I have always enjoyed children’s and young adult (YA) books and continue to read them even as an adult. When I became a parent, I loved reading books to my kids, sharing my favorites with them and finding new ones we could appreciate together. Once they started reading on their own, I started screening many of the books they wanted to read, particularly those with difficult content or strong themes. Each child has a distinctive personality. As a parent, you know what might be upsetting to your own child, or a subject he or she is just not ready to handle. This is different from banning books altogether. You might put the book aside for a time when it is appropriate for them.
When your child does read a book with challenging topics, this is a perfect opportunity to engage him or her in lively discussion. This is especially true for young adults. It gives them the chance to speak their mind and offer their take on various topics. Discussing and debating these themes can be beneficial for you and your child. You can see their point of view and you can offer yours. You can learn and grow together.
I had this experience with my children with several books featured on banned and challenged lists when they were children and pre-teens, including the Little House series, Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Sister’s Keeper, The Outsiders, and The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies, just to name a few. One in particular that comes to mind is The Giver by Lois Lowry. I read it first and then my daughter, who was in middle school at the time. We even went to see the movie together. Afterwards we had some good discussions around the book’s “perfect” society, with its emphasis on control and the inability of its citizens to make choices. We talked about the repercussions and limitations of this concept and the “sameness” (i.e. lack of diversity) of the people in the community. It also allowed for good dialogue around the idea that one person alone (The Giver) holds all the society’s past memories, and The Receiver, the 12-year-old Jonas, was chosen to become the next Giver, and the huge weight of this responsibility for such a young person.
Even though The Giver was a Newberry Award winner, it has been on banned and challenged book lists since it was published in 1993. Reasons include violence, particularly infanticide (ill babies are euthanized in the book), as well as sexual references and suicide. By vetting the book first, I knew that my daughter could handle the themes and we could talk about them afterward, which I felt was so important and strengthened our relationship. I feel The Giver is timeless, with its many parallels to topics relevant today, including diversity and inclusion, over-scheduled kids and controlling governments.
For more on how banned books can serve as a teaching and parenting tool, see “On Reading and Sharing Banned Books,” Journal of Children’s Literature; “Precocious Knowledge: Using Banned Books to Engage in a Youth Lens,” English Journal; “Kids Sharing Banned Books,” School Library Journal; and Teaching Banned Books: 12 Guides for Young Readers.