Near the end of September each year, schools, librarians, English and reading teachers, and students across the country celebrate Banned Book Week. Kids may not know why we celebrate banned books – after all,”banned” sounds like a bad thing, right? So starting with information about the event, which is all about freedom to share ideas in writing and free access to books, can provide a valuable lesson for middle school and upper elementary Language Arts or Reading classes.
The best place to start is probably the Banned Books Week website from the American Library Association.
Every year, certain books are being challenged and banned. Popular titles that faced this obstacle in the past include To Kill a Mockingbird, the Hunger Games, and A Wrinkle in Time. You can see a lists of the “top ten” challenged books for each year here. These lists were complied by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom which collects the information from schools, libraries, and media across the country.
Take a look over these lists, and you’re bound to see some very familiar titles, maybe some your kids have read in class. That could lead to an enlightening classroom discussion. Kids can learn valuable lessons about censorship and reasons why people and organizations try to ban certain books. Some good discussion question might include:
- What is censorship?
- Who should decide what books kids gets to read?
- Should certain books be “banned” at certain age levels?
- How do young people go about making responsible book selections for themselves?
- What is the difference between banning books and the selection of books for children by their teachers or parents?
Maybe Banned Book Week would even be a good time for a library scavenger hunt! Your school librarian will probably have lots of information about banned books that she can share with your kids, and then they could enjoy a fun hunt for books that at one time they might not have been allowed to read.
Another fun idea that I thought kids would love was Mad-Lib style activities created from pages of banned books. The 5-Minute Librarian tells how and includes samples that you can copy on her blog.
Or how about jut having a rather open-ended class discussion on what books your students think are appropriate and not appropriate for kids a few years younger than themselves. And from there lead into how they would go about seeing that the younger kids get to read those books.
A more rigorous activity could be a research project based on one particular banned book. Give your students a selection of well-known titles of banned books and have then choose one as a class. Next, have the kids research the specific challenges that were brought against that book. When did the challenges occur? Who brought the challenges? What were the specific complaints against the book?
I included an activity about banned books in my novel study for A Wrinkle in Time, since it was one of the middle grades novels affected by these challenges.
If you’re looking for even more classroom activities about the freedom to read for Banned Book Week (or anytime), here’s another good activity about censorship from ReadWriteThink. On the Banned Books Week site, you’ll find even more resources.
Banned Book Week was first celebrated in the 1980, and it’s scope has been growing and growing since then. It’s a fun event in schools, and one with an important message. How will you and your young readers celebrate the event this year?
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