Mrs. Foltz, School Librarian
Banned Books Week celebrates the right to read. Every October the American Library Association releases a list of the most challenged books from around the States. When a book is challenged, it is asked to be removed from a library’s collection for material that is thought to be inappropriate for the intended patrons. Here at Powhatan we teach Banned Books through a lens of perspective for grades K-5. Students read books that have been challenged many years ago and are asked to put themselves in another reader’s shoes in order to guess why the book was challenged. Often times our students empathize with other readers for books that were challenged for being too scary (Where the Wild Things Are) or promoting disruptive behavior (also Where the Wild Things Are). We are able to have conversations about why The Snowy Day was first challenged, and how our own perspective on books changes over time. Celebrating Banned Books Week also reinforces why we teach students to choose a “just right book” and how books have the power to broaden our own perspectives.
Mrs. Robb, Eighth Grade Language Arts Teacher
Take a look at the extensive lists of the most frequently banned books, and you will be surprised to see such a wide variety of literature represented. Take the Harry Potter series, for example. You might scratch your head and ask yourself, “Why would these books be banned? What could possibly be the objection to literature that has ignited the passion for reading in so many young people and adults alike? The same could be asked of so many books on our shelves that our students read in eighth grade such as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and To Kill a Mockingbird. These are not only beautifully written, wonderful stories, they also teach our students about history and humanity. Through books such as these, our students encounter people who are different from themselves, and they expand their understanding of other cultures. As the characters in the books struggle through relatable personal challenges, so do our students. As they discuss these characters and their conflicts, they realize they are not alone being uncertain or dissatisfied with the way things are, and as their characters make choices, so do they. Making these connections helps our students form their own opinions and define their core values as to what is right and wrong.
On a lighter note, think about one of Powhatan’s most beloved traditions – the annual eighth grade Shakespeare production. Shakespeare is often referred to as the greatest writer in the history of the English language, so thankfully Powhatan students continue to study and perform his work on stage each year. Consider his range of topics that would put book banners on high alert: love, lust, deceit, revenge, adultery, jealousy, the supernatural, politics, religion, sexuality, disparity amongst the haves and have-nots and women versus men, violence…in Richard III, Richard does away with no less than 11 characters who stand in the way of what he wants in the matter of 2 hours! Richard gossips, knowingly spreads false rumors, outright lies to his own kin, breaks promises, and manipulates and uses others for personal gain. Our students are appalled and at the same time fascinated with this complex character. As they read and deliver their lines, they can decipher what is true versus false and form opinions about Richard and other characters as to what is right versus wrong. They will not only not emulate his poor behavior, they will be more cognizant of it when they see it surface in others and champion against it. As per the Global Education Network, “Shakespeare’s plays show the comedy, tragedy, promise, and despair that is the human condition. If these works are guilty of anything, it’s in showing us the folly and the faults in ourselves. Great literature does not glorify or promote what is wrong in society; it shines a light upon the darkness in hopes that dialogue and reason may help us overcome those faults and to rise above.”