As a parent, I know that there are books my kids aren’t quite ready for. I had my son wait until he was eleven to read The Hunger Games, for example, even though he wanted to read it when he was nine and saw it in my library.
“There’s no rush,” I told him, as he devoured the Percy Jackson series and listened to the complete Penderwicks on audiobook. “It will still be there in a couple years.”
But would that mean I don’t want The Hunger Games on the shelf at the library?! Of course not. Would I want to make the decision about book readiness for all other people? Of course not.
Our students need stories they can find themselves inside. They need wide-ranging diverse titles where they feel seen and understood, and where they can grow to understand others and develop compassion and empathy for human experiences they wouldn’t otherwise understand.
As Banned Books Week kicks off, I know not every teacher is in a position to showcase it. In some places, it’s simply too dangerous for an educator to display banned and challenged books and talk about intellectual freedom with students (the Fahrenheit 451 realities are overwhelming). But for those of us lucky to be in a position to share about this with students, today I want to share some options. Choose the ones that are right for your classroom and community.
As usual, it’s not about telling our students what to think, it’s reminding them that this is an important thing to think about.
You can listen in to this episode below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.
Banned Books Week: Facts
The American Library Association has compiled a lot of great data about censorship and challenges taking place around the country. In 2022, there were 1,269 attempts to ban or censor library books or resources. This is the highest number in the last twenty years.
You can get a concise picture of the statistics and related issues on this page of the ALA website.
Banned Books Week: Display Ideas
One of the easiest ways to raise student awareness of book censorship is to put up a display for Banned Books Week. Again, the ALA has amazing resources for ideas. Check out their Pinterest page here for dozens of ideas, or try one of the easy options below.
Try a Fahrenheit 451 theme for a quick and easy Banned Books display. Cut large orange and red paper flames to line your shelves and/or small ones to stick into the pages of your books, then add a sign that says “Read Banned Books” and perhaps a few quotations from Ray Bradbury.
Another easy option for a Banned Books display is to put up caution tape, or, if you can’t easily get any, print out strips of text saying “caution” on yellow copier paper and tape them up to look like caution tape.
Banned Books Week: Free Posters for your Display
To complement your displays of banned books, try adding one of these free poster resources.
I loved this idea I saw on the ALA Pinterest page so much I had to try making my own version for you. Rachel Moani created an amazing book display for the Lacey Timberland Library featuring characters holding up signs showcasing the insane reasons their books had been banned.
You can make your copy of my easily printable version here if you’d like, or make your own. I didn’t try to include every reason each book had been banned or challenged, but I included one or two.
The Alexandria Public Library has some great free posters waiting for you to download as well! Check them all out here.
The National Education Association has a “Freedom to Read” poster available here if you need something more subtle.
These two infographics from the American Library Association can help students get a clearer picture of what’s going on. You can download and print them from the ALA website.
Banned Books Week: Activities
Here are a few ideas to get students thinking about banned books and intellectual freedom this week.
Invite students to create an infographic showcasing a timeline of book banning. When was the first book challenged in the U.S.? Which book was it? What was it challenged for? How have things progressed? Depending on how much time you want to spend, you can give specifications like inviting students to feature five books that have been challenged between that first book and now.
The New York Times has a lot of ideas, including this page with a number of helpful writing prompts. You could use them as journal entries or as prompts for small group or partner discussion.
Want to launch a serious writing project around Banned Books Week? Check out the Freedom to Read Writing Contest through the New York Public Library.
You could also take some time this week to feature a book or author that has been challenged each day in class. You might play an author interview, show a book trailer, or feature a spotlight video.
Here are some possible examples…
Fahrenheit 451 Spotlight Video
The Hate U Give Spotlight Video
New Kid Book Trailer
Author Interview: Maia Kobabe
Banned Books Week: Final Resources
NPR has a new series featuring the authors of banned and challenged books, which includes both short interviews and essays by the authors, like this one by Maia Kobobe (author of Gender Queer) and this one by Jerry Kraft (author of New Kid).
National Geographic has written an overview history of book bans that could be handy.
The ALA has pulled together a comprehensive look at classics that have been challenged and the reasons why here.
That’s a Wrap
However you choose to honor Banned Books Week this year, I hope you’ve found some resources to make it easier. It doesn’t have to take hours to showcase the importance of the #freedomtoread. If you’ve got a million and one things going, you can just print some posters and hang them on your door as the start of informal conversation.