Today is bestselling author Simone Elkeles’ 52nd birthday. To date, she has penned 11 novels, including the award winning young adult Perfect Chemistry series. She is also a dog lover, former hockey and Girl Scout mom, and Chicago native living in Florida.
In 2017, Perfect Chemistry faced a book challenge at Academy School District 20’s Challenger Middle School Library in Colorado Springs. A mother of a 6th grade student found the book amongst her child’s things and, after reading the book, objected to its place at a middle school library due to profanity, alcohol use, gangs and gun violence, and sexual situations.
Besides the pure enjoyment one receives from reading, my favorite benefit is increased empathy and decision-making. Children often apply the lessons and decisions their favorite characters go through to help them deal with situations in their own lives. If my daughter decides to read Maas’ books one day, I hope she finds encouragement from Calaena’s courage and strength or Feyre’s loyalty and kindness. We may not always agree with the books a child selects, but as Neil Gaiman says,
“Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.”
As a teen, Acevedo first aspired to be a rapper, then realized her passion for performing poetry after working with an influential teacher. She attended George Washington University and the University of Maryland, where she earned her BA in a self designed degree and an MFA in Creative Writing. She went on to teach 8th grade, but noticed that her students struggled with reading because they did not see themselves in any of the characters in their books.
So she wrote a book for them.
I read Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner out loud to my 5 year old son during the summer of 2020. More than any chapter book I’ve ever read to him, Winnie-the-Pooh wholly captivated his attention. He actually sat next to me to listen to the stories about Pooh Bear and his friends, even on the pages where there were no pictures. It was a delightful reading experience. If ever I were to bet on a book that could not possibly be challenged or banned, it would be Winnie-the-Pooh.
And I would lose that bet.
Silverstein’s children’s poetry is known for its fantastical humor and thoughtful lessons. His words often make the reader laugh out loud, and sometimes even cry. With such a beloved reputation, you would think there’s no way Silverstein also had a reputation for banned books. However, he is a frequently banned and challenged author, and his book, A Light in the Attic comes in at number 51 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books List, 1990-1999.
I first encountered Green’s books after I took a course on children’s literature in graduate school in 2012. One of the final sections of the class featured banned and challenged books, and I selected Looking for Alaska, not knowing anything about Green or his books. I really enjoyed the novel, and though I hadn’t attended a boarding school like Miles and Alaska, felt a sense of understanding at Miles’ awkward and anxious high school experiences. I recall reading it and thinking, Okay, so what’s wrong with it?!
On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Brandi Levy and public school students’ speech rights, in the case Mahoney School Board v. Brandi Levy. In 2017, Levy, then a 14 year old high school student in Pennsylvania, tried out for her school’s varsity cheering squad. After not making the team, she vented her frustrations in a Snapchat video, where she flipped off the camera and dropped a few swearwords. The school, after seeing the video, subsequently suspended her from the junior varsity cheer squad, saying that her video and its message violated the cheerleading code of conduct. After failing to come to a resolution with the school, Levy and her parents sued, arguing that punishing her for off campus speech violated Levy’s First Amendment rights.
When I was researching more about Lucy and Kincaid’s other works, I was struck by the number of criticisms that labeled her work as “angry”. Considering her childhood trauma and that many of her works contain autobiographical elements, it is not surprising that her characters are angry, or experience passionate feelings. That is true of many coming of age stories or memoirs.
We are used to seeing censorship attempts for heavy, controversial topics: drugs, LGBTQ+ themes, sexual content, religion, death, ect. But the Junie B. Jones series is aimed at young readers. She’s a kindergartener, worried about riding the bus on her first day of school and getting up to hilarious, albeit a bit questionable, antics. To what, exactly, are people objecting in these books?
Recently, I was able to speak to Ms. Larson regarding this situation. Her commitment to intellectual freedom and dedication to fostering an antiracist learning environment for her students is evident in her discussion of the challenge to Stamped. Not every educator is in the position to fight back against a challenge: it can be a risk to their professional reputation or even their job security. But if they’re able to do so, it always makes a difference, even if censorship prevails in that particular incident. As Ms. Larson states below: “Fight for the kids. They will know. They always know.”