May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

When Kids Share Banned Books | Scales on Censorship

A parent who helps me in my middle school library asked me why bookstores were putting the picture books I Am Jazz (Penguin, 2014) and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Groundwood, 2014) in the teen section. I had to admit that I wasn’t aware of this. Is this a widespread practice, and if so, why?
I hope it’s not widespread. The books are picture books and should be where all young children have access to them. My guess is that this bookstore owner doesn’t want the hassle of dealing with parents who have a problem with transgender issues and characters in titles for young children. However, they aren’t considering that some parents may want their kids to read these books. I can’t imagine that bookstore personnel really believe that teens will be purchasing these picture books, unless they are for younger siblings. Let’s hope that the teens actually do that. My real concern is that these books may not sell ­because they are basically labeled and hidden away, which, of course, is the same thing as having restricted shelves in libraries.

When I was in middle school, my friends and I passed around books that had been banned in our school. We marked certain passages in Judy Blume’s Forever, Norma Fox Mazer’s Up in Seth’s Room, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Now that I’m a middle school librarian, I’m wondering how prevalent this behavior is. Should I be concerned?
You absolutely shouldn’t be concerned. Instead, celebrate the behavior. Every generation has what they perceive as “forbidden” literature. My mother didn’t want me reading True Love magazine, but I did it anyway—at night by the glow of a little flashlight. It’s all part of being an adolescent.

Do your students a favor and introduce them to the forthcoming Ban This Book by Alan Gratz (Starscape, Aug. 2017). It tells the story of a girl who discovers that some of her favorite books have been banned from her school library. She takes matters into her own hands and sets up a banned books lending library from her locker. Soon students throughout the school are in line to read the books. Not only does this novel send a message about how students feel when their rights have been violated, but it also lets children know how to be proactive and how to take a stand.

Last fall, an English teacher in my high school suggested that his students see the movie Fences. A parent voiced a concern to the principal that she didn’t think it was appropriate for a teacher to recommend films. This prompted the principal to issue a statement to the faculty that “under no circumstances” should a teacher suggest that students see ­movies. The faculty are very upset, because the science teachers ­really want to recommend Hidden Figures and social ­studies teachers want to suggest The Zookeeper’s Wife. Does a principal really have the authority to issue such a firm order because one parent complained?
It’s unreasonable for a principal to make such a demand. These movies are relevant to the high school curriculum and could spark great discussion. The teachers are only suggesting that students see the movies; they aren’t ­requiring it. Librarians and teachers suggest books to ­students on a daily basis. How is recommending a movie different from good reader guidance?

Some school districts address outside activities such as movies, plays, and museum exhibits in the board policy manual. If your district doesn’t have a policy, suggest that the faculty craft a statement for their syllabi that informs students and parents that “from time to time, the teacher may make movie recommendations to support and ­enlarge upon material taught in class.” It should be firmly stated that this isn’t a “requirement” and that students won’t be graded on whether they see the film. Principals don’t like dealing with angry parents. I suspect your principal will be happy to have a statement to remind parents that learning extends beyond the classroom.

Pat Scales is the former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at

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Pat Scales About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is the former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at



  1. Cassandra says:

    This is awesome. I absolutely love this and I might even put this in my censorship essay.

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