Getting Ready for Banned Books Week

As we returned from our impromptu break from school (thanks, Dorian), I needed to get myself back into the vortex of the school year which quickly became a realization of “OMG, Banned Books Week is coming up!” Even though I feel in the weeds, exposing students to the reality of banned or challenged books is worth putting other things aside. It is especially relevant now, in light of the recent banning of the Harry Potter books by a Catholic school in Tennessee. (I mean, is it 1999 again?)

I’ve done various activities in the past, and I’m in the process of collecting inspiration from other librarians on Twitter and other social media outlets. Boy, you guys have some good ideas! I especially liked the one from Anne Campbell Bucci who put paper bags over books with the reason why they were banned handwritten across the front. The students lift the bag to discover the identity of the book. I am definitely adding this activity, although the idea of writing “pornographic” as a reason why a book was banned terrifies me. Perhaps I’ll use “sexually offensive” instead? (Oh my, this should be interesting.)

Since I’ve been mining ideas from other people, I figured I’d share my favorite one so far. Last year, we shredded the first page from books that had been banned or challenged (no, I made photocopies first. I didn’t rip up the books!) and put the pieces in glass mason jars. We made a poster of the book covers for the kids to choose from and they had to guess which book was in which jar using only the random words they could find. First, the students had a great time shaking up the jars and trying to peer into them. Second, the poster with photos of book covers began more conversations about why a book had been banned and where exactly could they find it in the library. My circulation increased dramatically.

I love it when students ask questions or try to figure out why a book has been banned or challenged. I think this ties into why I want to try Ms. Bucci’s idea of the paper bags, because the kids will need to work backward from the reason to the title. I can’t wait to find out how many titles they come up with for each particular accusation.

While the visual of covered books (and the idea of a contest) will bring students to the library, another way we get their attention is by faculty and staff wearing Banned Books Week t-shirts on a specific day during the week. We also love being able to wear a t-shirt since normally we are required to dress up.

Now that I’m completely excited about Banned Books Week (and my budgets and receipts are on the back burner, oops #sorrynotsorry), I hope this will inspire others who may feel bogged down to find the energy and excitement to plan for the upcoming BBW this September 22-28. Please post your ideas below to help inspire others!

Freedom to Read Week – a lower school perspective


FTRW-2014-clipart-5x2-thumb-1February 23 – March 1, 2014 is Freedom to Read Week in Canada. This annual event, which highlights issues of censorship, intellectual freedom and book banning, is an excellent chance to initiate a discussion with students about the books they read and why they choose to read them. The US has an equivalent, Banned Books Week, which takes place every September.

As a library that serves students in grades one through twelve, we try to initiate grade appropriate discussions with our students about the issues highlighted by Freedom to Read Week. As the focus of my posts on this blog is Lower School, I will give some examples of activities we have shared with our younger students. Interestingly, some of our best discussions over the years have been with grade seven and eight students; they are generally widely read, and are starting to become aware of media influences and how they as teens are influenced by issues in the wider world.

Our library technician puts together a display of ‘banned books’ a week or so before Freedom to Read week, and as our younger students study the display, I initiate informal conversations about why certain books might be banned. The example of And Tango Makes Three is always a great conversation starter; our school mascot is the penguin, and this book is much-loved in our library. When our junior classes stop by for their regular library period, I share some observations I’ve made about their comments about banned books (Harry Potter is also a good conversation starter!), discuss issues of censorship and selection, and give examples of how books have been separated from readers throughout history. I also share information about the challenges we’ve had in our own library (one serious, and a couple of more informal over the past ten years or so). We discuss how the library should tackle such challenges, with options ranging from pulling the book from the shelf and banning it outright, to having a discussion with the challenger, to ignoring the complaint altogether. We usually arrive at a consensus, which generally matches the challenge policy document we have, although we always have a few students who would like to ignore any and all challenges…

I am lucky to be teaching in a community that is open to us having these discussions with elementary age children. While it may not work in every school library, the chance to have these fascinating discussions with our youngest readers offers a real insight into their reading lives, and their consumption of media. We often broaden our discussion to chat about censorship in movies and on the internet, using our school internet filter as an example, and discuss issues around student safety and access to information. It’s always an interesting week!