A Mississippi educator will have to wait to see if he will be rehired after he was fired for reading a children’s book called “I Need a New Butt!” by Dawn McMillan, to a group of second graders. Toby Price is fighting to regain his job as assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary in the Jackson suburb of Byram in Hinds County. The Hinds County School Board’s decision on Price’s employment is expected in about two months.
If number of challenges are a marker of the serious themes of a book, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is worthy of close attention as one of the top ten most challenged books of all time. The novel features a teenager born with disabilities including encephalitis, who has grown up on a reservation in Spokane, Washington. Fourteen-year-old Arnold, or “Junior” is a cartoonist and book worm with a fiercely protective best friend, Rowdy. Soon after they start freshman year, Junior transfers from a school on the “rez” to one in a small white town, 22 miles away. Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor. Throughout the book, Junior struggles with questions about community and identity. He is determined to improve himself and overcome poverty despite the challenges of birth and race. Cartoons and dark humor illuminate the serious themes of the book in a way that even the most reluctant readers can connect with and enjoy.
When Jay Asher is approached by librarians, educators and others fighting censorship of his book, he shares emails from readers expressing what they gained from reading the book.
Legislation just proposed in Arkansas this week would ban books by or about Howard Zinn from all public schools in the state. The bill, submitted by Representative Kim Hendren, would prohibit any public school district or charter school from including anything written by the controversial Boston University professor between 1959 and his death in 2010.
Far more than just “keepers of the printed book” (our original job description), we are now, perhaps more than ever, guardians of our teens’ emotional as well as intellectual needs. A large part of our job responsibility is to provide a safe space, a blanket of warmth and comfort, a plethora of intellectual and emotional resources to the young adults we serve.
Our handy bookmark checklist for the 2017 Banned Book Reading Challenge will move you beyond the goal of simply reading more, to reading more of “the good stuff;” the good stuff being those books that have been deemed controversial enough to contain hidden nuggets of imagination, inventiveness, and revelation about life and the human condition.