Censorship in Early Childhood: How to Support Our Youngest Learners in Reading and Discussing Banned Books

Censorship in Early Childhood: How to Support Our Youngest Learners in Reading and Discussing Banned Books

post by The Educator Collaborator Associate Sandra Lucia Osorio, and her colleagues, Erica Cooper-Peyton, Jeanette Delgado, and Emma Lewis

Banned books has been a hot topic for many years, but it is most frequently heard about when referring to young adult literature.  More recently, there has been book banning of several picture books that affect early childhood students (Prekindergarten to second grade).  Even in the supreme court nomination hearings in March 2022 of Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, the book Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi was brought up as a supposed example of critical race theory in schools.

The four of us, Sandra, Erica, Jeanette and Emma have been meeting together for two years as part of a professional learning committee (PLC). Sandra is a teacher educator while Erica, Jeanette and Emma are all classroom teachers at the first and second grade level. This semester we decided to focus on banned picture books.

Erica’s experience

First Grade Teacher

Teacher for 5 years

 

I focus on social justice and equity each year; it is the core of my instruction and serves as a springboard for deeper inquiry and culturally responsive teaching and learning. While our PLC’s banned books project began in March, my first grade students’ exposure to and experience with books on the list started at the beginning of the school year. More than half of the banned books titles we explored appear in our classroom library so these themes and stories were already part of our classroom culture. We read stories centering on trans children, loving our skin, advocating for ourselves and others, and inclusion of ALL people in just our first week of school! It was unsurprising to me, then, when I read Peter H. Reynolds’s Say Something, revealed that it was banned, and was met with a chorus of WHAT??!! and WHY??!! and HOW??!! Children, even 5- and 6-year olds, are capable of righteous indignation when confronted with injustice. One student cried out “That’s bogus!” Another student exclaimed “But this is the best book we have ever read! Why would they do that?” “Because they’re racist!” replied one very intuitive and spot-on student. Young children experience and witness inequity and bias on a daily basis; the responses of my students clearly indicate that they have the ability to both process and challenge discrimination. It would be a disservice to exclude them from this conversation that very much includes them, both at present and in the future. It is my hope that all of my students will see themselves as advocates, accomplices, and agents of change no matter their age or grade level; to do so, they must be given the opportunity to have their voices heard and valued and be permitted the time and space to digest and make sense of “hard” and complex topics. Banned books are a catalyst for change in both the classroom and the community.

Jeanette’s experience

Second Grade Dual Language Teacher

Teacher for 8 years

 

Over the past 4 or 5 weeks, I began to read to the class a variety of banned books as read aloud. Each week had a theme that would go along with the read alouds: civil rights movement (As Fast as Words Can Fly), Latinx families(My Papi has a Moto), LGBTQ+ (I Am Jazz),  common children’s pictures book (Where the Wild Things Are). After reading each book, we would discuss what their thoughts were on the different books. Some of the questions I asked them were: Did you enjoy the book? Is there a part of the book that jumped out at you? Did this book make you angry or mad? Was this book appropriate for us to read?  After hearing the students’ opinions on the book and discussing those 4 initial questions, I let the class know that these books were actually banned at one time or place in the world. Students were confused on how these books could have been banned. I asked the students what the word banned meant, one student raised their hand and said “banned is like how you banned us from having boyfriends and girlfriends in the classroom.” As we discussed how in As Fast As Words Can Fly, one student made the connection on how black students were banned from going to school with white students. Students understood the concept of something being banned but were shocked and confused that the books I read to them had been banned from a classroom or library. Towards the end of one of our classroom morning meetings, one student wanted to know what we can do to make some of these books unbanned. The student said “these books can help people- it shares their voices. These books shouldn’t be banned, who do we need to talk too.” It has been a hope of mine for our students to advocate for themselves and others, as well as,  to have a place to share their thoughts. These banned books were a starting point and our next steps will be to continue the fight to advocate and use our voices to make that change and learn from one another. 

Emma’s experience

First Grade Dual Language Teacher

Teacher for 3 years

 

During this semester, my class and I focused on a variety of banned books in English and Spanish  (i.e. Con Tango son Tres, Mae Among the Stars, Say Something, No Se Permiten Elefantes,  Hair Love, Jabari Jumps, El dia en que descubres quien eres, Chocolate Milk Por Favor, De donde eres?, Está bien ser diferente) during read aloud time. Each book was found on a banned book list and was introduced as a read aloud story for the day. I did not tell the students that all of these books were banned in some states or why. At the beginning of each book, we discussed what they noticed and predicted the book would be about based on the cover and title of the book. We then went into reading and examining the book. I would read the words and then have the students share what they see happening with the pictures and how the text makes them feel or wonder. We continued reading the entire book with the students sharing their thoughts as we went along as well as some comprehension questions to help guide the read aloud. At the end of the book, the students reflected on if they liked the book, what the main message of the book was and why they think it was important to read. My next steps are to show all the book covers that we have read to the students and see if they can come up with what they all have in common. After some time to brainstorm and share out, I will tell the students that the books were all banned. We will then discuss what the word banned means and why they think these books were banned. I predict that the students will be able to notice the common themes in each of these books regarding social emotional learning, self-confidence, diversity, self-love, and identity. The books I chose from the banned book list were a collection of stories that focused on cultural and family differences, self love, identity and confidence, as well as the importance of using your voice to advocate, support and celebrate others. 

 

What we already knew when starting this process was the importance of the inclusion of these texts since many of these banned books are reflective of the diverse student population found in our classrooms.  Students already had important ideas and dialogue to add to these critical conversations, our role as educators is to open up a space for children to engage in dialogue together. Together they can build off each other’s ideas, learn from each other, and even learn to respectfully challenge each others’ ideas.

 

 

 

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