Can I just say, I actually find it heartening how many of the books on the Top 100 banned/challenged books of 2000-2019 list I really like?
Here are two of them, two very different kinds of books.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
This book… I read this book multiple times, in different classes throughout college, that had titles like “Creating a Self” Classes that explored that junction of memory and literature, that talked about unreliable narrators and crafting a great story. It was a book I always knew a certain instructor would have on their syllabus, and I always looked forward to the chance to re-read it, with a slightly different lens. It is an amazing story about war and human nature, and a brilliant exploration of storytelling.
One of the reasons it’s been challenged (and banned) in some high schools is the use of profanity. I pose this question, I can’t say this for certain but… I would reason that it would be hard to make the same points, to portray anything resembling realistic about the Vietnam war without swearing and… let’s be honest here, the swearing that occurs in this book is nothing more than what most high school students are going to encounter in their hallways, on TV, in media, or walking down the street.
Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
I had heard about this book from my sister, an elementary school teacher, at some point when she and I were happily chatting away about children’s books (by the way, I LOVE that I have family that I can chat with about children’s books so much). I hadn’t read them yet, and they were on my “to-read” list for a long time.
Finally the opportunity arrived in the past few years when I was working in the Learning Center at a Boys and Girls Club. Part of my job was to organize programs that would help engage the kids in learning activities: reading, writing,social-studies, math and science. Science was pretty easy (Harry Potter Science, Messy Science), Math and Writing I managed with competitions, but reading had proved to be a challenge. Despite having a fairly decent library (which I did everything I could to make accessible to the kids) very few picked reading when there were computers, art, pool, ping-pong, swimming, basketball and so forth.
So we did “Cookies and Classics.” Show up and listen to me read, get a cookie, eat the cookie while I read some more, and you might get another one if you stayed until I was done reading. This was a great success! But I struggled to find books that were short enough to be read in one or two sessions (beyond picture books), and often kids would come one day and not the next.
Then I picked up Junie B.
It was amazing! Fun to read, and some of the children who were the most crazy, off-the-wall, “you can’t make me sit still unless you super-glue me to the chair,” kind of personalities not only sat down to listen, and came back the second day to hear more, but begged me to keep reading. They didn’t care that the cookies were a little stale, or that I ran out of snacks to give them with three chapters remaining. When someone came into the room being loud, the group of about 12 kids gathered around my desk “hushed” them faster than I could. They were riveted by Junie B, her way of speaking, her adventures.
Why has it been challenged? Well, for some of those very reasons my kids liked them. Junie’s use of language isn’t perfect, she uses poor grammar, sometimes her words aren’t used the “proper” way, and she sounds… well, she sounds real. And yes, she calls someone “stupid.” Again… I challenge you to find a child who hasn’t heard worse. She talks like these kids talk. She is fun, and engaging.
The New York Times did an article about this matter back in 2007, and I love one of the quotes that they shared from the author. On the fact that she has made it to the top 10 frequently challenged authors of 2004 she said, “I’ve never been in such good company!”