Like me, you might assume that book banning was a thing of the past. I mean, it’s 2022, right? We live in a world where all kinds of information lives on a phone in the palm of your hand. What damage can books do that doesn’t already exist on the internet?
Well, book banning continues to be a hot topic today. According to a report from the American Library Association, there were 330 “book challenges” made in fall of 2021. This means they’re under investigation to possibly become banned from schools throughout the country. And in some states, people aren’t only trying to ban books from K-12 schools, but from universities as well. While some book challenges still arise on the grounds of “explicit” language/ situations, others are heavily oriented towards censoring the voices of People of Color and LGBTQ folks.
That being said, have you considered reading banned books? Here’s a list of some of the OG banned books that really paved the way for banned books today, with their political and sometimes raunchy stories. We’ve also included summaries (courtesy of Sparknotes.com).
“The Giver is written from the point of view of Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy living in a futuristic society that has eliminated all pain, fear, war, and hatred. There is no prejudice, since everyone looks and acts basically the same, and there is very little competition. Everyone is unfailingly polite. The society has also eliminated choice: at age twelve every member of the community is assigned a job based on his or her abilities and interests. Citizens can apply for and be assigned compatible spouses, and each couple is assigned exactly two children each. The children are born to Birthmothers, who never see them, and spend their first year in a Nurturing Center with other babies, or “newchildren,” born that year. When their children are grown, family units dissolve and adults live together with Childless Adults until they are too old to function in the society. Then they spend their last years being cared for in the House of the Old until they are finally “released” from the society. In the community, release is death, but it is never described that way; most people think that after release, flawed newchildren and joyful elderly people are welcomed into the vast expanse of Elsewhere that surrounds the communities. Citizens who break rules or fail to adapt properly to the society’s codes of behavior are also released, though in their cases it is an occasion of great shame. Everything is planned and organized so that life is as convenient and pleasant as possible.”*
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
“Arnold Spirit Jr. (“Junior”) tells about his early life on the Spokane Indian reservation. How doctors predicted he would die from complications of hydrocephalus—his being born with excess spinal fluid on the brain. But, of course, Junior survived. The early condition, however, left Junior with a lisp and stutter. He had too many teeth and had to have some removed, and he is far-sighted in one eye and near-sighted in the other. Worst of all, as a small child he had seizures. Even today, other Indians on the reservation or, as Junior calls it, the “rez,” bully him and call him names like “hydrohead.” Junior’s best friend, Rowdy, often promises to protect him, but Rowdy’s own violent tendencies sometimes prevent him from being all that helpful. Junior’s parents are alcoholics and his sister, Mary, spends all her time in the family basement. Junior loves drawing cartoons, and many of his drawings are included in the book. Rowdy is extremely supportive of Junior’s art, and Junior thinks this proves his and Rowdy’s friendship.”*
Of Mice and Men
“Two migrant workers, George and Lennie, have been let off a bus miles away from the California farm where they are due to start work. George is a small, dark man with “sharp, strong features.” Lennie, his companion, is his opposite, a giant of a man with a “shapeless” face. Overcome with thirst, the two stop in a clearing by a pool and decide to camp for the night. As the two converse, it becomes clear that Lennie has an intellectual disability, and is deeply devoted to George and dependent upon him for protection and guidance. George finds that Lennie, who loves petting soft things but often accidentally kills them, has been carrying and stroking a dead mouse. George angrily throws it away, fearing that Lennie might catch a disease from the dead animal. George complains loudly that his life would be easier without having to care for Lennie, but the reader senses that their friendship and devotion is mutual. He and Lennie share a dream of buying their own piece of land, farming it, and, much to Lennie’s delight, keeping rabbits. George ends the night by treating Lennie to the story he often tells him about what life will be like in such an idyllic place.”*
The Color Purple
“Celie, the protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple, is a poor, uneducated, fourteen-year-old black girl living in rural Georgia. Celie starts writing letters to God because her father, Alphonso, beats and rapes her. Alphonso has already impregnated Celie once. Celie gave birth to a girl, whom her father stole and presumably killed in the woods. Celie has a second child, a boy, whom her father also steals. Celie’s mother becomes seriously ill and dies. Alphonso brings home a new wife but continues to abuse Celie.
Celie and her bright, pretty younger sister, Nettie, learn that a man known only as Mr. ______ wants to marry Nettie. Mr. ______ has a lover named Shug Avery, a sultry lounge singer whose photograph fascinates Celie. Alphonso refuses to let Nettie marry, and instead offers Mr. ______ the “ugly” Celie as a bride. Mr. ______ eventually accepts the offer, and takes Celie into a difficult and joyless married life. Nettie runs away from Alphonso and takes refuge at Celie’s house. Mr. ______ still desires Nettie, and when he advances on her she flees for her own safety. Never hearing from Nettie again, Celie assumes she is dead.” *
The Lord of the Flies
“In the midst of a raging war, a plane evacuating a group of schoolboys from Britain is shot down over a deserted tropical island. Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, discover a conch shell on the beach, and Piggy realizes it could be used as a horn to summon the other boys. Once assembled, the boys set about electing a leader and devising a way to be rescued. They choose Ralph as their leader, and Ralph appoints another boy, Jack, to be in charge of the boys who will hunt food for the entire group.
Ralph, Jack, and another boy, Simon, set off on an expedition to explore the island. When they return, Ralph declares that they must light a signal fire to attract the attention of passing ships. The boys succeed in igniting some dead wood by focusing sunlight through the lenses of Piggy’s eyeglasses. However, the boys pay more attention to playing than to monitoring the fire, and the flames quickly engulf the forest. A large swath of dead wood burns out of control, and one of the youngest boys in the group disappears, presumably having burned to death.”*
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
“The Logan family works hard to keep the small piece of farmland they own. They endure many racial injustices. The children are harassed by a school bus full of white children, so they dig out a ditch in the road, trapping the bus and breaking the axle. Cassie, one of the Logan daughters, takes a trip to the nearby town of Strawberry and is shocked by the disrespect she is greeted with. Meanwhile, more serious problems are developing. The Wallace boys burn some local black men, killing one, and so the Logan family begins a boycott of their store. When Stacey, their oldest boy, gets in a fight with his best friend T. J. at the Wallace store, Mama decides to take a tour of the local community and urge people not to let their children go there and not to purchase goods there. However, many families have nowhere else to shop. The Logans offer to buy good for them in Vicksburg, and Mr. Jamison backs their credit.”*
The Call of the Wild
“Buck, a powerful dog, half St. Bernard and half sheepdog, lives on Judge Miller’s estate in California’s Santa Clara Valley. He leads a comfortable life there, but it comes to an end when men discover gold in the Klondike region of Canada and a great demand arises for strong dogs to pull sleds. Buck is kidnapped by a gardener on the Miller estate and sold to dog traders, who teach Buck to obey by beating him with a club and, subsequently, ship him north to the Klondike.
Arriving in the chilly North, Buck is amazed by the cruelty he sees around him. As soon as another dog from his ship, Curly, gets off the boat, a pack of huskies violently attacks and kills her. Watching her death, Buck vows never to let the same fate befall him. Buck becomes the property of Francois and Perrault, two mail carriers working for the Canadian government, and begins to adjust to life as a sled dog. He recovers the instincts of his wild ancestors: he learns to fight, scavenge for food, and sleep beneath the snow on winter nights. At the same time, he develops a fierce rivalry with Spitz, the lead dog in the team. One of their fights is broken up when a pack of wild dogs invades the camp, but Buck begins to undercut Spitz’s authority, and eventually the two dogs become involved in a major fight. Buck kills Spitz and takes his place as the lead dog.”*
A Wrinkle in Time
“A Wrinkle in Time is the story of Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl who is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. At the beginning of the book, Meg is a homely, awkward, but loving girl, troubled by personal insecurities and her concern for her father, who has been missing for over a year. The plot begins with the arrival of Mrs. Whatsit at the Murry house on a dark and stormy evening. Although she looks like an eccentric tramp, she is actually a celestial creature with the ability to read Meg’s thoughts. She startles Meg’s mother by reassuring her of the existence of a tesseract–a sort of “wrinkle” in space and time. It is through this wrinkle that Meg and her companions will travel through the fifth dimension in search of Mr. Murry.”*
To Kill a Mockingbird
“Scout Finch lives with her brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, in the sleepy Alabama town of Maycomb. Maycomb is suffering through the Great Depression, but Atticus is a prominent lawyer and the Finch family is reasonably well off in comparison to the rest of society. One summer, Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who has come to live in their neighborhood for the summer, and the trio acts out stories together. Eventually, Dill becomes fascinated with the spooky house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for years without venturing outside.
Scout goes to school for the first time that fall and detests it. She and Jem find gifts apparently left for them in a knothole of a tree on the Radley property. Dill returns the following summer, and he, Scout, and Jem begin to act out the story of Boo Radley. Atticus puts a stop to their antics, urging the children to try to see life from another person’s perspective before making judgments. But, on Dill’s last night in Maycomb for the summer, the three sneak onto the Radley property, where Nathan Radley shoots at them. Jem loses his pants in the ensuing escape. When he returns for them, he finds them mended and hung over the fence.”*
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes her coming of age as a precocious but insecure black girl in the American South during the 1930s and subsequently in California during the 1940s. Maya’s parents divorce when she is only three years old and ship Maya and her older brother, Bailey, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, in rural Stamps, Arkansas. Annie, whom they call Momma, runs the only store in the black section of Stamps and becomes the central moral figure in Maya’s childhood.
As young children, Maya and Bailey struggle with the pain of having been rejected and abandoned by their parents. Maya also finds herself tormented by the belief that she is an ugly child who will never measure up to genteel, white girls. She does not feel equal to other black children. One Easter Sunday, Maya is unable to finish reciting a poem in church, and self-consciously feeling ridiculed and a failure, Maya races from the church crying, laughing, and wetting herself. Bailey sticks up for Maya when people actually make fun of her to her face, wielding his charisma to put others in their place.
Comadre- What do you think of these banned books? Would you let your students read any of them?
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