Is there anything better than a new pile of books at the start of summer? OK very good. Not every child would answer yes to this, but the fact is that summer is the time to read, whether for fun or for school.
But reading has been a hot topic across the country in recent months. Books that many of us grew up with – literature that expands the world of our children, novels that spark questions and discussion, poems that make people of all ages laugh – have been challenged or removed from shelves by school boards, parents and politicians.
We asked children’s authors, reading experts, a librarian, and a poet (and her son!) to recommend challenged or banned books for kids and teens this summer. These books are intended to entertain, enlighten and expand the understanding of the world of children and adolescents.
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Minh Le, author of the picture book “Drawn Together”, “Green Lantern Legacy”, “Let Me Finish” and others.
Recommendation: “When Aidan Became a Brother” by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita.
This heartwarming book follows Aidan’s journey as a transgender boy and soon-to-be big brother. Through tender text and moving illustrations, Aidan’s family learns together, makes mistakes together, and moves forward together. And as the family grows and evolves, young Aidan finds the strength to know that no matter how much things change, their love remains constant.
[This book was pulled from shelves in an elementary school in Pennsylvania, presumably because the main character is transgender.]
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Maggie Smith, poet and author of ‘Good Bones’, ‘Keep Moving’ and more, and her son, Rhett, 9.
Recommendation: “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein
I grew up with “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein. My daughter, Violet, loved this when she was younger; and my 9-year-old son, Rhett, still turns to this book often. He loves to read me the poems at bedtime, and we laugh together. When I told her this book was on the challenged list — along with one of her other favorites, “James and the Giant Peach,” her eyes widened. “Why?” He asked.
I asked him why he liked “A Light in the Attic”, and he answered this, above all: “It’s stupid”. Rhett said he loves both poems and artwork because both are so imaginative. “If you read a poem, it doesn’t have to rhyme, but when it does, it sounds really funny. It’s kind of like a rap song – sometimes he makes up words to match the rhyme. It makes you want to read the poems to see how he will play with the words. And the illustrations look really distorted, but that’s part of what makes them funny. I like the style.
Flipping through our damaged family copy, he said, “Honestly, I can’t find a single poem in the book that isn’t funny. If you were in a bad mood, it would make you laugh and cheer you up, whether you like it or not.
[“A Light in the Attic” was banned in some Florida schools due to concerns it “promoted violence and disrespect.”]
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Kate DiCamillo, Newbery Medal-winning author of “Flora & Ulysses” and “The Tale of Despereaux,” among others, and former Library of Congress National Ambassador for Children’s Literature.
Recommendation: “The Giver” by Lois Lowry
I have read this book four times. Each time it gives me something new. And each time it makes me think about how I want the world to be and what it means to see and feel. It is a deeply moving, thought-provoking and necessary book.
[The Giver is a dystopian novel that has been banned or challenged because of difficult topics, including infanticide, euthanasia and suicide.]
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Meg Medina, author of the Newbery Medal children’s book “Thank You Suárez Changes Gears”, among others.
Recommendation: “Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo
Few main characters will stick with a reader as long as Xiomara. This explosive verse novel unpacks a young Dominican girl’s coming of age and her embrace of her own body, mind and voice. Each poem is a source of emotion and honesty as Xiomara questions the dynamics of her home, the teachings of her church, and the rules imposed on young Afro-Latinas in school and in the community. It’s the perfect book for teenagers asking their own tough questions about their lives.
[The Poet X has been challenged or banned for perceived anti-Christian verses. It also has sexual references and profanity.]
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Jordan Bookey & Felix Lloyd, co-founders of Beanstack, a tool for reading challenges in schools and libraries, aimed at promoting reading
Recommendation: “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
We’ve read ‘The Hate U Give’ a few times, most recently at an informal family book club with our middle-aged son. The main character, a high school student named Starr, is lovable and real. we could feel her struggle in the movement of the book through the various worlds Starr lives in, including her black neighborhood and her predominantly white private school. As a black man, Felix connected to the quiet complexities of the characters Maverick and Uncle Carlos. We especially liked how this fictional story gave us a vehicle to discuss heavy, real-life topics like police brutality and speaking out. Additionally, Starr’s personal journey of questioning and redefining complicated (and in some cases unhealthy) friendships has led us to conversations about what healthy friendships should look like. And as our son pointed out, “the book is always a page-turner.” During the school year, we have to rush from one thing to another. Summer gives us more time to chat with our children. The Hate U Give is compelling in its plot and in the fact that it elicits a shared dialogue with middle- and high-school-aged children.
[“The Hate U Give” has been banned and challenged for profanity, violence and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda, according to the American Library Association.]
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Mary Ellen Icaza, Managing Director and Executive Director of Stark Library.
Recommendation: “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
There are many difficult books that I would recommend high school students read, but the one that comes to mind is “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This book is written from the perspective of two teenagers, Rashad, who is wrongly accused of theft and then beaten by a police officer; and Quinn, who witnesses the beating. Why do I recommend this book? This book presents real issues such as police brutality and racial profiling, which are happening in our country, but it does so in a unique way through the voices of Rashad, who is black, and Quinn, who is white. . The writing is powerful, raw and honest. Some have taken issue with the book because of what they describe as violence, language, and the promotion of an anti-police point of view. However, “All American Boys” encourages readers of the book to think critically about recent events, reflect on what they thought they knew, topics such as racism, social justice and police brutality, and perhaps be at generating difficult conversations with peers and adults.
[According to the American Library Association, “All American Boys” has been banned and challenged for profanity, drug use and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views and contain divisive topics.]
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LeVar Burton, actor, television host, reading advocate
Recommendation: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
There’s a reason Atticus Finch is one of the most popular characters in American literature. He was one of my literary heroes growing up; a man determined to stand up for those who have no voice because it’s the right thing to do. Set in the pre-Civil Rights era South, the story depicts an America that almost no longer exists but deals with issues of race and class that still plague us.
[“To Kill a Mockingbird” has been often banned or challenged, mostly for racism and use of the N-word and other profanity.]