Banned Books Case Study

Students use primary sources to explore recent instances of censorship of young adult books.

Grade level: 8+

Background: This lesson is delivered in an 80-minute block. Some years, this lesson is followed by a short unit in which students work in pairs to read a challenged book, research the challenges against it, and then present to the class.

Instructional plan

What is Banned Books Week?

  • “Every year, the last week of September is Banned Books Week, when librarians, teachers, publishers, and readers all over the country talk about freedom and open access to ideas.”
  • It is not about finding the edgiest book, it’s about celebrating the rights that we have here, and the fact that we are allowed to read (and write) what we want.

Read a banned book
Share one of the year’s most challenged picture books (we’ve done Nasreen’s Secret SchoolI Am Jazz, and And Tango Makes Three – these all went fine with my particular group of kids, but YMMV. It’s important to ensure that members of marginalized groups, in particular, aren’t made to feel uncomfortable during these conversations, so if your students are likely to freak out about gay penguins, find a different book.)

  • This is one of the most banned books in the US; as we read it, I want you to think about why that might be the case.
  • Read book to class
  • Why do you think this book gets banned/challenged so frequently?
  • Who do you think conducts these challenges? Who are the stakeholders?

Present Banned Books Week slideshow with discussion questions

Into the River case study
What do you think is threatening about this book?
What genuine concerns might people have?
How would this have gone differently in the United States?
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Case studies: Each group (of 3-4 students) needs a copy of the packet and a copy of the book; we sourced these from the public library

  • Group 1: Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi), Chicago, 2013
    • publisher’s summary and journal reviews (“objective” source)
    • overview of the case
    • selection of CPS e­mails (censor/complainant perspective)
    •  interviews with CPS students (reader perspective)
    • Tribune article (author perspective)
    • relevant pages from bookGroup 1: Persepolis, Chicago, 2013
  • Group 2: Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell), Minnesota, 2013
    • publisher’s summary and journal reviews (“objective” source)
    • overview of the case
    • PAL flyer & editor letter (complainant/censor perspective)
    • Linda Hughes column (reader perspective)
    • interview with RR (author perspective)
    • relevant excerpts from book

Instructions for students

Read the documents provided. These should give you an idea of what happened when this book was challenged.

You can read the documents however you like: my recommendation is that you each read one or two pieces and then share out to the group. Once you have all gotten some background, discuss the case with your group.

Questions to discuss:

How did the “challenge” process unfold? Did the process make sense to you?

Who are the stakeholders? What are their perspectives on this book and the discussion about it?

What concerns do the complainants have? Do you share any of their concerns?

What arguments would you make against making this book available to young people? What arguments would you make for it?

Questions to respond to in writing (individually):

In your opinion, does this book belong in a public library? A school library? Should it be part of the curriculum (taught in a classroom)?

How are the standards different for those three places?

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