shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition
the Government for a redress of grievances.
Talking about censorship and specific book challenges
is important for adults and young readers alike, whether in a book group
setting at a library or bookstore or in a classroom.
When beginning any discussion on censorship issues, it is a good idea
to be familiar with the terminology and issues:
What is censorship?
Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals,
groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous.
What is the difference between a Challenge and a Banning?
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon
the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those
materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point
of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove materials from the curriculum
or library, thereby restricting the access of others.
What is Intellectual Freedom?
Intellectual Freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and
receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides
for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all
sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.
Why are books challenged?
Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect
others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. Censorship
can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but
—The American Library Association
Tips for a Discussion Leader in a Book Group
about the various themes of the chosen book. Remind readers to look at
the full work and to not take challenged information out of context.
Stress the importance
of freedom of choice—to pick up a book or reject it. Most
readers will innately reject what they aren’t ready for.
book group members to think about what the author might have meant when
he or she wrote the book. For instance, why might the author have chosen
to include particular language?
or healthy discussion? When there are conflicting opinions about
the book being discussed, it is important to encourage opposing viewpoints
so that all students understand that their views count. This is the very
basis of the First Amendment!
Discussion Questions and Activities for the Classroom
Censorship—Have the class discuss the difference between
a book challenge and censorship. How might a book challenge cause school
officials to ultimately censor a book? Ask students to find out the school
district’s policy regarding issues related to questionable books
and materials. Invite a school board member or a district official to
speak to the class about local challenges.
a talk show featuring a parental challenge to one of the books shown on
the poster. The host or hostess of the show should give a brief synopsis
of the book and an overview of the challenge. Guests should include: parents
who oppose the book, parents who support the book, a school or public
library board member, a librarian, and several young adults who have read
the book. Ask students in the audience to be prepared with pertinent questions.
A Banned Books Week theme is “Let Freedom Read: Read a Banned Book.”
After the class has participated in a thorough discussion about the First
Amendment and the freedom to read, ask them to prepare a dramatic interpretation
of the Banned Books Week theme. Encourage them to perform for a PTA group
and other classes in their school.
the meaning of intellectual freedom and censorship. Have students write
an essay that explains the thought that intellectual freedom is about
respect, and censorship about disrespect.
Let the Press
Know! Encourage students to write an editorial for the local
newspaper about Banned Books Week and teenagers’ right to read.
Portions of Talking About Banned Books were written by Pat Scales,
Director of Library Services at the South Carolina Governor’s School
for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, South Carolina.
TO DISTURB THE UNIVERSE
Thought-Provoking Book Group Discussion Questions
CORMIER: THE CHOCOLATE WAR
An uncompromising portrait of conformity and
corruption, this is a bestselling—and provocative—young
likes the poster in his locker that says “Do I Dare Disturb the
Universe?” Although at first, he doesn’t understand the meaning
of it. At what point in the novel does it appear that Jerry is beginning
to get the meaning of the poster? Why do you think Jerry decides not to
sell the chocolates even after his assignment is over? Have you ever dared
to “disturb the universe?” What happened?
Cormier’s books have been under attack by censors for his “negative
portrayal of human nature,” and because the endings appear hopeless
since the good guys don’t always win. Cormier responded to this
criticism by stating that he was simply writing realistically. Discuss
the responsibility of the writer to present life as it is.
In Jonas’s perfect world, everything is under control. There is
no war or fear or pain. But when Jonas learns the truth, there is no turning
the placid calm of Jonas’s society lies a very orderly and inexorable
system of euthanasia, practiced on the very young who do not conform,
the elderly, and those whose errors threaten the stability of the community.
What are the disadvantages and benefits of a community that accepts such
a vision of euthanasia?
the ways in which Jonas’s community uses euphemism to distance itself
from the reality of “Release.” How does our own society use
euphemism to distance us from such realities as aging and death, bodily
functions, and political activities? What are the benefits and disadvantages
of such uses of language?
PULLMAN: THE GOLDEN COMPASS
Philip Pullman’s intriguing and haunting His Dark Materials
trilogy sends fantasy lovers on an incredible journey through other
worlds where they meet mysterious creatures and a brave and extraordinary
12-year-old girl, Lyra Belacqua, who has the power to seek truth.
elements of fantasy include good vs. evil, magic, dangerous quests, and
more. What are some of the moral lessons learned in works of fantasy?
How does fantasy relate to the real world?
why fantasy is often targeted by censors. What is a good rebuttal to someone
who believes that the young shouldn’t read works of fantasy, including
Pullman’s high-fantasy classics,The Golden Compass and
the other novels in the His Dark Materials trilogy?
Blubber is a good name for her, the note from Wendy says about
Linda. Jill crumples it up and leaves it on the corner of her desk. But
then Robby grabs the note, and before Linda is done talking, it has gone
halfway around the room.
has sometimes been attacked by censors because of the way the kids treat
each other and the language some of the characters use. Bullies seek attention
to feel important and feed their low self-esteem by being mean to others.
Wendy, the most popular girl in Mrs. Minish’s fifth-grade class,
is a bully. How would you describe Wendy? How does Wendy misuse her popularity?
Why does Jill fall to Wendy’s power?
Jill and Tracy’s friendship. How is Tracy more perceptive about
Wendy than Jill? Would Tracy have participated in bullying Linda if she
were in Mrs. Minish’s class? How is it sometimes easier to see through
a situation from the outside?
For extensive discussion guides on all of these books and more,