THERE’S NOTHING GREAT about banned books. However, the books that get banned also become sought after—so much so that truly banning a book plays an oppositional role than what the person who initiated concerns would intend.
The best example of this would be the award-winning graphic novel MAUS by Art Spiegelman. It earned a Pulitzer Prize. It was touted as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker). And, yet, according to CNBC correspondent Dan Mangan, it was banned because there were concerns about profanity, female nudity, and how Polish Jews were depicted.
This can also be devastating to professional authors. When other author-illustrators have received notification that their books have been banned, they have taken steps to understand issues and respond. When Jerry Craft, author of New Kid, learned that his 2020 Newbery Medal title was banned, he took action.
Craft tried to fully understand concerns. According to NBCBLK News Correspondent, Tat Bellamy-Walker, Craft also realized the uproar wasn’t about students as the complaints were coming from parents. He said, “I felt bad for the kids because I know how much they love ‘New Kid’ and ‘Class Act.’ I know what my school visits do. … I felt bad if there was going to be some kids that would not be able to take advantage of that” (NBCBLK).
In Craft’s case, this parent wanted to limit access to books about racism (critical race theory—something the author had not heard of). This parent collected over 400 signatures and attempted to cancel his author’s visit. While his visit and book was reinstated, the American Library Association (ALA), claims that most banned books are written by and about people of color. Over 200 books were challenged in 2020; over 300 were challenged in 2021, and the numbers are rising.
It’s really important that we, as a collective library community, embrace access to literature, celebrate diversity and other cultures, and learn from them. We must, must, must remember that we work together to support the Library Bill of Rights, which honors student access to books.
A parent might overrule what his or her child reads, but these collective groups working to target the community at large need to take that deep breath and really remember that we have a whole lot to celebrate this year, 2022. We must honor and respect and nurture new talent—of every color and culture because we are a diverse and beautiful people. Let’s all work to lift up the extremely talented individuals who are making their way to our bookshelves today as they enrich our lives.
This year, the American Library Association, ALA, makes a strong statement against censorship in schools.
Many prolific and celebrated authors are speaking out including Nikki Grimes, the author poet. Grimes writes on social media: “Just learned that my book has been removed from shelves in McKinney ISD Texas and North East ISD Texas. This is not just book banning. This is an attempt at erasure. I hope these school districts are flooded with letters of protest from readers [and teachers and librarians] who value my work.” Read more about her memoir: Ordinary Hazards.
We must remain steadfast to the Library Bill of Rights, LBR, and really allow for the sharing of life lessons and literary lessons because they help kids grow. The LBR reminds us that “[V] A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”
Consider what we can learn, what our students can learn:
Compare and explore the style and voice of Freeverse writers. This group would be a unique study of DIVERSE VOICES and STYLE. We can engage students by inviting them to explore these titles. Sharing the Freeverse authors and books below as well as a list of poetic and literary devices, a teen group would love to puzzle out these author's genius style and present what they feel their "style" truly is.
Nikki Grimes is truly a master and can fell a poem in the midst of prose like a rock star. Her ability to bring out the character—personality, worldview—remains a hallmark of her work.
Jason Reynolds' voice and style in free verse present a deep and keen sense of enjambment (that ability to bend words and phrases into a whole new and surprising point of view or image while in the scene), and prosody (a unique was to shower the reader with repetition and bathe them in characterization), and no doubt an advocate for how internal rhyme can enhance the extended metaphor. He's a bit more "flavorful" in his use of enjambment and stacking of literary devices, often bathing his poems in them until the reader feels their gray matter lifted or twisted into some spell-binding wonder.
Take a moment, click through to YouTube.com, and really hear what Jason Reynolds reminds us about the power of great literature and how they benefit kids: Libraries Within UsKwame Alexander, while similar in style, presents as more rhythmic and rhyming in contrast to Reynolds, and he brings immediacy to the reader. He is a present to the page that makes the reader feel in the scene. A perfect example can be showcased on the opening pages of his 2015 Newbery Award-winning title: The Crossover.
Jacqueline Woodson reminds me of Reynold's style but she keeps it real. She's a master of rhythm and repetition and that "just enough" quality to her verse.
Elizabeth Acevedo, as a poet, is on a whole different universe as far as intensity goes. She flies as if she's a true rapper who just happens to be storytelling.
What do you think their magic is?
What literary devices, from my list above, do you see as hallmarks of their style?
Why would we ever ban such genius contributions to children's literature?