Banned books?

(I wanted to post this sooner, but time has a way of getting away from you when you are 8+ months pregnant!  My apologies…) 

Last week was Banned Books Week, celebrating the freedom to read and the First Amendment.  The American Library Association had this description on their website: “The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.  Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.  Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

The ALA recommends reading banned books to show your support for the First Amendment.  As my husband and I perused the list, we realized that the majority of the classic banned books were required reading in our high school classes.  In order to take the AP English test, for example, a student needed a strong knowledge of several of these classics.  Contrary to what you may think, it usually isn’t the government recommending that a book be banned, but a group of parents or a school board making the recommendation.  Here’s a partial list containing many “classic” books:


The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker 

Ulysses, by James Joyce

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

1984, by George Orwell

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

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

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

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

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

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

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

Women in Love, by DH Lawrence

The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike



When our children are little, it is very easy to have conversations with them about what they are reading because we are doing the reading for them.  We talk about bullies and strangers as we read the Berenstain Bears.  We talk about good versus evil as we explore another princess story.  We help them learn problem-solving as character after character conquers a problem sent their way.  But as our children grow older and begin to read independently, many parents lose the chance for discussions about reading material.  The books above provide ample material for discussions with mom and dad, (often the reasons they were “banned” in the first place.)  Explicit language, race conflict, sexual scenes… many things that you as a parent want to have a role in discussing with your child.

With technology today, it isn’t as difficult as sitting down and reading the entire novel word-for-word with your child.  I recommend to many of my students that they use books-on-tape (or audio files on their iPod) to review what they are reading.  This is especially helpful for children who struggle with reading comprehension, and need the information presented auditorily as well as orally.  There are reading apps for the iPhone, quick google checks for book reviews, and online library resources that are just a click away.

The same tools can be used by mom and dad.  A quick review of the latest reading selection, whether on your Kindle, book-on-tape, or even CliffsNotes, can help you “prep” your child for what’s coming up in the reading, review their comprehension of the material, and provide opportunities for more in-depth discussions about difficult topics.  Students struggling with language and reading comprehension need this.  But all students benefit from this sit-down time with mom or dad.  Even the brightest student can use this time to refine their analysis of the text so they can write an AP-worthy essay.  And that reflection time may be just what is needed to connect with your child on many levels, not the least of which is helping them identify and shape their own world views so they understand the power of their First Amendment rights.

Library Time

Our local libraries are a great resource for families with kids.  In my area of Portland, the family storytimes cover all levels.  I attended the Baby Times with my daughter, where the librarian read books, sang songs, and blew bubbles.  My daughter outgrew those groups when she learned to walk, preferring to check out all the strollers in the room rather than listen to the patient librarian.  I stopped going to the library times for a little while, as I knew I couldn’t force the issue.  Instead, we immersed ourselves in the wonderful book area, checking out new books for weeks on end.  With the online renewal system, I never realized it was so easy to have a book for three, or six, or even nine weeks at a time!  You can read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” sooo many times in nine weeks!  (I was ready to return it at six weeks ;P)

My daughter returned to the library storytime groups once she was able to sit still (a little.)  She often goes weekly with our friend and her son.  We read at home daily, and it’s part of the pre-nap and pre-bedtime routine to read three or four books (or five, if she can convince us.)

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