An Action Guide for Students and ParentsFor over 40 years, the National Coalition Against Censorship has defendedeveryone’s right to read, especially kids.Hundreds of children’s books, young adult novels, and literary classics arechallenged or banned in American schools and libraries every year. In2019, 377 challenges were reported to the American Library Association,but the actual number is far higher because there are many more that arenot reported.Children’s books, young adult novels, and literary classics are frequentlychallenged or banned from American schools and libraries.WHO CHALLENGES BOOKS?TAKE ACTION!This action kit is designed to empower young readers and parents tofight book censorship.It explores the most common motivations behind book challengesand suggests strategies to counter them.Censorship can happen in any community but each case is unique.You may need to adapt these ideas to fit your specific situation.
CENSORSHIP AND THE FIRST AMENDMENTCensorship is the removal or suppression of words, imagesor ideas thought to be unacceptable by thosewith the power to ban them (also known as‘censors’).Does the law protect us from censorship?The First Amendment protects against government restrictions on or interference withthe content of speech because of disagreement with its viewpoint. This includes speechin public schools.Note: The First Amendment does not protect students in private schools. However,the mission of any school is to provide a comprehensive education and prepare futurecitizens. That mission cannot be achieved without allowing students to encounter adiversity of ideas. Hence free access to ideas is just as important in private schools as itis in public ones.How does censorship occur in public schools?Schools can limit speech or expressive activity that disrupts school functions, promotesillegal drug use, or is obscene. (See Advocacy Tip #5) Schools may also impose reasonable education-based limitations on student expression in school-sponsored publications,like school newspapers, yearbooks, noticeboards, and online posts using school servers.Schools cannot restrict student access to books in the classroom or library unless it’s foreducational or compelling safety reasons. Schools should follow established district policies when reviewing requests to restrict or remove books from classrooms and libraries.Any removal or prohibited access to a book based on some individual’sdisagreement with its political, religious or moral viewpoint is a form of censorship.
Can private individuals censor speech?While the final decision to remove a book is made by educators and school administrators, private groups and individuals can be very effective at mounting publicpressure on school officials to suppress material they don’t like.What if the book contains ideas that make me uncomfortable?Not everyone will like every book in the library or classroom. That’s perfectlyfine. Parents can guide their own children in their reading choices, as well as requestalternative assignments in class, if their school permits it.But content-based objections that lead to the complete removal or restricted access to the offending material for all students, hold the views of one person whodisfavors the book above the views of others – and infringe upon everyone’s FirstAmendment right to read.Is it still censorship if the book is available elsewhere?Yes. Even if the book is available in other libraries and bookstores, public institutions like schools have no authority to limit anyone’s right to access it without alegitimate educational or safety reason.Censorship suppresses innovation and imagination.For more information, check out NCAC’s resource guide on The First Amendmentin Schools (available at www.ncac.org/resources).
THE RIGHT TO READ ANDYOUR FREEDOM TO CHOOSEThe First Amendment guarantees our right to read whatever we choose. But the lawalso protects the right and responsibility of parents and guardians to guide their ownchildren’s learning and book choices. No parent has the right to decide what anotherperson’s child should or shouldn’t read.How Schools and Libraries Choose BooksWhile schools have a similar responsibility to shape the minds of students, theirpower to choose what students read must be strictly based on educational reasons,rather than personal values and morals. Libraries – which also serve an educationalfunction – exist primarily to satisfy the community’s right to read. School libraries,therefore, can choose a variety of books from a wide range of subjects and literarystyles. Libraries generally prioritize books with literary, artistic and educational merit,considering reviews from expert critics, as well as the general public.Red Flags and Permission SlipsSometimes, school districts flag books with “mature” content so as to avoidcontroversy. While well-intentioned, book rating systems and parental permits basedon the presence of certain content (e.g., sex, violence, profanity) are not advisedbecause they don’t provide meaningful information about the books’ literary andeducational value. Rather than evaluating the work as a whole, red flags reducecomplex literary works to a few isolated and “objectionable” elements.Schools can respect parents’ right to information by consistently providing information on all of the books to be read, not just those with content presumed to becontroversial.Advocacy Tip #1Instead of labeling books with a scarlet letter, many schools provide each parent andstudent with a list of instructional material (including books) to be taught each year, alongwith a brief statement on why they were selected for the curriculum. Recommend thispractice to your school principal or district superintendent to encourage open communication and avoid controversy.
Age and Maturity LevelsEven the staunchest supporters of free speech appreciate the tension thatexists between the right to parent and the right of young people to read freely –particularly as pertains to very young, pre-adolescent children. To ease this tensionwhile promoting the readership rights of children, organizations like the AmericanLibrary Association, National Council of Teachers of English and theAmerican Association of School Librarians have devised guides for parents andeducators that incorporate educational standards on age and maturity in book recommendations. For more information, visit the links provided on page 12.COMMON OBJECTIONS TO BOOKSSex and SexualityA responsible education helps us understand physical development and sexualityas part of the human condition, yet themost commonly opposed books are thosewith references to sex or sexual health.Despite framing these important conceptsin narratives and experiences that kidscan understand, children’s books like It’sPerfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newmanface demands for removal for their honestdiscussion about sexual health or focus onLGBTQ issues.Literary classics like Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Toni Morrison’s TheBluest Eye have also been challenged by parents and school boards who deem certainsexual passages inappropriate for young people without appreciating their contextualsignificance and the value of the book as a whole.Advocacy Tip #2In addition to fostering respect for our bodies and those of others, books on sexand sexuality are First Amendment-protected speech, unless they are obscene.To be obscene, the book as a whole would have to be “patently offensive,” “appealto the prurient interest,” and, most critically, “lack serious literary, artistic, political,or scientific value.”Most educators are reasonable people, trained to select books for their educationalvalue and are extremely unlikely to select obscene books.
ProfanityBooks containing strong or dark language are often challenged, even though profanity is often used in literature to convey social or historical context, local dialect,or simply to better depict reactions to real-life situations. Many opponents of thesebooks forget (or ignore) the fact that masterworks like Of Mice and Men, and Slaughterhouse-Five, both containing profane language, are also praised for their elegant proseand poignant depictions of the Great Depression and World War II-era strugglesPolitical ViewsBook challenges in response to political content can reveal ideological divisions within our communities, even within our homes. Tolerating these diverse political viewscan be uncomfortable, but it is an essential part of any democracy that upholdsfreedom of speech. It is important that school curricula reflect a broad spectrumof social and political views and experiences. Even if the political views shared in abook don’t align with our own views, they may reflect those of others in our community and are worth reading and understanding.Advocacy Tip #3The Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that:(L)ocal school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply becausethey dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribewhat shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’Island Trees School District v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982)
RaceBooks containing racial violence, offensive epithets or historical truths aboutinjustice regularly come under fire. Racial sensitivity and trauma are often cited inchallenges to classic literary works like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Harper Lee’sTo Kill a Mockingbird. Such works may make some people uncomfortable—particularly those who identify with racial groups that have been subjected to unjust treatment. But we can draw vital lessons about civil and human rights from texts thatexamine the historical realities of racism. Teachers and librarians are best trainedto contextualize racially-sensitive material and guide students to a more meaningfulunderstanding of humanity.The benefits of reading literature written from diverse perspectives extend beyondthe classroom, enriching society. Reading literature is one of the few ways youngpeople can try to understand someone else’s life experience as they explore a character’s thoughts and actions. This helps young readers understand situations fromdifferent points of view. Not only does reading help us empathize with others, italso helps us learn about ourselves.Advocacy Tip #4Sometimes, book opponents are not interested in removing the book entirely but onlyfrom their own children’s hands. In such instances, challengers might be open to keepingthe book on an alternative reading list.Check whether your school district’s policies on instructional materials allow for alternative assignments.
Religious ViewsCongress shall make no law respecting an establishmentof religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.The Constitution protects everyone’s right to exercise their own religious beliefs, freefrom government interference; this is guaranteed in the First Amendment’sFree Exercise Clause. Further, the First Amendment’s EstablishmentClause prohibits government institutions like public schools from favoring or disfavoring religion and any particular religious practices.Nevertheless, people continue to wrongly cite religious beliefs asgrounds for censoring books. Parents and religious leaders oftenobject to works that discuss sex, evolution, witchcraft, or occult themes.J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series, for example, has beenchallenged in schools in Michigan, California, and Georgia.Advocacy Tip #5The Establishment Clause does not prohibit schools from teaching about religion and theFree Exercise Clause does not allow allow schools to remove books based on religiousobjections. Students have a right to express their beliefs – religious or otherwise – so longas they don’t disrupt the educational program.ViolenceObjections to violent content are often based on the idea that it disturbs readersby trivializing violence or desensitizes them to its effects. Books challenged on thisground include One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte and Native Son by Richard Wright.These objections typically disregard the most experienced and child-friendly safeguard in the classroom – teachers. Both teachers and librarians are trained to contextualize themes of violence in their lesson plans in a way that emphasizes – ratherthan trivializes – the social harms and root causes of violence.
WHY SOME PARENTS CHALLENGE BOOKSCensorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.– Laurie Halse Anderson“My kids are innocent and deserve to grow in a protected environment.”Many book challenges are motivated by an underlying fear that kids exposed to certain ideas at too early a stage will be negatively influenced bythem because they lack the capacity to understand their content. Parentsalso sometimes challenge books that they believe will lead their kids toimitate behavior they disapprove of.These fears are often irrational or overblown. In reality, the classroomis generally the best environment for children to be exposed to newideas and, under the guidance of trained educators, develop the maturityrequired to contend with different styles of expression.In the age of the Internet and social media, the protective urge to shieldchildren from truths may do more harm than good if it fails to adequately prepare them for life beyond the schoolyard. Rather, parents andteachers should work together in creating an open and inviting atmosphere for children to ask questions and learn.Advocacy Tip #6If you’re unsure whether a book contains concepts that are too complex for you or yourchild to process, consult with a your librarian or teacher. Librarians and teachers are trainedto balance children’s emotional maturity and psychological development against the pedagogical value of the book.Kirkus Book Reviews and School Library Journal also offer reliable age recommendations forbooks and are highly regarded for their unbiased critical reviews.Visit www.kirkusreviews.com and www.slj.com for more information.
“This is a dirty book: I see the word ‘[email protected]*# on page 5!”Often, book challenges are fueled by selective reading. Complaints based onpassages read out of context, ignore the literary value of the book as a wholeand only support the importance of reading more, not less.Worse than decontextualized passages are imagined passages. In 2011, aparent’s objection to the word “poo poo head” led officials to remove DavePinkney’s The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby from a Texas school library.Later, they learned that “poo poo head” does not actually appear anywhere inthe book.“I want my kids to be proud Americans. This book is unpatriotic andun-American because it tells our history in a negative light.”Some book challenges are also motivated by intolerance for diverseviewpoints and historical perspectives, though challengers are unwillingto state these motives. This applies to all types of literature. Textbooksthat reflect the historical realities of injustice and inequality in Americahave been challenged at the local and state levels (Arizona, Florida andTexas).The American Library Association reports that books by or about peopleof color and narratives reflecting LGBT experiences are disproportionatelychallenged and banned in American public schools. Sherman Alexie was themost banned author in 2015 for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man), Toni Morrison (Beloved, The Bluest Eye), andDavid Levithan (Two Boys Kissing) are other examples of authors whose booksmagnify underrepresented voices but are routinely challenged.When Arizona lawmakers and schoolofficials banned ethnic studies andremoved dozens of books from aMexican American studies class in2010, students organized protests andcreative advocacy campaigns to asserttheir freedom to read and learn.
WHAT STUDENTS CAN DOIMAGINE:It’s the first week of school and already, a group of parents has fileda complaint to remove Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi from the curriculum.HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND?1READ!Have you read the book? If you can, you should.The more you read, the more knowleadgeable and influential you will beas an advocate. Moreover, most challenges that cite controversial passages in a book do so out of context. Reading the book will enable you tocorrect misconceptions and reframe passages in their broader intendedcontexts.Read what influential publications and individuals have said about thebook. Has it received any awards? Have any prominent experts (likeeducators or literary critics) reviewed the book?Advocacy Tip #7Check out the following trusted sources for book reviews:Booklist Online (American Library Association): www.booklistonline.comSchool Library Journal: www.slj.com/category/reviews/books/Kirkus Reviews: www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/The Book Report Network: www.kidsreads.com and www.teenreads.com
2ASK QUESTIONS!Gather the relevant facts from your principal, teachers,librarian, or parents:Is the book part of the school curriculumor is it a library/reference book?Is the challenged book required reading or on an optional list?Who are the complainants? Parents, teachers, community members,other students, or all of the above?What is the nature of their objections?(Profanity, violence, sex, etc.)What remedy do the challengers propose? (Removal, redaction,red-flagging, etc.)In 2012, Chicago public school administratorsremoved Persepolis from classrooms andlibraries, objecting to its graphic language. Over150 students staged protests against “banninga book that’s all about the freedom of speech.”Thanks to them, the book was returned tolibraries, but remains banned from classroomsbelow grade 8.
3SPEAK OUT!When books are challenged for their controversial content,the resulting discussion often brings more attention to thatspecific content and could overshadow the value of thebook as a whole. Which is why you should speak out!Student voices are very influential – particularly when theydemonstrate a maturity and understanding of the broaderimplications of censorship.Use your voice to defend the right to read!At home. Start a conversation at home about the topic at issue. For example, Beloved presents a great opportunity to discuss the book’s racial themes and shareour own thoughts on race. Readers of Persepolis can use the story of the maincharacter’s maid to spark conversation on social class and inequality.At school. Organize a lunchtime discussion in your school library about thebook challenge and the right to read. Invite other students, teachers, librariansand principal to join in the conversation.Also, attend school board meetings and share your views during the publiccomments portion.
Post on Social Media: Start a hashtag trend with the book title andmobilize support for it by posting messages about the book’s value.Facebook, Twitter and other interactive social media platforms are greatways to inform the public and attract support.Tag @ncacensorship for more likes and retweets!:Start a Petition. Start a school-wide petition to return the book to thecurriculum or library. Online petition sites like Change.org offer widecirculation on email and social media.Call Local Press. Reach out to your local news outlets and ask them topublish a story on the issue. Many local news publications have dedicated reporters who cover public education and student-driven initiatives.4WRITE!To your school. Write a letter to your school principal, superintendent,and school board, telling them why this book should remain in the curriculum or library. Share your personal views about the book, if you’veread it, and any reviews by literary critics who have written about thebook.Call Local Press. Design an informational flier or write an open letterto your community and ask to publish it in the student newspaper,school newsletter, or notice boards. Social media is also a great forumfor an open letter.
SAMPLE LETTER (STUDENTS)Dear [Principal/School Administrator/Board Chair/Librarian],I am a student at [School Name] and I am writing about recent attempts torestrict kids’ access to [Book Title] by [Author Name]. I understand that thebook has been challenged because .All people, including and especially young people, have a right to read. Whenwe ban books we dislike or disagree with, it deprives others of their freedomto read and form their own opinions.I have read [Book Title] and formed my own opinion about the book. Ibelieve it is a valuable book because . The book is alsowidely celebrated and available in many public libraries across the country.[Book Title] was awarded the [Book Award Name(s)/Year.] [Mention somepositive reviews the book has received.].If parents do not want their children to read a particular book, then they arefree to request a different one. But they may not deny others access to thebook or tell other parents what their children may read.[School/Library Name] has a responsibility to prepare its students to succeedin our diverse and complex world. Helping students understand and toleratedifferent views is a key part of that. By removing the book, [School/LibraryName] is abandoning this responsibility. Removing the book also sends amessage to students like me that the views of a few members of our community are more important than the quality of our education.Please, show that you value our right to read and think freely by keeping[Book Title] in our [school/library]. Thank you.Sincerely,[Your Name]
WHAT CAN PARENTS DOIMAGINE:A religious advocacy group wants Jessica Herthel’s I Am Jazz removed from the children’s sectionof the public library becaue it is “un-Christian.”.HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND?1GATHER THE FACTS!Research your school or library’s policies to learn the official procedure for book selection and ensure that your advocacy efforts conformto them. Most school districts publish their policies on book selectionand instruction on their websites.Search online for credible news reports of instances when the bookwas challenged elsewhere yet retained. Search the NCAC website forsimilar challenges to support your position: www.ncac.org.Advocacy Tip #8Read the book and its critical literary reviews to better prepare you to respond toobjections. Highlight particular sections you think demonstrate the literary andeducational value of the book. Use the resources offered under Advocacy Tip #7to research book reviews.
2SPEAK OUT!Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher, principal, and in the caseof library challenges, your school librarian, to discuss the book challenge.Expressing your views on the book and why students should be allowedto read it would help to balance the objecting parents’ perspectives, making it more likely for school officials to take an objective decision, ratherthan pressured one.Mobilize friends to attend your local school board meetings andexpress your support for the book during the public comments section,where you and other advocates for the right to read can make yourvoices heard. Curriculum book challenges are often lodged duringschool board meetings, which are open to the public.Advocacy Tip #9In some cases, parents have a right to opt-out of assignments and request alternativeassignments for their child. Check whether your school has an alternative assignmentpolicy.3CAMPAIGN!Organize a letter-writing campaign with friends, fellow parents, students, and community members. Write to the school principal, superintendent, and/or school board, urging them to follow a thorough reviewprocess to deal with a complaint, and to retain the book. Emphasize theimportance of protecting the freedom to read and the educational valueof the book as a whole.Write to your local press to inform them of the situation and invitethem to cover the story. Consider writing an opinion editorial or letterto the editor, explaining to your community why the book challenge isunreasonable and why the book should be kept.
Advocacy Tip #10Search our site for informative articles on past challenges to the book in questionor for challenges based on the same objections (i.e., violence, sex/sexuality, islamophobia, etc.).In 2015, efforts by parents to remove Stephen Chbosky’sThe Perks of Being a Wallflower from a Connecticut9th grade curriculum were overturned after one parent fought back.4PUBLICIZE!Post on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, andTumblr about the book challenge and why you think the book should bekept. Social media can be an extremely effective advocacy tool, particularly platforms that allow for comprehensive discussion.Alert your local press. Organize a group of allies to submit opinionletters to your local newspaper, expressing support for the bookDistribute fliers and any relevant NCAC informational materialsavailable on our website. Feel free to source information from our FirstAmendment in Schools guide and our FAQs.
SAMPLE LETTER (PARENTS)Dear [Principal/School Administrator/Board Chair/Librarian],I am writing to express concern about efforts to remove [Book Title] fromthe [curriculum/shelves] at [School/Library Name]. I understand that thebook has been challenged because of objections to .As a parent and advocate of the right of children to read, I believe removing[Book Title] solely based on these objections would be a terrible disservice toyour students. I have read [Book Title] and I think it is a valuable book forstudents to read because .I strongly urge you to keep this book in the [curriculum/shelves] at [School/Library Name] and to uphold the freedom to read for all students in ourcommunity. The Supreme Court has ruled that the right of all childrento read books free of viewpoint discrimination is guaranteed by the FirstAmendment. Not everyone in our community shares the views of thoseopposed to [Book Title] and the challengers have no right to impose theirviews on others or demand that the educational program reflect their personal preferences.If parents do not want their children to read a particular book, then they arefree to request an alternative assignment. But they may not infringe uponthe rights of others to read the book or tell other parents what their childrenmay read.Furthermore, restricting access to the book will only chill free expression inour commmunity. It will discourage [teachers/librarians] from introducingnew ideas and expanding children’s minds. It will dissuade children from asking questions, for fear of addressing “offensive” or “inappropriate” topics. Itwill teach them that fear and ignorance supersede the quest for knowledge.Reading is the safest way for kids to learn about the world in which they aregrowing up, and doing so in a classroom setting, with guided discussion, willonly help them anticipate and appreciate real-life problems.I therefore urge you to ensure that [District Name] policies are followed andthat [Book Title] remains available to students at [School /Library Name].Sincerely,[Your Name]
Fun Ways To Celebrate The Right To ReadStarta bannedbookclub.s!Make posterrs,using the covefun quotescharacters ord books.from challegeChalk thesidewalkswith messagessupporting your right toread challenged books.izeOrganhangek excoobaool.at schOrganize a book drive!Donate used booksor use the driveto buy challenged booksto donate tothe school library instead.Celebrate Banned Books Week!Every year, NCAC and its partners organize activities tocelebrate the right to read banned books.Visit www.bannedbooksweek.org for the theme andactivities planned for each year.SHARE YOUR STORIES WITH US!We hope this action kit helps you defend book challenges in yourcommunity.Send a note to [email protected], with subject line: “KRRP Action Kit.”We love celebrating local book defenders on our website!
THE KIDS’ RIGHT TO READ PROJECT (KRRP)The Kids’ Right to Read Project was co-founded by the National Coalition AgainstCensorship and the American Booksellers for Free Expression to offer support,education, and direct advocacy to people facing book challenges.PARTNERING ORGANIZATIONSThe National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)NCAC was founded in 1974. It is an alliance of more than 50 literary, artistic,religious, educational, human rights and civil liberties groups, united in theirsupport of freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression. NCAC works withyoung people, educators, writers, artists, and others confronting censorshipdebates in their own communities.The Youth Free Expression Program educates the public at large about thedangers of censorship, and empowers young people to freely express themselves. YFEP’s key initiative, the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), is aunique grassroots advocacy project that protects students’ rights to read inschools, libraries, and bookstores across the country.The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE)ABFE is the bookseller’s voice in the fight against censorship. Founded by theAmerican Booksellers Association in 1990, ABFE’s mission is to promote andprotect the free exchange of ideas, particularly those contained in books, byopposing restrictions on the freedom of speech; issuing statements on significant free expression controversies; participating in legal cases involving FirstAmendment rights; collaborating with other groups with an interest in freespeech; and providing education about the importance of free expression tobooksellers, other members of the book industry, politicians, the press, and thepublic.Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF)CBLDF is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the FirstAmendment rights of the comic art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers. The CBLDF provides legal referrals,representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals.The CBLDF assists libraries in challenges to comics and graphi
Jan 01, 2019 · Hundreds of children’s books, young adult novels, and literary classics are challenged or banned in American schools and libraries every year. In 2019, 377 challenges were reported to the American Library Association, . like school newspapers, yearbooks, noticeboards, an