Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Banned Book Week: Ensuring Everyone Has a Choice

SLJ1409w FT GN opener Teaching With Graphic Novels
Illustration by Gareth Hinds

While I believe parents have a right to screen what their kids read, I do not believe books should be banned or censored. Freedom to read and to write is one of the supreme gifts of our Constitution's First Amendment, and it should be protected.

In honor of Banned Books Week - September 21-27, 2014 I thought I'd share clips from articles and resources to ensure that everyone has the option to read what they choose.

This year, Banned Books Week 2014 events and celebrations will emphasize a thematic focus on comics and graphic novels.

So in the spirit of spreading awareness of how schools, libraries and individuals can fight censorship, below, are some wonderful links both from School Library Journal, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and additional recommended resources:
School Library Journal has two outstanding articles that discusses comic and graphic novels in schools: the challenges they face and why it's a fight worth fighting. Teaching With Graphic Novels by Brigid Alverson, School Library Journal September 8, 2014 relates that:
"...This is the paradox of graphic novels: The visual element that gives them their power can also make them vulnerable to challenges. Researcher Steven Cary calls this the “naked buns” effect. ...
At the same time, graphic novels are increasingly used in the classroom. For over a decade, public librarians have been promoting graphic novels as literature, and researchers have studied their benefits in educational settings.
Image copyright 2013 Dav Pilkey
From challenged material to classroom curricula:
To help educators and librarians deal with the potential fallout sparked by strong graphic imagery, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Banned Books Week planning committee, working with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), has made comics and graphic novels the focus of this year’s Banned Books Week (BBW; September 21–27)...
“The number and profile of challenges that CBLDF participates in has risen dramatically in recent years,” says Charles Brownstein, executive director of CBLDF. “As a partner in the Kids’ Right to Read Project, we are addressing challenges to comics and prose books on an almost weekly basis."...
“Prose books and comics are challenged for the same reasons,” Brownstein says. “Content addressing the facts of life about growing up, like sexuality, sexual orientation, race issues, challenging authority, and drug and alcohol use are causes for challenges. [Profanity] is often a factor,” as is violence.
Graphic novels as teaching tools:
Educators agree that graphic novels are useful for teaching new vocabulary, visual literacy, and reading skills. They “offer some solid advantages in reading education,” says Jesse Karp, early childhood and interdivisional librarian at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City. “They reinforce left-to-right sequence like nothing else. The images scaffold word/sentence comprehension and a deeper interpretation of the words and story. The relative speed and immediate enjoyment build great confidence in new readers.”
“For weak language learners and readers, graphic novels’ concise text paired with detailed images helps [them] decode and comprehend the text,” says Meryl Jaffe, an instructor at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, Online Division, and the author of several books on using comics in the classroom. “...While vocabulary is often advanced, the concise verbiage highlights effective language usage,” adds Jaffe, who also blogs for CBLDF about using comics in the classroom...
Furthermore, Jaffe says, the pairing of words and images gives learning a boost by creating new memory pathways and associations. “Research shows that our brains process and store visual information faster and more efficiently than verbal information,” she says. “Pairing [graphic novels] with traditional prose texts is an excellent means of promoting verbal skills and memory.” ...
Sometimes graphic novels can convey an idea better than conventional prose. Ronell Whitaker, who teaches English at Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois, had been “running into a wall” trying to teach his students about inference until he started using graphic novels. When he taught Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (First Second, 2006), his students had to infer that the three main characters were all the same person. “This was especially difficult for some of my kids, but when they got it, they felt like they had discovered a hidden message,” he says.
The pull of graphic novels in the school library was demonstrated in a 1981 study cited in Stephen D. Krashen’s The Power of Reading (Libraries Unlimited, 1993). Researchers put comics in a junior high school library and allowed students to read them there, but not check them out. Visits to the library increased by 87 percent and circulation of non-comic books by 30 percent.

 How to Head Off Challenges:
“The single most important step to prevent challenges is to have a detailed and comprehensive selection policy, including challenge procedure,” says Brownstein. “Many libraries and school districts refer to or even quote ALA’s Library Bill of Rights.” He also cites the importance of shelving books according to the appropriate age group.
“The biggest step I take to prevent a challenge is to make sure I’m ordering books that are fitting for the age range of the students I serve,” says Esther Keller, librarian at I.S. 278 Marine Park in Brooklyn and a contributor to SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids blog. In the Persepolis case, Keller thought the book was more suited to high school students.
Good communication with parents and staff is key. “I made sure my principal was on board before I even started the collection,” as well as conversing with administrators and parents, Keller says...
Should a challenge occur, Brownstein advises librarians to follow procedure “to the letter”—which can be difficult if it goes directly to the district school committee or an administrator, rather than the school. He urges them to report the challenge and reach out to CBLDF, ALA, and the Kids Right to Read project. “Even if the challenge is resolved quietly and successfully, it’s important to report it to us, to the Office of Intellectual Freedom at ALA, or the National Coalition Against Censorship,” he says. “The more information we have about what’s being challenged, the better equipped we are to respond in a helpful way, and to make proactive tools.”
These are just excerpts, please read the complete article at: http://www.slj.com/2014/09/books-media/graphic-novels/the-graphic-advantage-teaching-with-graphic-novels/#_

From: bannedbooksweek.org
  • ALA has a list of “The Best Graphic Novels for Children” with graphic novel suggestions for Grades K-2; Grades 3-5; and Grades 6-8  
  • No Flying, No Tights  Graphic novel reviews by librarians. 
  • A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics” by Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith contains 256 pages reviewing kids’ comics and graphic novels. Each entry contains an overview of its suitability for kids along with enough information to help adults determine its appropriateness for their child/student. 
  • The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has an ongoing column (through the generous contribution of the Gaiman Foundation) “Using Graphic Novels in Education” which highlights a specific graphic novel or graphic novel series and how it can be incorporated into classrooms (including teaching suggestions and how they meet Common Core Standards) http://cbldf.org/?s=using+graphic+novels+in+education
  • The School Library Journal is an excellent site with reviews and discussions about graphic novels and classroom use which can be found here: http://www.slj.com/category/books-media/graphic-novels/ and here: http://www.slj.com/category/reviews/graphic-novel-reviews/
  •   http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2012/09/he-yes-graphic-novels-should-be-used-to.html and - http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2012/07/common-core-standards-and-changes-what.html are two posts on how graphic novels address Common Core Standards along with reading suggestions.
  • Good Comics for Kids Graphic novel news, reviews, and interviews by librarians and other critics.
  • The Comic Book Teacher High school English teacher Ronell Whitaker reviews graphic novels and discusses how he uses them in the classroom.
  • Comics in Education  Gene Luen Yang, the author of a number of acclaimed graphic novels including American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints, is also a high school teacher. This website is the online version of his Masters degree in education project and includes information on the history of comics in education and the use of comics in education as well as other resources.
  • Diamond Book Distributors has a list of graphic novels they distribute relaying how they fit into the Common Core Standards. The list can be downloaded at http://www.diamondbookdistributors.com/default.asp?t=1&m=1&c=53&s=658&ai=135961
  • There are also books for teachers on how to integrate graphic novels into classrooms. Most that I’ve seen contain rationale for teaching with graphic novels, some sample lesson plans but little additional reading suggestions.  The two books below have lesson plans along with extensive bibliographies and further title suggestions for middle and elementary school readers:
    o   Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning: a Guide for Middle-Level Educators by Jaffe and Monnin (2012, Maupin House) – this book has graphic novel lesson plans and reading suggestions for middle school language arts, math, social studies and science classrooms.
    o   Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels by Monnin (2011) – explains graphic novels and provides lesson plans and reading suggestions for elementary-level language arts.


·      Read through the comic or graphic novel before using it.  As you know the school/library/community culture, demands and expectations you will have a sense of what is appropriate.
·      Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
e Fund always cites the need for having strong policies and guidelines in place. Such established policies and guidelines make it easier to tackle challenges that might arise.
·      Be prepared.  Head off challenges with research and resources (CBLDF’s Raising a Reader! and Banned Books Week Handbook have been designed and used for just that purpose). Be able to show the values of graphic novels. You may also want to search the title of the graphic novel your’re hoping to use.  See if it has been challenged and why. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) has some outstanding resources to help:
o   An ongoing column “Using Graphic Novels in Education” highlights selected specific graphic novel or graphic novel series (one to two columns are published per month – just enter “Using Graphic Novels in Education in the search or click here http://cbldf.org/?s=using+graphic+novels+in+education. For each book highlighted, there is:
§  a summary,
§  a list of the book’s themes,
§  suggested lessons and discussions,
§  suggested paired readings, and
§  additional resources you might want to incorporate in your lessons.
§  Each posting also discusses how the teaching suggestions meet Common Core  Standards. http://cbldf.org/?s=using+graphic+novels+in+education
o   Raising a Reader: How Comics and Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read! Written by Meryl Jaffe Ph.D. with art by Raina Telgemeier and Matthew Holm, with an introduction by Jennifer Holm (sponsored by the Gaiman Foundation). This publication relates WHY graphic novels are great classroom additions. So if you’re about to head to a department/administrative/board meeting where the use of graphic novels in general is questioned, this is a great resource to share. A free download of a web-ready and/or print ready version can be found here http://cbldf.org/resources/raising-a-reader/
o   “Graphic Novels: Suggestions for Librarians”  with title and shelving suggestions can be found here http://cbldf.org/graphic-novels-suggestions-for-librarians/
o   CBLDF Banned Books Week Handbook – with art by Jeff Smith can be downloaded here for free http://cbldf.org/2014/06/celebrate-the-freedom-to-read-with-cbldfs-new-banned-books-week-handbook/
o   For those interested in Manga, CBLDF and Dark Horse published CBLDF Presents Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices.

o   You can also go to CBLDF at cbldf.org and under “Search” type in the book(s) you are hoping to use. You will then see if, when, where, and why that particular publication was challenged.
Image by Jeff Smith at www.cbldf.org
Here is an outstanding resource that is free to download:  Celebrate! Banned Books Week: CBLDF Banned Books Week Handbook. This handbooks discusses why books (particularly comic books) are banned, which comic books have been banned, myths and fallacies about banned books, and finally how to report, address and fight book censorship and banning.

From www.ala.org
Thank you as always for your visit.
Please leave your thoughts, reflections, or additional resources in the comments below.
And here's to protecting everyone's right to read!


  1. I disagree..but I defend your right to say it :-)

  2. They've banned some great books. I have a picture of Captain Underpants on my site, too.


  3. Well, is the J for Jaffe, since you quote yourself?
    Good stuff!