Young Readers on the Benefits of Challenged Books

Although book challenges often come from parents and adults who claim to be looking out for the well-being of children in their communities, a recent project by the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Joan Bertin and the National Council of Teachers of English’s Millie Davis collected messages from young readers about how challenged books opened their eyes to larger issues and actually helped shape their perspectives in positive and productive ways.

Published on Boing Boing, the project enlisted eight authors of challenged books, who compiled responses that they received from young readers about how their books impacted their lives. From helping readers understand and feel comfortable with their sexuality, as is the case with The Miseducation of Cameron Posta book that has been challenged for its depiction of a teen learning to accept her sexual orientation, to giving readers an opportunity to navigate issues that many youths deal with on a day-to-day basis, as with Eleanor and Park, one of the overall messages uncovered by the project was, to quote one of the respondents, that “This book made me more empathetic, tolerant, and accepting, of myself and others. It helped me relate better to others and talk to them about things we never would have discussed otherwise.”

More than just allowing readers to find a commonality with other people about issues or concerns that they might feel they are alone in experiencing, though, books that take on difficult subjects like sexuality, drug use, or family matters also engage children and teens in reading, especially if they make the choice to read the books themselves.

“Some adults, perhaps with the best of intentions, seek to shield students from the very books that many teenagers seek out, precisely because they grapple honestly with issues that concern them,” write Bertin and Davis, adding:

However, as the comments from readers demonstrate, these books help them negotiate the transition from childhood to adulthood by introducing them to fictional characters dealing realistically with the complex and confusing world that young people confront.

Bertin and Davis reminds us that “controversial” books don’t become road maps for juvenile delinquency or corrupt children’s minds, but rather “they appeal to kids’ interests and curiosity, engage them, and help them mature intellectually and emotionally.” With books like The Giver, the Crank trilogy, and The Other Wes Moorestudents have learned to be better readers and ultimately more empathetic community members.

NCAC also recently pulled together responses from young readers for their annual awards benefit, during which they honored Eleanor & Park author Rainbow Rowell, who has stood up to several challenges, including one just this year in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

In the form of a video montage, NCAC also demonstrated the positive impact that perceived difficult books can have on young readers’ lives. “The NCAC and NCTE project exemplifies the message at the core of NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project,” notes Jas Chana of NCAC, adding:

…although adult anxiety over the impact of the materials their children access is understandable, more credit needs to be given to the children in their ability to discern the significance and lessons of stories that contain controversial elements. To address the concerns of parents, the voices of the people who are actually reading the books, and have gained something of value from doing so, need to be amplified.

To read the full article and some of the individual messages from young readers in the NCAC/NCTE project, click here.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!