes they saw around school got them thinking about these issues on a deeper level.”
The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom compiled a list of the top 100 most challenged or banned books for 2000-2009. The top five books included J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s “Alice” series, “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier, “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.
Long-established classics, such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle and Time” were also included on the list.
Seventh-grader Ethan Wickliff, said one frequently challenged book particularly surprised him – Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach.”
“If I gave it a movie rating, I’d probably rate it PG,” Ethan said.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools made national headlines in 2006 when the school district pulled the book “And Tango Makes Three” off library shelves. A memo from CMS said the children’s picture book about two male penguins, insinuated to be homosexual, raising a baby penguin focused on homosexuality without providing any other redeeming value.
The school district reversed its decision during the same school year after former Superintendent Peter Gorman said one of his staff member’s misunderstood instructions to investigate the book.
VanLoon said several of the books she teaches in her English classes have been featured on the ALA’s “most challenged/banned” list. She decided to forgo teaching a revised version of Mark Mathabane’s autobiography “Kaffir Boy” that omits a scene describing child prostitution. The non-fictional book recounts Mathabane’s brutal experiences living in apartheid South Africa.
Senior Rachel Simpson said the positive aspects of the Zora Neal Hurston classic “Their Eyes Were Watching God” outweigh the negative criticisms for vulgar language and sexuality that have gotten the book banned in the past.
“(Hurston) is a fabulous writer,” Simpson said. “The book reminds readers to challenge conventions about how people should love.”
Books with graphic content can be taught responsibly, VanLoon said, especially when they shed light on situations, such as racism, or violence, that might be unsettling but real.
“I think its important that (students) understand that books still get banned, because eventually they are going to be the parents making these decisions for their kids,” VanLoon said.