Tag Archives: Banned Books Week

Students’ Right to Read Challenged Books

This blog was written by member Michelle Bulla.

Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc and destruction in the Caribbean and battered the Southeast, where my in-laws, cousins, and millions of others sheltered like so many sitting ducks, directly in the line of an unstoppable leviathan. Feeling powerless as it happened, we held our breath against the wrath of Mother Nature’s terrifying aggression.

Teachers may feel a comparable sense of helplessness in the face of rising challenges and complaints against our work.

Case in point: I presumed that by now—actually, by the point I started teaching in the late 1990s—banned books would be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, they’re not.

While in my district we’re fortunate to have a supportive administration and a progressive approach toward selection and access to a wide range of material, that doesn’t mean parents have ceased to request different titles when they perceive inappropriateness in the match between text and student.

Luckily, the rate of such requests is low. However, rather than decreasing over time, requests are holding steady. I suspect it has something to do with recent shifts in pedagogy to increase the relevancy of texts to our students’ lives and to our increasing desire to dramatically raise the level of student choice in text selection.

These are only two pieces of the puzzle, in my opinion, but they can be rather sticky. In many districts, educators have worked hard to expand their literary repertoire beyond the classics of the past. Catcher in the Rye, The Crucible, Night, and Romeo and Juliet are alive and well still; however, they are no longer the only texts students may be reading. Teachers are exposing students to a diversity of recently published works and giving them choice in what they read. In fact, it’s common in my high school for students to be reading multiple texts for English class, one as a whole-class text and another as an independent, student-chosen text.

This expansion is a result of the dedication to increase the volume of student reading and is inspired by pedagogues such as Penny Kittle, Kylene Beers, Ernest Morrell, and others. At my high school, we’ve employed several tactics to achieve this goal, three in particular: engage in and encourage independent reading, build classroom libraries to increase exposure and access, and facilitate choice in text selection.

So far these strategies are working well. However, we do still experience parental requests for alternatives. Some recently offending titles include Angela’s Ashes, Night, Radiance of Tomorrow, and Go Ask Alice. Reasons for opposition range from offensive language to sexual explicitness to foreign content to raw descriptions of drug use. In some cases, teachers have been able to convince parents that the scenes and offending components in question ground the stories in reality and create relevance for our teenagers; in other cases, teachers have not been able to persuade parents and instead assigned a different title to that student.

Books are challenged all the time. The American Library Association (ALA) recently published a list of the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016, 50 percent of which were challenged because they contained LGBT characters, themes, and viewpoints. Previous lists reveal similarities and a penchant for challenge in the name of sexually explicit material or scenes.

Defending free expression and access in the classroom may not be isolated to books. These materials may now include films, social media, websites, political speeches, and any other “text” one might imagine, including teaching methods. If you find yourself in a position of defense, NCTE can help. The organization’s Intellectual Freedom Center has resources to equip educators with tools to defend and advocate for choices and pedagogy designed to generate critical and informed thinkers.

English teachers are not alone in this. As political tensions continue to rise, across the country people are exercising their right to freedom of expression by advocating for everything from alternative texts to teaching materials, pedagogical decisions, and school policies, including who can or cannot use a particular bathroom. If our goal is to create an informed, intelligent, democratic, and globally minded society, we must continue to explore topics, ideologies, and texts that challenge us all to see beyond our own lives.

Additionally, the fact that our students are experiencing anxiety and depression at record rates may perhaps be connected to shielding them from some of life’s difficulties and from silencing them. Diverse texts act as mirrors for students who frequently are not represented in mainstream texts, as well as opportunities to help create empathy for others, letting students “practice” hard choices safely as they face a diverse society.

Thus, we work to create citizens who, having processed complex materials and harnessed that power, are empowered to build a better society. We do that by giving them the tools to understand the world they come from and the world they have yet to see. We do that by challenging them, stretching minds and hearts and spirits outside their comfort zones, outside safe havens, and into the maelstrom of their lives. We do that by arming them with sophisticated ideas, a broad understanding of differing ideologies, and an ability to make critical and complex decisions by thinking carefully about what is right and why.

In the face of strife, human made or otherwise, the human spirit always rises up, preparing us to weather the storms of our lives and then to plod on. We hold fast to hope, as more is always on the horizon; our changing world continues to challenge us each day. We must face it together, courageously, resisting the desire to shield ourselves or our students from knowledge and experiences that enable us all to grow.

Michelle G.Bulla  has been an English teacher at Monroe-Woodbury High School at the foot of the Catskills in New York for over 20 years, where she also serves as 9-12 Department Chair. She is Past President of NYSEC, the NY affiliate of NCTE, where she continues to serve on the Executive Board. Find her on Twitter @china93doll

Be Part of the Conversation

This blog is written by Aaron Wiles to share how he introduced to parents a unit he does with his middle schoolers during Banned Books Week .

I sent this letter out to students and parents in an effort to educate, to build awareness, and to invite everyone in our school community to be part of an ongoing global conversation. My hope with the unit is to create positive change and to expose my students to new worlds and new perspectives.

Dear Parents and/or Guardians,

I would like to take this time to inform you about our next unit and encourage you to participate with our school in celebrating the right to read. This year, the American Library Association along with the National Council of Teachers of English and the Banned Books Week Coalition are continuing their efforts to celebrate our right to read and speak out against censorship. As 8th graders, students will be reading literature from the banned and challenged reading lists provided by the ALA, as well as participating in activities that promote freedom of speech, the right to read, and the importance of free thought.

The practice of challenging and banning literature is an ongoing struggle in our society. Part of my purpose in teaching this topic is to bring awareness to the issue for my students and allow them the opportunity to form their own opinions about the subject. Students will have their own free choice as to which book they select from the list to read in class. These books are pieces of literature that can be found here at school, at our local booksellers, and our local libraries. Once the books are selected, students will be participating in rich discussion and activities surrounding the ideas of freedom of speech, the importance of the written word, and the impact that reading, writing and communicating have on the world.

Our hope is that you will engage in open conversation with your students about what they are learning, so that we can continue to grow together as a community of learners. Also, please have conversation with your students about which books on the list would be appropriate for them. The list is posted on our Google Classroom page. We will be working, discussing, and celebrating here at school, so we would love it if that would continue at home as well.

I have attached links below that can provide you with more information about Banned Books Week and the Celebration of Our Right to Read. Please do not hesitate to email me if you have any questions or need further clarification about the unit.


Aaron Wiles
Teacher- 8th Grade ELA
Southridge Middle School

Useful and informative links:

Grade Level Booklist
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissenger
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Cujo by Stephen King
Forever by Judy Blume
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I Am Jazz  by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
George by Alex Gino
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Advanced Booklist
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1984 by George Orwell
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Native Son by Richard Wright
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


Aaron Wiles is an 8th grade ELA teacher at Southridge Middle School in Huntingburg, Indiana. He loves teaching, learning, reading, nature, rock climbing, his girlfriend, and his dog (noting not in order of importance) 🙂

Banned Books Week 2017: Resources from NCTE

“Censorship is like the monster
under the bed. You never know what
will trigger it, and you’ve got to be
ready.” —ReLeah Cossett Lent

Banned Books Week, which runs September 24-September 30 this year, is the annual celebration of the freedom to read. For this year’s celebration, NCTE and the coalition of organizations that sponsors Banned Books Week will emphasize the importance of the First Amendment, which guarantees our inherent right to read . NCTE’s Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers and schools faced with challenges to texts or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools.

The NCTE Principles for Intellectual Freedom in Education were approved by the NCTE Executive Committee in February 2014. These state, “All students have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others. Denial or restriction of this right is an infringement of intellectual freedom.” NCTE encourages school communities to generate, implement, and follow policies and procedures for defending intellectual freedom at the classroom, institution, and system/campus levels to limit and/or address attacks on free expression. The following principles support the inclusion of agency, fairness, and multiple perspectives in the process of defending intellectual freedom in education. Each of these principles has been linked with resources that may help in your classroom.

The preservation of intellectual freedom in education depends upon the fostering of democratic values in the classroom, critical thinking stances and practices among teachers and students, open inquiry methods and access to information, and the exploration of multiple points of view.
The ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan A Case for Reading—Examining Challenged and Banned Books introduces students to censorship and then invites them to read a challenged book and decide for themselves what should be done with the book at their school.

As trained professionals, educators are qualified to select appropriate classroom materials and resources from a variety of sources given their teaching goals and the needs and interests of the students they serve.
The Language Arts article “Focus on Policy: Intellectual Freedom” outlines details on banning incidents from this decade, the importance of selection, and suggestions for overcoming text challenges. The article includes sidebars that list additional resources.

The Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs presents criteria and procedures that ensure thoughtful teacher selection of novels and other materials.

Professional educators, drawing upon their training and content knowledge, should play an integral role in the curriculum design process at the district and school levels.
NCTE crafted a Resolution on the “Critical Role of Teachers in the Selection and Implementation of Reading Programs and Policies.” This resolution reasserts the authority of teachers as professionals who make substantive decisions regarding literacy materials and instruction.

Educational communities should prepare for challenges to intellectual freedom with clearly defined policies and procedures that guide the review of classroom materials and resources called into question. In the creation and enactment of these policies and procedures, educators’ knowledge and expertise should be solicited as integral, valuable, and necessary.
As defenders of the right to read, today’s teachers find themselves navigating both new and old challenges to the intellectual choices available to this generation. “Defending the Right to Read: A Modern Tale” shares a contemporary story of two educators who put their students’ freedoms first.

“Any book with any ideas of value
is probably going to be challenged
because somebody doesn’t like what’s
being said.”
—Kim Chism Jasper

Resources for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, which runs September 25-October 1 this year, draws attention to the issue of censorship and how it can best be combated. NCTE, through its Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers and schools faced with challenges to texts (e.g. literary works, films and videos, drama productions) or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools. NCTE’s work to keep texts in classrooms and libraries provides a public service to members and nonmembers alike when they are facing challenges to literary works, films, and videos. Again this year, NCTE is also a proud sponsor of Banned Books Week.

The following resources explore ways to discuss censorship issues with students as well as ways to respond to text challenges in your school.

For a general introduction, visit this ReadWriteThink.org calendar entry, which links to classroom activities and online resources. Be sure to check out the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “A Case for Reading – Examining Challenged and Banned Books“, which introduces students to censorship and then invites them to read a challenged book and decide for themselves what should be done with the book at their school.

The Language Arts article “Focus on Policy: Intellectual Freedom” outlines details on current banning incidents, the importance of selection, and suggestions for overcoming text challenges. The article includes sidebars that list additional resources.

The English Journal articles “Banned Books: A Study of Censorship” and “Celebrate Democracy! Teach about Censorship” include details on extended units on censorship. You’ll find a range of materials for exploring censorship in the classroom with the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “Censorship in the Classroom: Understanding Controversial Issues“.

The College English article “Deflecting the Political in the Visual Images of Execution and the Death Penalty Debate” explores the visual images that readers are and are not allowed to view and asserts that “the attempt to suppress the visual, as in any censorship of the press, is an attempt to limit debate.”

Teacher educators can share “What Do I Do Now? Where to Turn When You Face a Censor“, from the NCTE book Preserving Intellectual Freedom: Fighting Censorship in Our Schools, with preservice teachers. The chapter provides scenarios and the related resources that K-college teachers can use as the basis for discussion and problem-solving role-playing. Preservice teachers might then use the detailed instructions in the SLATE Rationales for Teaching Challenged Books for writing their own rationales.

In the 21st century, censorship in the English classroom rears its head in some familiar and some unexpected ways. Read more in the Council Chronicle article, “Defending the Right to Read: A Modern Tale“.

How do you support the students’ right to read?

On Banned Books Week and Beyond, Say YA to Reading

Matt de la PenaEvery day in middle schools and high schools across America, teachers and librarians provide access to young adult literature for their students. These teachers are not just providing books for their students;  they are committing an act of love and courage.  Love for their students and courage in knowing they will bear the burden of constantly having to defend the merits of this literature to parents, administrators, and even other teachers.

This week we “celebrated” Banned Books Week with an emphasis on young adult literature. I always thought celebrate was strange verb to use for a week dedicated to bringing awareness to the insidiousness of censorship. But I think I get it now. We’re not just bringing awareness to the books themselves, but also to the brave souls who fight to keep these books in kids’ hands. This is a week to give high fives, fist bumps, and in the words of Matt de la Peña, bow down to those fighting the good fight.

And so we celebrate.

We celebrate teachers like Brian Wyzlic who, at his Catholic high school in Michigan, brings the faith of his school community into the conversation with parents about why he will not censor books in his classroom.

We celebrate students like Brady Kissel, who distributed  free copies of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian after the book was removed from a  school reading list due to parent complaints.

We celebrate authors like Laurie Halse Anderson, winner of this year’s Intellectual Freedom Award, who frequently speaks out against censorship:

“I worry about the teachers and librarians who are [in] danger of losing their jobs and I worry about the students being denied access to a good book that has saved lives… Book banners make me fight harder.”


As we close out this celebration of Banned Books Week, let’s keep saying YA to reading. Heck, let’s shout it. Shout it until it is no longer an act of courage, only one of love.

If you want to read more about the ways teachers are celebrating young adult literature in their classrooms, below you will see I have curated some tweets from our recent #nctechat on Twitter. Or if you’d like even more  you can visit the entire Storify archive here.