Story by Serena Vasudeva | Contributing Writer
When someone reads a children’s books aloud, it is rarely to an audience of college students. However, in a lecture hall at the College of Education, Associate Professor Katie Schrodt read a children’s book to around 100 students for Banned Book Week.
“A banned book is something that has been banned by either a school district or has been pulled from the curriculum or a library,” said Holly Herbert, assistant professor in the Master of Library Science Program.
Books are often removed from a library or classroom because of content and themes. During her presentation, Schrodt mentioned The Age Appropriate Materials Act of 2022. The Tennessee bill requires public schools to post a list of all of their library books online so parents or community members can challenge them for removal. Teachers are also required to publicize classroom libraries.
“Our children in our communities are being affected because if a teacher doesn’t spend their weekend scanning in their book library, then our kids don’t have access to those books,” Schrodt said.
As for what sort of books are challenged or removed from curriculum, Herbert explained that books are often targeted if they deal with themes of sexuality, racism or religions outside of Christianity.
Even beloved series can be challenged by parents, like “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey. Schrodt explained that removing books can hamper reading motivation, causing students to read less.
“Even Harry Potter is an example. Though it’s a fantasy story, people take it seriously,” she said.
The American Library Association tracks the most challenged books, which are often requested to be removed from schools and libraries. In 2021, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe was ranked as most challenged because of LGBT themes and sexually explicit imagery. The next two on the list, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, were challenged for the same reason. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas made the list for a second time “because it was thought to promote an anti-police message.”
Schrodt’s favorite book off of the ALA’s list is “The Hate U Give.” In the book, the main character Starr advocates for her friend who was killed by police brutality. Schrodt sees similarities between Starr and real teenagers, who take to social media to voice their opinions about social issues.
“In my opinion, this book should be required reading in high school,” she said. “It is commonly banned for addressing issues of race and police brutality.”
In Tennessee, the McMinn County School Board voted in January to remove “Maus” by Art Spiegelman from their eighth grade curriculum. The graphic novel follows Spiegelman as he interviews his father, a survivor of the Holocaust. School board members were concerned about the book’s use of vulgar language, a drawing of a nude woman and depictions of suicide.
“When we take a book away from a child that has certain historical facts, we’re not only taking away knowledge but the opportunity to talk about things and wrestle with hard questions,” Schrodt said.
Herbert’s favorite challenged book is “Maus,” an invaluable teaching tool. Its short length can help some students feel less intimidated.
“We would hate to see a book like Maus taken out of the curriculum especially since we want students of an appropriate age to learn about the holocaust,” Schrodt said.
Grace Harvat, an English major, read “Maus” while at Motlow State Community College. Talking about the book’s content in a classroom helped her think critically.
“It’s a story that needs to be told, it’s not something that should be censored,” she said. “ It’s important to remember things that are uncomfortable.”
Brystal Imsand, an elementary education major, sat in the front row to hear Schrodt speak. She worries her future as a teacher could be filled with anxiety as she struggles to find suitable replacements for challenged books.
“I’m kind of furious that they banned so many books that were my favorite as a child like Junie B. Jones,” she said. “When I start teaching, kids aren’t gonna have the same experience that I had.”
Michelle Stevens, Director of the Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity, has two children in high school. As a parent, she wants her children to have access to different perspectives and feel represented in their curriculum.
“So often voices we can relate to are silenced,” Stevens said. “This event is about not letting our voices be erased.”
At the end of the event, every participant was able to choose a challenged book to bring home. Options ranged from “Encounter” by James Yolen to “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson.
“You never know how many people are gonna come to these events but we were pleasantly surprised. This is one of the largest events we’ve hosted in the college of Education in a while,” Schrodt said.
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