Why Your Kid Should Read Banned Books...with You
When I was about 10, my mom gave me "the talk." This extravaganza of information meant she checked a book out of the library, complete with detailed pictures, and painstakingly went through it while I sat next to her on the couch...hiding under an afghan my grand mother crocheted in 1970. The beauty of this was that I could safely look out of the holes of the afghan if I wanted while still being able to shut my eyes tightly for the parts I wasn't so ready for.
As parents and educators, we know there are lots of sensitive topics out there. Sometimes we're able to gently guide our kiddos to and through them; sometimes these topics are thrust upon the innocence of our children much too soon. In an ideal world, we control the content, getting to decide what and when our kids consume controversial, sensitive information.
And that's what's really been at the heart of this discussion on banned books all along, right? It's that, as parents, we see the content of some books as "too soon" for our kids. We're uncomfortable, alarmed even, at the questions certain subjects raise. We fear for the way information could influence the impressionable minds of our kids. We want them innocent for as long as possible.
But the truth is, they're far better served having an adult shepherd them through difficult things than trying to piece together meaning in the dark, completely on their own. Did you catch that? No matter how inept we feel in talking our kids through these tough topics, no matter how awkward, no matter how difficult it is still better than doing nothing at all.
I originally thought I'd wrap this series up with a list of questions parents could ask their kids as they read through a banned book. But the more I researched, the clearer it became that there are a lot of different ways you can address sensitive topics. A lot depends on your kid's age, maturity, race, gender, and personal disposition. For examples, I could probably sit down with my older son and have a fairly frank, face-to-face discussion about something difficult. On the other hand, when addressing a sensitive issue with my daughter - who is naturally more introverted - I need to allow more time for her to process, tailor the talk to be "should-to-shoulder" instead of "face-to-face," and ask less questions just because of her personality.
So what I'm doing, once more, is providing resources for both parents and teachers. After a week of research, these are the ones I found most helpful, straightforward, applicable, and meaningful. There are certainly more out there, but I'm giving my Top 5 so as not to overwhelm you.
From the American Psychological Association: Two resources that discuss RES (Racial + Ethic Socialization) and how to use books to talk about it. EXCELLENT resource regardless of your race. This provides some simple questions to use when a banned book centers around race and its accompanying topics.
Reading and RES: Choosing and Using Books to Discuss Race and Ethnicity https://www.apa.org/res/parent-resources/choosing-books.pdf
From Common Sense Media: An article that walks parents through strategies to use when talking to kids about sensitive topics. The great thing about this resource is that it breaks it down by age. SUPER helpful. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-difficult-subjects
From Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility: I'm including this on the list for both parents and teachers because we all know that news happens, and like it or not, our kids hear about it. In my research, I have seen these guidelines repeated over and over again when it comes to talking about a variety of difficult subjects. While they are geared toward media, they also apply to controversial topics present in banned books. https://www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/teaching-about-controversial-or-difficult-issues
From the Washington Post: 7 Things to Keep in Mind When Talking to Kids About Tough Subjects
This is a sweet, grace-filled article that feels like a little pep talk to parents. Hard topics loom large in our minds, feeling do-or-die. This article helps keep it all in perspective. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/01/14/things-keep-mind-when-talking-kids-about-tough-subjects/
From Moms.com: How to Talk to Your Teenagers About Sensitive Topics
I like this because it brings all the other stuff down to a gut-check level. If we're not modeling openness, humility, and authenticity in these conversations, nothing else is really going to matter. Before any kind of hard conversation, we first have to let our kids know that we love them regardless of their questions, and we won't freak out. https://www.moms.com/talk-teenagers-about-sensitive-topics/
From Harvard University's Graduate School of Education: A "how-to" incorporate books into your classroom that deal with sensitive topics. A quick read, achievable application, and strong resource for moving forward. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/19/01/bringing-controversial-books-classroom
From Facing History & Ourselves: A resource that specifically focuses on To Kill A Mockingbird and identifies the sensitive issues in the novel while providing resources to draw from when addressing it. Overall, a wonderful resource that provides educators with the tools and resources they need to "use lessons from history to stand up to bigotry and hate." https://www.facinghistory.org/mockingbird/discussing-sensitive-topics-classroom
From Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility: I'm including this on the list for both teachers and parents because we all know that news happens, and like it or not, our kids hear about it. In my research, I have seen these guidelines repeated over and over again when it comes to talking about a variety of difficult subjects. While they are geared toward media, they also apply to controversial topics present in banned books. https://www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/teaching-about-controversial-or-difficult-issues
From Population Education: Disregard the fact that it says "social studies" in the title. The real gem in this resource comes at the bottom where it provides links to other resources for discussing sensitive issues in the classroom. https://populationeducation.org/teaching-tough-topics-helpful-tips-for-covering-sensitive-issues-in-the-social-studies-classroom/
From Georgetown University, Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, The Teaching Commons, Difficult Discussions: Similar to the Harvard article, it provides suggestions for ground rules to establish in the classroom prior to starting discussion. It encourages authentic acknowledgment of the messiness associated with these discussion. Offers additional resources for educators at the bottom of the article. https://www.moms.com/talk-teenagers-about-sensitive-topics/
I am terrible at writing conclusions, I always have been. I think some part of me feels that there is never really an "end" to anything. There's always a chance to learn more, to dig deeper, to fix up or pivot. So ending this series feels...not quite right.
It's likely I'll revisit this subject sometime soon, especially since a lot of the books I read and create resources for somehow find their way onto the banned book list (despite the fact that they're almost always on the ALA Notable Book List as well). But more than that, I think I'll be coming back to banned books because I want to keep growing - and challenging books (like the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson that I just finished this morning) are one of the things that help me do that.
I want to nurture my sense of empathy.
I want to find a safe way to explore things I don't know or understand.
I want to develop my critical thinking so that I can discern fact from fiction in this world.
Reading banned books has helped me do every single one of these things.
I don't know what you've taken away from this series, but I do hope it's something that has changed you...in a really good way.