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Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books Week: Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

Photo courtesy of Public-Domain-Photos.com

"To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list." 
~John Aikin

Here are a few of my favorite books for older kids and teenagers that have been challenged and/or banned at one time or another:

Blubber, written by Judy Blume, 1974.  This story has been challenged for having "immoral characters who go unpunished" and swear words.

I remember my 5th grade teacher reading this book, which is basically about bullying, to our class.  Though I had already read the book on my own, I appreciated hearing the story again as Mrs. Allen read it aloud and, at the same time, made her anti-bullying stance clear. The story is told by the character Jill, a fifth grader.  She describes how a classmate, Linda, is ostracized by the entire class and bullied by a group of girls.  Jill herself goes along with the bullying for awhile.  When she later tries to stand up to the bullies, she becomes a target herself.  I think this is an important book, and I wish more teachers would read it to their classes.

Harriet the Spy, written by Louise Fitzhugh, 1964.  Anti-authoritative thoughts and actions have contributed to this book being challenged at times.

Harriet loves to write and wants to become a spy.  She secretly watches the people around her -- friends, neighbors, classmates -- and writes down her observations.  Then Harriet loses her notebook at school.  Classmates find it and read it... and then the trouble really begins!

I think that many people who have challenged this book worry that kids will emulate Harriet and spy on others, even though Harriet ends up having to deal with the negative consequences of her actions.  I have to admit that after reading this book when I was ten, I did come up with my own "spy route".  It lasted about 3 days -- then my mom caught me spying on a neighbor and I got in big trouble! ;)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis, 1950.  This story has been challenged because of the aforementioned witch, as well as "graphic violence".

The first book in the Chroncicles of Narnia series, this is the story of how the four Pevensie children -- Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy -- find their way into the magical land of Narnia.  I discussed the series previously, here.

Bridge to Terabithia, written by Katherine Paterson , 1977.  Swear words, suggestions of witchcraft, and themes of death and grief are some of the reasons people have used to challenge this book.

Fifth-grader Jess becomes good friends with his new neighbor and classmate, Leslie, who helps him learn to be strong and courageous.  The two friends create their own imaginary kingdom, Terabithia, in the woods near their home.  They declare themselves king and queen of this world, and retreat to it every day after school.  While in this world of their imagination, they learn to face their real-world fears.  Then tragedy strikes, and all the characters must deal with their grief.

I still remember reading this book for the first time when I was eleven.  It's the first (but certainly not the last) book that ever made me cry.  It touched my heart and instantly became one of my very favorite books.

A Wrinkle in Time, written by Madeline L'Engle, 1962.  One reason this story has been challenged is for "allegedly undermining religious beliefs".  I reviewed this book a few months ago, here.

The Bad Beginning, written by Lemony Snicket, 1999.  The first of thirteen books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, this story has been challenged for scary and/or violent content.

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Beaudelaire are orphaned by an arsonous fire, and sent to live with their distant cousin, Count Olaf.  He turns out to be a very odd and unpleasant guardian, interested only in the children's extensive inheritance.

I read this (and the rest of the series) several years ago when my daughter Emmalie first read them.  In my opinion, though the books can be a bit macabre, they are still appropriate for most older kids (ten and up, or so).  The books are also wickedly funny!

Olive's Ocean, written by Kevin Henkes, 2003.  This book has been challenged for offensive language (all of it words that are heard frequently on tv and PG movies), sexual content (uh... there is one teenage kiss and a scene with the parents kissing) and themes of grief.

This is the story of 12-year-old Martha, who wants to be a writer someday.  Shortly before her family makes their annual trip to Cape Cod to visit her grandmother, the mother of a recently deceased classmate (Olive), brings a page from Olive's diary to Martha.  From it, Martha learns that Olive also wanted to be a writer, that she always hoped to go to the ocean, and that she thought Martha was "the nicest person in my whole entire class".  Throughout her stay in Cape Cod, Martha thinks of Olive, wanting to do something for this girl who could have been her friend.  The story explores Martha's relationships with her family, as well as feelings she's having for a teenage boy.

I just read this book for the first time earlier this week, and found it to be a poignant, well-written story.

The Harry Potter series, written by J. K. Rowling, 1997.  These books have been banned widely for "themes of witchcraft".  I discussed this series here a few months ago.

The His Dark Materials series, written by Philip Pullman, 1995.  Among the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in recent years, these books have been challenged for being anti-religion.  I reviewed these stories a few weeks ago here.

Speak, written by Laurie Halse Anderson, 1999.  This book has been banned from many middle and high school libraries for sexuality, suicidal thoughts, and "gritty teenage situations".

Melinda, a freshman, is a social pariah at school.  She called 911 at a party over the summer -- when police arrived, they discovered underage drinking and made some arrests, and now everyone thinks of Melinda as a snitch.  No one knows the real reason she called the police, that she was raped by a popular senior boy.  Melinda withdraws from the world around her, often refusing to speak to her parents, teachers, and classmates.  The remainder of the story centers around Melinda's struggle to find her voice once again.

I found this to be a moving story -- full of pain and despair, yes, but also full of finding strength and courage inside one's self.

For more banned/challenged middle grade books, please see my 2012 post about this.  For more young adult books, check out this one.

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