Between the Lines is a series of posts focused on better understanding books, trends in writing, and the labels associated with these.
As we have entered Banned Books Week, let’s address some frequently challenged books that are worth your time. Specifically: books featuring diversity.
Diversity in literature has been a hot topic lately. With campaigns such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks, blogs like Naz’s Read Diverse Books popping up all over the place, and hashtags such as #OwnVoices taking over twitter we know this isn’t a phase. At some point in the future, I’ll wax eloquent on my reasons why we need diversity in literature. But, until then, check out the books below that highlight diversity in literature:
1 — And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
What is it? A children’s picture book illustrating the true story of a same-sex penguin couple in the Central Park zoo. Two male penguins, Roy and Silo, start taking turns sitting on rocks during brooding season, and get quite depressed when it doesn’t hatch. Noticed by a zoo keeper, Roy and Silo are given a real egg that was abandoned by the mother and begin to create their own family.
Why is it challenged? Haven’t you heard? This book is promoting the GAY AGENDA. Specifically, And Tango Makes Three was challenged for sexual references including, but not limited to, homosexuality and public displays of affection.
Why should I read it? First of all, this is a true story. A beautiful true story! It proves that being attracted to a member of the same sex is natural and not something “horrible” humanity invented. This is an easy way to introduce children to the idea of same-sex families and have conversations about where children come from (not the sex talk, but you know, families).
2 — The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
What is it? Our story begins with the supposed murder of a neighbor’s dog. The protagonist, Christopher, is a 15-year-old boy who is a suspect but knows he didn’t do it. Thus begins a journey for Christopher to solve this mystery. Yet, that isn’t what this book is about. This book is about Christopher’s life on the autism spectrum, his drive for truth and understanding in all aspects of his life, and the relationship he has with the people around him.
Why is it challenged? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is challenged due to explicit language, themes around atheism, and the belief this book is unsuited for the intended age group (Grades 9-12).
Why should I read it? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time identifies Christopher has having Asperger’s Syndrome on the US book jacket, but Haddon wrote in his blog that he wrote “a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. it’s as much a novel about us as it is about christopher.” I love that Haddon acknowledges his book doesn’t fall into #OwnVoices, or is even intended to provide insight into autism– but neither is Sherlock Holmes. Christopher is an unforgettable narrator who shows us the world from a different perspective; a world where mathematical formulas are common sense and everyday conversation is an impenetrable puzzle.
3 — George by Alex Gino
What is it? 4th grader George knows that when people look they see a boy. But she knows that inside, George isn’t a boy. She knows she is a girl. When their teacher announces their class will be putting on the play of Charlotte’s Web wants desperately to play Charlotte. She knows in her heart that if she could be seen on stage in a “girl’s part” the world would recognize her for who she truly is, rather than how she appears.
Why is it challenged? George is challenged due to sexual references, such as those of sexual identity and genitalia. It is also identified as unsuitable for the intended age group (Grades 3-7) and for promoting “sexual confusion”.
Why should I read it? Alex Gino is a #OwnVoices author (check out #OwnVoices on Twitter, or the last paragraph of my The Shadow of the Wind review) who has spent over twelve years of his life writing Geroge. This book brings the questions of sexual, gender, and personal identity to younger audiences in a truthful way. Educators and parents can use this book to have these conversations with children instead of letting them overhear things in the media. I wish this book had existed when I was a kid.
4 — I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
What is it? This is the first of Maya Angelou’s six autobiographies. In this poetic novel, we get to relive Angelou’s life through childhood fears, abandonment, sexual assault, prejudice, and her eventual discovery of literature and the passion it inspires in her. Touted as a memoir, this book really is part autobiography, part romance, part adventure, and part philosophy. Angelou leaves no hold barred in this frank recounting of her life experiences.
Why is it challenged? I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is challenged for sexual references, violence, explicit language, and it’s unsuited for the age group (Grades 10-12).
Why should I read it? Obviously, this is a #OwnVoices author since it’s a memoir. And, if you have never read the works of Maya Angelou, this is as good a place as any to start. In her first autobiography, Angelou introduces her reader gently to the themes that have become her hallmark: race, feminism and femininity, identity, independence, community, family, and travel. Plus, she only wrote it because her editor dared then-poet-only-Angelou to write a “proper book”. And she showed him a thing or two with this publication.
5 — The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
What is it? This 2007 National Book Award winner tells the story of 14-year-old Junior, a Spokane Indian, who wants to reach for his dreams. Growing up on the reservation, or Rez, has taught him that being physically awkward and overly-smart makes him an outcast. Instead of accepting his fate of becoming like his friends and family on the Rez, Junior decides to go to a high school off the Rez. Suddenly, life is very different for Junior. Confronted with every sort of situation a teenager might be confronted with (and more), Junior’s diary reflects on the experiences of his life with humor and art.
Why is it challenged? Why isn’t this book challenged? For language, anti-family sentiments, cultural insensitivity, sexual references, drug and alcohol references, racism, bullying… and our favorite, unsuitable for age group (Grades 7-10).
Why should I read it? If my review didn’t convince you, I don’t know if I can do a better job here, honestly. Another #OwnVoices author, Alexie Sherman is relfecting on his own experiences growing up. A powerful tale that shines light in space most American students don’t get to see, and a vehicle to jump-start conversations with students on controversial topics– why wouldn’t you read this?
Need to understand more about banned and challenged books? Check out this post.
What do you think?
- Have you read any of these books before? If so, what do you think of the reasons they were challenged?
- Are you interested in reading any of these books now? If so, why?
- Any additional suggestions for challenged books about diversity?