I printed out the list of most challenged books, and highlighted the ones I’ve read. Of the 100 books on the list, I’ve read 24. Not too bad, but not great either.
I read many of these books, like Killing Mr. Griffen and Scary Stories, as a teenager or child. I remember being shocked and saddened by Killing Mr. Griffen. I sympathized with the main character, and how she got pulled into a situation that got out of control. It made me think about peer pressure and morality (though I wouldn’t have articulated it that way as a kid). Reading books like these made me a more empathetic person.
I was surprised to see a lot of these books on the list. Possibly the book I was most surprised by was The Great Gilly Hopkins. I’m sure I was under 10 when I read this, and I loved it. Gilly was fearless and terrible. But she was also frightened, desperate to be loved, and in the end, able to trust again.
I had to look up why this book was challenged, and it appears to be because of Gilly’s flaws. There is also a section where Gilly tries to get under her African-American teacher’s skin my giving her a card that implies a racial slur. (I honestly didn’t understand what she was implying when I read this as a kid.)
The thing is that Gilly is awful at times, but it’s also clear that she’s a kid desperately trying to figure out where she fits in, angry at the world and trying to alienate everyone. As a child, this was a thought-provoking concept. It set the groundwork for me to understand that everyone has a story.
Of the books on this list that I’ve read, each brings something valuable. Learning, growing, and changing can be painful, but they’re so worth it. Books should encourage these processes. In order to do so, they have provoke strong reactions. (We don’t learn from anything we’re lukewarm about). So, if they provoke strong reactions, that means that someone is going to want them banished.
In that sense, a challenge is a compliment to a book. It means that it invoked that strong emotional response. I hope that most of the challenges fail, and that adults and teens read these books and have strong reactions to them. I hope they’re debated loudly on Facebook and Twitter and in coffee houses and over dinner. I hope that people look at the list, and go out and tell at least one person about a book on this list, how it affected them.
Tell me what you think about any of the books on this list. Do any surprise you? Do you love any of them? Hate any of them?