Congress 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.

—The First Amendment

 

UNDERSTANDING THE ISSUES
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 nonetheless, harmful.

—The American Library Association

BOOKSELLERS/LIBRARIANS
Tips for a Discussion Leader in a Book Group

Invite discussion 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.

Author meaning—Ask 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?

Opposing viewpoints 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!


TEACHERS
Discussion Questions and Activities for the Classroom

Challenge vs. 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.

Dramatic Presentations—Stage 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.

Essay Writing—Contrast 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 prepared by Pat Scales, Children’s Literature Consultant, Greenville, South Carolina.


DARE TO DISTURB THE UNIVERSE
Thought-Provoking Book Group Discussion Questions

ROBERT CORMIER: THE CHOCOLATE WAR
An uncompromising portrait of conformity and corruption, this is a bestselling—and provocative—young adult classic.

Jerry 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?

Robert 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.

PHILIP 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.

The common 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?

Discuss 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?

 

JUDY BLUME: BLUBBER
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.

Blubber 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?

Describe 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, visit www.rhteacherslibrarians.com