October 6, 2022

Book banning efforts prompt readers to form banned book clubs

One avid reader, the 8th grader from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, said she had read several of the books in question. Among the titles that had come under attack in recent years were ‘The Hate U Give’, a novel about a young black girl struggling with racism and police brutality, and ‘All American Boys’, a novel about two teenagers – one black and one white – who face similar problems.

These books had opened Diffenbaugh’s eyes, exposing her to realities she might not otherwise have encountered. She was concerned that some parents and politicians were trying to limit other young people’s understanding of issues such as racism.

“The reason these books are banned is the reason they should probably be read,” the 14-year-old said she thought at the time.

The recent flurry of reading challenges inspired Diffenbaugh to partner with local bookstore Firefly and start the Forbidden Book Club. Since January, she and other young people in her area have been meeting every two weeks to discuss classic and contemporary titles that have been challenged.

The community is one of many banned book clubs that have formed in response to a growing push for the right to control what titles young people have access to. And that points to an ironic effect: the more certain books are singled out, the more people want to read them.

Club hopes readers find themselves in banned books

Book banning — or at least, attempted book bans — seems to be on the rise.

The American Library Association recorded 729 challenges to materials and services from libraries, schools, and universities in 2021, the most since the organization began tracking such attempts in 2000. While that may seem low in Overall considering the roughly 99,000 K-12 public schools in the United States, the ALA says that’s likely an extreme undercount.
In recent months, conservative local and state officials have targeted both specific titles and broad categories of books dealing with race, gender or sexuality. And while attempts to remove these books from library shelves or classrooms have not all been successful, the efforts themselves have sparked interest among readers across the country in the banned books.
This was the impetus of the Banned Books Book Club, a project of Reclamation Ventures, which also runs the Anti-Racism Daily newsletter. Nicole Cardoza, the company’s founder and CEO, said the newsletter’s young readers were increasingly asking for resources on how they could interact with the books targeted for removal.

“This conservative denial actually generates a lot of interest in books that the average student might not otherwise be exposed to,” she said. “[We want to] help connect more people to the stories that matter most – that reflect marginalized experiences they might not otherwise hear.”

Many books that have been challenged recently center on black or LGBTQ characters, and Cardoza said she hopes Banned Books Book Club members can find parts of themselves reflected in the chosen books. The club, which launched in early April and plans to meet virtually once a month, reads “The Hate U Give” as their top pick.

“The book has been around for a while, and it reflects a teenage experience and relationship with police brutality, which has been such a strong conversation for the past two years,” Cardoza said. “We thought it was a really good way to center intent around the book club.”

Beyond that, the team has a list of around 20 books they hope to cover over the next two years, including Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Kalynn Bayron’s ‘Cinderella is Dead’ for their explorations. queer and non-binary. experiences. They want these books to be accessible to everyone, so the project also includes a library of banned books through which readers can access discussion guides and request free copies of the titles.

Other clubs have spoken of censorship

For some banned book clubs, recent attempts to ban books have been a springboard for broader discussions about censorship.

Firefly Bookstore’s Banned Book Club read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” as their top pick. Although the satirical short story, which makes a pointed critique of totalitarianism, is not one of the currently contested books in the United States, it was banned in the Soviet Union until its fall and was rejected for publication in the United Kingdom. United during its wartime alliance with the USSR. And he faced challenges in Florida in the ’80s for being “pro-Communist.” This story sparked some stimulating conversations.
Joslyn Diffenbaugh, an 8th grader from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, started a banned book club after reading articles about the banning efforts around the country.

“He learned a lot because he was referring to different forms of government that maybe some adults didn’t like their kids reading about, even though he was led by pigs,” Diffenbaugh said. “I really thought it shouldn’t have been banned for those reasons, or not at all.”

Teens at the Common Ground Teen Center in Washington, Pennsylvania, formed a banned book club shortly after a Tennessee school district voted to remove “Maus” from an eighth-grade curriculum. But while the Holocaust graphic novel was the club’s catalyst, says director Mary Jo Podgurski, the first title they chose to read was, fittingly, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ – the 1953 dystopian novel on government censorship which itself has been challenged over the years.

“Obviously this whole idea of ​​pulling out books that they wanted to read or thought they should read woke them up,” said Podgurski, an educator and counselor who oversees the Common Ground Teen Center.

Hunter Jenkins, left, and Rowan Curry are members of the Common Grounds Teen Center book club.

The young people at the center take turns choosing a book and leading the discussion, while Podgurski guides the conversations. They talk about the book’s message and why some might have found it objectionable. Since playing “Fahrenheit 451,” the club has also discussed “Animal Farm” and “1984,” which has been criticized for its political themes and sexual content. Until now, young readers at the Common Ground Teen Center have been puzzled as to why these books were once deemed inappropriate.

“I often wonder if adults understand what kids have on their phones?” said Podgurski. “They have access to everything. Saying ‘don’t read this book’ shows you don’t understand teen culture. Young people have access to a lot of information. What they need is an adult to help them deal with them.”

They see the point of reading forbidden books

The Banned Book Club at King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington has long understood the importance of reading banned books. Although recent headlines have sparked new interest in the club, the group has been meeting monthly for over a decade.

David Rafferty, who has coordinated the club since 2014, said he first joined because he was looking for a space to address deeper topics that might not be covered in casual conversation. While many book challenges today are aimed at young adult novels that portray the harsh realities of racism or struggle with gender identity, the Banned Book Club at King’s Books discussed which titles have been pushed back for all kinds of reasons.

One of the first books Rafferty read in the club was Mark Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, which has been contested for decades over concerns that it contributes to racial stereotyping. The meaningful conversations that resulted from that meeting made him a regular member.
Books about LGBTQ and black people were among the most contested books in 2021

“He uses a racial slur — the N-word — quite often and flippantly,” Rafferty said. “We had some interesting discussions about whether it was used more at the time and whether [Twain] tries to reflect the times, whether the book itself is racist or not.”

More recently, the club played “The Color Purple”, which was banned for its depictions of homosexuality and sexual assault, as well as “The Call of The Wild”, which was challenged for its depictions of cruelty and sexual abuse. animal abuse. But according to Rafferty, it’s better to read and discuss than to avoid difficult topics altogether.

“People want to protect their children from certain topics like sexual assault, sexual explicitation, profanity, racism, LGBTQ [issues]”, he said. “My argument is that children and adolescents are going to deal with us in one form or another, and the books give them a chance to experience it or learn from it. more before they have to deal with it directly. So when they have to deal with it, they can deal with it better.”

Teenagers at banned book clubs agree. Lizzy Brison, a member of the Common Ground Teen Center club, said she understands why some books might deserve extra attention and caution when it comes to young readers. But she thinks taking them off the shelves is a step too far.

“They’re protecting what they think is innocence, but really they’re just limiting kids to what they can access with their own identity,” said Brison, who is in 10th grade. “It’s going to be uncomfortable helping a child through this process. But it will be worth it in the end, because your child will come to know who they are and where they belong in the world.”

Diffenbaugh, too, has a desire to better understand the world around her. So she plans to keep reading.

“You’re going to meet people of a different race. You’re going to meet people who may have a different gender identity. It’s a way to better understand them as people,” she said. “All these books that are banned deal with current issues. If we can read them now, we have this knowledge for the future.”