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Kids’ Thoughts on Censorship (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 1)

August 10, 2015

“Activism is standing up for what you believe in, especially if someone says it’s bad.”

Three years ago, as I was booktalking realistic fiction titles to a 6th-grade class, a girl asked a seemingly simple question: “Why is there a bird on that cover?”  This question launched a year-long curriculum that used book covers as a starting point to examine biases and stereotypes in children’s literature and the wider world.  We engaged in conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, body size, and more.

The curriculum was so successful that we’ve repeated it every year since.  Students and teachers (Humanities teacher Jamie Steinfeld, Diversity Director Anshu Wahi, and Librarian Allie Jane Bruce) look forward to the time we spend together, talking and learning about identity.

The program has evolved over the years, and I’m constantly delighted by the new discoveries kids make, and by the wisdom and insight already present in 11- and 12-year-olds.  This year, in addition to our discussions about race, gender, and sexual orientation, and our annual field trip to Barnes & Noble, we discussed censorship, hair, and American Indian history and stereotypes.  Oh, and we attended an event with Jacqueline Woodson.  So, there was that.

Jacqueline Woodson reading to kids

In this blog series, I will share a few of the new areas into which we’ve expanded.  The first new topic: Censorship.

There were two components to the censorship lesson.  First, I read Justin Richardson’s, Peter Parnell’s, and Henry Cole’s And Tango Makes Three (Simon and Schuster, 2005) out loud; most kids were already familiar with the gentle, loving story of a family of two penguin dads and their chick, Tango, and were delighted to hear it again.  Then, I shared a fact:  And Tango Makes Three is one of the most censored books of all time.

tango

The kids were shocked.  What could make someone want to ban Tango?  What did “banning” even mean?  I gave them some definitions, and explained the difference between a challenge and a ban.  Here are the kids’ reactions:

“What if you think it’s not OK or normal to be gay because you never see it in a book?”

“You don’t need to ban it, just don’t check it out!”

“We need to let kids know that it’s not bad to be gay.”

“If kids don’t get a chance to see gay people in picture books, they won’t know about it, and they will think it’s weird.  Books can help you learn that it’s not weird.”

Next, we watched this Cheerios commercial, which was the target of racist backlash.  The kids’ thoughts:

“I noticed that they were two different races, but I thought ‘It’s normal.  I see that all the time.’”

“It shows what actual families in this country are like!”

“Biracial kids may feel different if they don’t get to see kids like themselves in commercials.”

“It’s not like one of the parents is a hippo.  This is normal.  I have friends with parents like them.”

We finished with another new word: Activism.  Students examined the word and discussed its meaning.  In the end, we finished with a fantastic, student-generated definition:

“Activism is standing up for what you believe in, especially if someone says it’s bad.”

Next time: We talk about the representations (and the lack thereof) of race and… HAIR!

For anyone who missed them, here are the blog posts from our first year.

Update: Part 2 is up!  So is Part 3!  And Part 4!!

Check out our discussions from Year 1 of this curriculum here.

-Allie Jane Bruce

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