Multiliteracies – Being literate across multiple formats.

Literacy is influenced by social, cultural and technological change and the information revolution has increased the modes of communication available for children, teenagers and adults alike.  (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p.24).  As technology evolves, social and cultural practices need to adapt to this new paradigm. 

To be an active and informed citizen individuals need to be multiliterate.  This means a person needs to be confident in a range of literacies, across a variety of modes and able to translate those skills across all sectors of their life  (Anstey & Bull, 2006, pp. 19-22).  In order to have mastery with these multiple literacies, individuals need to be able to adapt their practices to suit the whichever context is available (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p.20).  

Anstey & Bull (2006) have summarised the skills of a multiliterate person: 


As the diagram above shows, a person’s ability to be multiliterate (ML) is also multifaceted.  A ML person is able to determine the context of work and then instinctively switch to the literacy that best suits that mode of communication, for example, reading an email to watching a TikTok video, to listening to an audiobook.  This flexibility is essential in modern society and requires the reader, or text user, to be able to alternate between different forms of text that may present in daily life.  

What does this mean for pedagogical practice?  

The notion of text has evolved significantly over the past few decades.  I have mentioned this shift in a previous blog post about literature in digital environments.  Therefore, a shift in text types means there needs to be a shift in literacy based pedagogical practices (Anstey & Bull, 2006).  Remember literacy is influenced by social, cultural and technological change (Anstey & Bull, 2006)! 

Hepple, Sockhill, Tan & Akford (2014) point out that since language and literacy exist within the ACARA’s multiliteracy framework, there is firm mandate to include multimodal texts within educational practice.  Anstey & Bull (2006) concur, and believe that pedagogy to promote multiliteracy needs to address the changing nature of texts, that literature is learned in a social context and critical literacy is essential for informed action.  

Within classroom practice Anstey & Bull (2006) argues the importance of balancing the variety of genres and formats for teaching and learning purposes.  Whereas Hepple, Sockhill, Tan & Akford (2014) believe that long term exploration of texts across the curriculum using text exemplars and features, as well as the explicit teaching of semiotics and critical thinking are better suited to student learning.   

Anstey & Bull (2006) emphasis the fact that literacy identity is pivotal to multiliteracy (p. 36).   As literate practices are linked to social and cultural development, literacy identity is the combination of experiences from both the real world and the school world (Anstey & Bull, 2006).  By being aware of their own literacy identity, a person consciously understands their own abilities to decode a set of resources and their faculty for critical literacy (Anstey & Bull, 2006).  Hepple, Sockhill, Tan & Akford (2014) point out that the best results for teaching multiliteracies occur when it is taught using active learning and a student centred approach (p.220). 

Critical literacy is a tenet of multiliteracy (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p.37).  This is based upon the fact that students are exposed to a variety of texts from all contexts of life including, education, employment, social and recreation.  But not all texts hold equal authority.  Accuracy and validity are not guaranteed, and students need to learn to be able to differentiate between reliable resources and false information, especially on the internet.  By exposing students to a range of texts from a trusted adult like a teacher or teacher librarian, through literary learning or via book bento boxes and book trailers, they are given opportunities to develop their critical and multimodal literacy with the hope of translating those skills to life outside the classroom  (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p.38).  

 

References:

Anstey, M., & Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies . Newark, Del.: International Reading Association. 

Hepple, E., Sockhill, Tan, A. & Akford, J. (2014). Multiliteracies pedagogy: Creating claymations with adolescent post-beginner English language learners. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(3), 219-229. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1002/jaal.339

Book Bento Boxes – A fun reader response strategy.

Book Bento Boxes. 

The name intrigued me immediately.  I began to imagine miniature books presented artistically in a bamboo box.  Then I remembered how un-artistic I am and the most creative experience I have had lately is using blue eyeliner instead of the stock standard black. Then I began to get hungry.  

But I digress.  Here is a Book Bento Box I prepared earlier using physical items. 

Cover reproduced with permission from Kokoda: Teen edition by Peter FitzSimons, Hachette Australia, 2016.

Book bento boxes (BBB) is a multimodal and interactive reader response strategy to literature that promotes visual literacy, critical thinking and multiliteracy (Bales & Saint-John, 2020; Anstey & Bull, 2005).  According to Bales (2018), BBB are adaptable and can be used at the beginning of a novel study to predict the events, in the middle to explain critical features or themes, or at the end of a unit of work to show understanding and comprehension. Most commonly used within the English curriculum, BBB can be successfully adapted to use across other disciplines for teaching and inquiry learning (Bales & Saint-John, 2020).  

The concept underpinning book bento boxes is straightforward. Common household items or images are artistically arranged and used as points of reference for significant themes or events within the text (Bales & Saint-John, 2020).  Their simplicity and scope for differentiation makes BBB an excellent strategy for capturing understanding in a formal or informal setting (Bales, 2018). 

Far different from traditional book reports, BBB provides an alternative and creative method for promoting discourse (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p. 22).  It allows the student to engage with the text and respond in a manner that utilises their own knowledge bank and best suits their abilities, as each reader’s comprehension of the text will differ to their peers due to the disparity in views, perspectives and mental acuity (Derewianka, 2015). 

We have acknowledged that discourse is important for improving student understanding and success and the traditional method for discourse has been literature circles and book reports.   I have previously discussed this in other blog posts, for example The books we read aloud are the ones that resonate the most so I will leave it here.  BBB are an ideal reader response strategy for high school classrooms as they can be easily differentiated for diverse learners and promote multimodal literacy.     

Here is a Book Bento Box I prepared using digital images (all with CC 4.0 or 2.0).  

 BBB can range from simple posters, to interactive digital images with embedded links for videos and external websites (Bales, 2018).  They can be created individually or in collaborative learning groups, for teaching and learning as well as for assessment purposes.  

Pre tech days of the old school poster.

 

Remember the poster presentation from days before Powerpoint? In the world before Powerpoint and mobile devices, students would create posters using cardboard, paper, coloured pens and magazine collages.   This BBB option is still available for young children, or older students with minimal access to devices and software.  In most Australian secondary schools, many students have access to mobile devices such as laptops or smartphones, so they are able to create digital images with or without embedded interactive features.  By including annotations or a rationale with their work, the reader is able to justify the inclusion of their supporting items and thus illustrate their knowledge and understanding of the text (Bales & Saint-John, 2020).  

The process to create a book bento box is quite simple and more detail instructions are here:

  1. Select a text.  
  2. Select items  or images that correspond to themes or events in the text.
  3. Arrange the items as artistically as possible. 
  4. Take a photo.
  5. Edit the photo either using Powerpoint or your camera filters.
  6. Upload the image to Thinglink or you can keep using Powerpoint or Prezi or a poster. 
  7. Add the interactive features (if desired).
  8. Add annotations or rationale (if desired). 
  9. Share to learning management systems and emails (if desired).

So why is there a need to implement BBB into teaching and learning?  Why change things up?  

To put it simply, the reading paradigm has changed and therefore pedagogy must also change to support students in this new world (Mangen, Walgermo & Bronnick, 2013).   As mentioned earlier, there are sufficient pedagogical reasons to use book bento boxes in teaching and learning.  Firstly, exposure to a variety of good quality texts  embedded across the curriculum has been proven to extend ICT capabilities, intensify engagement, improve cognition, boost emotional development and increase recall.  By using this reader response strategy, students are increasing their visual literacy, critical thinking and consequently multiliteracy capabilities.  It is also a whole lot of fun!!

 

References:

Anstey, M., & Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies . Newark, Del.: International Reading Association. 

Bales, J. (2018, September 23). Book Bento Boxes. [Blog]. Retrieved from https://jenniebales.wordpress.com/2018/09/24/book-bento-boxes/

Bales, J., & Saint-John, L. (2020) Book Bento Boxes: Creative reading response. SCAN, 39. Retrieved from https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-39-2020/book-bento-boxes–creative-reading-response

Derewianka, B. (2015). The contribution of genre theory to literacy education in Australia. In J. Turbill, G. Barton & C. Brock (Eds.), Teaching Writing in Today’s Classrooms: Looking back to looking forward (pp. 69-86). Norwood, Australia: Australian Literary Educators’ Association. Retrieved from https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2620&context=sspapers

Mangen, A., Walgermo, B. R. & Bronnick, K.A. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research, 58, 61-68.doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2012.12.002

Picture Perfect – The role of Picture books in a secondary classroom. 

Every man and his proverbial dog knows the importance of reading in young children and thus the inclusion of picture books into primary school libraries is heavily encouraged. 

rolandmey / Pixabay

 

There is skepticism when it comes to including picture books for a high school library collection.  The simple reason for this quizzical brow raise is that many people view picture books as infantile.  This is because picture books are by definition, mostly pictures with some text, the purview of the young and or uneducated (Marsh, 2010).  Their prevalence in schooling years tends to diminish with age because they are assumed to be less literary or simple in nature (Marsh, 2010). But this is a fallacy. 

Welcome to the world of sophisticated picture books.  

Literature has always been the core of schooling  (Ross Johnston, 2014). From Seneca to Homer, Chaucer to Fielding, Bronte to Orwell, Dickens to Zusak, literature has formed the framework of teaching and learning from the ancient Greeks to current digital natives.  ACARA (n.d.b) points out that the English curriculum is structured with literature, language and literacy at its core. This clearly implies that students need to achieve competency in all three strands in order to be considered proficient.

Literacy has evolved from its traditional stance of reading and writing in this information age.  ACARA (n.d.a) believes that literacy is the ability to access, interact with, decode, comprehend, use and present information in a meaningful manner.  Ross Johnston (2014) concurs that language is useful in organising thought and thus metacognition is the most profound aspect of literacy. Literacy is no longer limited to text but now includes multiple modalities such as written, oral, visual, print and digital forms of information; as well as non traditional text forms such as Braille, Auslan and other gestural sign language.  This plethora of modes means that students need to be proficient across multiple literacies for success in this new world order (Wolf, 2014).  

Picture books (PB) are commonly used in teaching and learning for young children.  Early childhood and primary school teachers often use picture books to teach literacy, content and concepts to their students.  But these books are pushing the boundaries in educational practice. Research has shown that picture books can be used to teach older students multiliteracies, curriculum content and broach sensitive subjects (Marsh, 2010).  Their use of illustrations and text provoke the reader to look past the overt narrative and search for the covert message. Picture books’s application in literacy and learning is extensive and therefore should be defined as literature.  

Traditional picture books follow a linear movement of text and images.  Marsh (2010), believes that both images and texts are required for decoding. Unlike illustrated books, where images are the supporting act to the main text event; picture books require images to be the central feature with text working concurrently with the picture (Barone, 2011).  Children are able to follow the story as images are often clear and the tone is developmentally appropriate (Marsh, 2010). Titles such as Mem Fox’s Where is the green sheep and Alison Lester’s Are we there yet are perfect examples of traditional picture books.  Their format is ideal for younger children as the illustrations assist the reader in decoding the text. 

Conversely postmodern picture books are designed to provoke and stimulate the reader with absent or contradictory text (Aitken, 2007).  The absence of text encourages the reader to ‘self author’ and fill in the dialogue (Aitken, 2007), as Wiesner’s Flotsam exhibits.  In Flotsam, the reader superimposes their own prior knowledge and understanding of the beach to decode the illustrations  (Panteleo, 2018). With most Australians living within an hour of the coast, readers readily identify with the illustrations and corresponding fantasies (ABS, 2017).   Older readers are able to see the overt message of escapism and fantastical stories as well as the covert message of tradition and conservation. Whereas another Wiesner’s book, Three Pigs, has several contradictions between words and images, forcing the readers to re-read the page and search for details previously missed (Aitken, 2007). 

 Compared to traditional picture books where the author’s voice is strong, postmodern picture books allow for a change in narration and perspective (Aitken, 2007).  In Flotsam, the reader superimposes their own knowledge onto the narrative.  This change allows the reader to engage more deeply with the storyline and characters, and in turn, more likely to experience an emotional or cognitive change in thought.  

Sophisticated picture books are also known as picture books for older readers, and they are extremely useful in secondary school classrooms. They have great capability to provide teaching and learning experiences and can be used as a vehicle to teach content, literacies and influence social and emotional development (Pantaleo, 2014).   Marsdens The Rabbits’ (1998), Tan’s Red Tree (2001), Whatley’s Ruben (2018) and Wild’s The feather (2018) are all excellent examples of sophisticated picture books.  It must be noted that post modern books can be for both younger and older readers, but sophisticated PB are primarily for older readers but can have postmodern elements.  Tan’s Red Tree and Marsden’s The Rabbits are both examples of sophisticated PB with postmodern elements.    

This ability to decode and make cognitive connections is not inherent.  Children and young adults often need to re-read such books multiple times and have a discussion with an adult and peers in order to understand the various nuances within (McDonald, 2013).  Additionally, these nuances will manifest differently to readers. The manifestations will depend upon personal cognition and experience. This means that sophisticated picture books are ideal for classrooms with diverse needs as the book itself differentiates the lesson.

There are many advantages to using PB in a secondary classroom.  The obvious advantage is their brevity. Brevity in books is a great tool for constructing engaging thematic units of work.  It also provides a valid alternative as a class text for disinterested teens, reluctant readers, students with low literacy and those that do not speak English at home.  Another advantage is the innocence that surrounds PB (Marsh, 2010). Their familiar structure reassures students as many remember them from their own childhood and early schooling.  Consequently, these books are seen as non threatening and student’s resistance is reduced.     

The ‘image’ has become essential to daily communication and has supplanted the alphabet in terms of importance (Short, 2018; Ross Johnston, 2014).  One only needs to walk through playgrounds to know that tiktok, snapchat and instagram are the preferred social media platforms of teens.   Ross Johnston (2014, p.619) is adamant that students need to be competent in image analysis across various contexts. But in order for teens to be able to make successful connections between literacy and comprehension, they need to learn the skills to decode language and symbols. 

Since visual culture is proving to be a driving force for the 21st century, visual literacy needs to be explicitly taught and sophisticated picture books are eminently qualified for the task (Harvey, 2015; Short, 2018).   Exposure to picture books regularly encourages visual literacy as the reader is encouraged to use both the images and the text to decode and comprehend the story. These skills of decoding and comprehending are the cornerstone of literacy proficiency. As discussed previously, the notion of literacy has evolved over the past century and picture books promote multiliteracy as they are a multimodal form of literature.  Picture books connect well with popular culture and the new texts, technologies and literacies that accompany it (Flores-Koulish & Smith- D’Arezzo, 2016). 

Haven (2007) reminds us that storytelling is the most basic way humans have sought to understand the complexities of life. Therefore narratives are the base level of understanding and within everyone’s capability.  Traditional stories with clear demarcations of beginning, middle and end, allow children to organise information in a logical manner (Haven, 2007). But sophisticated PB with contrary and or absent text, force the reader to make their own connections which promotes critical thinking through their multilayering of overt message and underlying tone (Short, 2018).  

Critical media literacy is also enhanced by picture books.  In a world filled with fake news and the ‘Toilet paper gate of 2020’, it is patently clear that society needs immediate action regarding media literacy.   Flores-Koulish & Smith- D’Arezzo (2016) point out that media is part of the socialisation process and requires skills as it is intrinsic to cultural practice and will differ between societies. Unfortunately media literacy is not addressed appropriately and equally across Australian schools.  The combination of the digital divide and lack of appropriately skilled teachers has meant students are not taught the relevant skills, nor have access to technology required to decode and interpret images. The importance of media literacy can never be dismissed, after all, one only has to recall the bizarre result of the 2016 Presidential election to remember that media literacy cannot be treated lightly.  

It has been well established that emotional regulation is important for social development and is the basis of human interactions (Laurie, 2016).   Laurie (2016) believes that picture books provide an excellent framework to teach humanity about empathy and tolerance which comes under social and emotional intelligence.  This regulation, or emotional literacy, is the ability to regulate one’s emotions in social situations. In fact as Laurie (2016) pointed out, humans require skills in emotional regulation prior to social literacy competency.  Conflict resolution, common in playgrounds, sports grounds, canteens, boardrooms and bedrooms; all require competence in social and emotional literacy. In fact any positive social interaction between peers needs both parties to be emotionally literate.   Reading, discussing and the analysis of literature lures the reader into connecting with the character, which leads to increased levels of sensitivity and empathy. PB are able to broach sensitive issues with ease as their innocent appearance lulls readers into a sense of security (Barone, 2011).  

Literature’s strength lies in the fact that readers are able to vicariously experience the character’s conflict and thus develop an understanding of appropriate responses.  Sophisticated picture books use the illustrations and text to elicit an emotional response in the reader. Whatley’s Ruben uses monochromatic images to show the harsh dystopian world that the protagonist has to survive in.  Wild’s The Feather uses orientation to draw the reader into the image. Marsden’s The Rabbits draws the invaders as pompous, barrel shaped creatures who are oblivious to the presence of the original inhabitants.  This allegorical tale uses satire to point out the devastation the colonisers inflicted on the Indigenous peoples and forces the reader to re-evaluate the history book’s version of events.  Tan’s story of a forlorn child in Red Tree gives the reader a visual representation of what depression can feel like.  The vivid imagery of a monstrous fish, etchings of endless days and drowning gives readers a chance to understand how depression affects people.  It also gives students who suffer mental health illness a language to use to describe their mental state.  

Short (2018) reiterates literature’s ultimate purpose in identifying the inner humanity of individuals and ensuring fundamental experiences of life are accessible to all.  The current trend towards standardised tests and prescribed reading has disengaged students from engaging with books purely for emotional benefit (Flores-Koulish & Smith-DÁrezzo, 2016; Short, 2018, p.291).  As mentioned previously, due to brevity, older students can be encouraged to engage with picture books but without the guilt of ‘wasted time’.

Sophisticated picture books are an excellent tool for addressing the various cognitive, behavioural and developmental needs of the reader.  Images are superseding text in this modern age, therefore it is important that visual literacy is explicitly taught through the curriculum. But PB’s greatest impact on adolescents is upon the development of emotional literacy in adolescents.  Therefore, it can be argued that picture books are literature because they are able to affect the reader so significantly (Ross Johnston, 2014). Picture books are multimodal in nature and their sophistication in addressing issues of a sensitive nature as well as problematic relationships, makes it an important part of a high school collection. 

 

REFERENCES

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). How many people live in Australia’s coast areas? Year book Australia, 2004. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/1301.0Feature%20Article32004

ACARA. (n.d.a). EnglishF-10 Curriculum. Education Services Australia Limited.  Retrieved from https://australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/english/ 

ACARA. (n.d.b). LiteracyF-10 Curriculum. Education Services Australia Limited. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/literacy/

Aiken, A. (2015). Postmodernism and children’s literature. ICCTE, 2(2). Retrieved from https://iccte.org/journal/

Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom: Engaging lifelong readers.  Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central. 

Cornett, C. E. (2014). Creating meaning through literature and the arts: An integration resource for classroom teachers (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River,  Prentice Hall. [Available from CSU DOMS Digital Repository]

Flores-Koulish, S. & Smith-D’Arezzo, W. (2016). The three pigs: Can they blow us into critical media literacy old school style? Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 30(3), 349-360. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02568543.2016.1178673

Haven, K. F. (2007).  Story proof: The science behind the startling power of story. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group. (pp. 89-122).

Hateley, E. (2013). Reading: From turning the page to touching the screen. In Wu, Y., Mallan, K. & McGillis, R. (Eds.) (Re)imagining the world: Children’s literature response to the changing times (pp. 1-13). Retrieved from Springer Link.

Laurie, H. (2016). Using picture books to promote social-emotional literacy. YC Young Children, 71(3), 80-86. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/

Marsh, D. (2010). The case for picture books in secondary schools. Lianza, 51(4), 27. Retrieved from https://doms.csu.edu.au/csu/file/f7b0a0c2-d0c5-4ba3-8644-6955ea9850b6/1/marsh-d.pdf

Pantaleo, S. (2014). The metafictive nature of postmodern picture books. Reading Teacher, 67(5), 324-332. do: https://doi-org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1002/trtr.1233

Ross Johnston, R. (2014). Children’s literature in the Australian context. In G. Winch, R. Ross Johnston, P. March, L. Ljungdahl & M. Holliday (Eds.), Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (5th ed., pp. 557-581). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.

Short, K. (2018). What’s trending in children’s literature and why it matters. Language Arts, 95(5), 287-298.

Turner, C. (2014). Opening the portal: An exploration of the use of postmodern picture books to develop critical literacy and contribute to learning in the Australian Curriculum: English. Literacy Learning: Middle Years, (1), 52-61. Retrieved from https://www.alea.edu.au/

Wolfe, S. (2014). Children’s literature on the digital move. Reading Teacher, 67(6), 413-417. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1002/trtr.1235

Breaking down the barriers

Breaking down the barriers

 

Break out boxes are a fabulous activity that engage and excite students of all ages.  These boxes mirror how an escape room works in that students puzzle their way through to find the code that will unlock the box and obtain their prize! 

These boxes were amazing all throughout book week!! My fabulous colleague Jordan is a whiz at creating activities that stimulate the brain, evoke critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.   Using the Critical and creative thinking continuum from the General capabilities, the puzzles were selected to address the various strands at the appropriate stage for each class.  Our students were thoroughly engaged in the pursuit of a grand prize.  TBH, the grand prizes were lollies as that was what the budget permitted.  

The boxes were such a hit that we have been clamoured with requests to repeat them with other classes.  The 2IC of RE has asked the boxes be available for Year 8 RE to sum up their World Religions unit at the end of next term as well as 7 RE for their unit on ‘Gospels, Parables and Miracles’.  9 History wants it for exam preparation in two weeks. 10 English want it next week to reinvigorate the flagging interest in ‘Lord of the flies’ that I have previously grumbled about.   We even managed to get an elusive science class requesting it – 11 Biology is going to trial one to introduce the next unit of work.  

So what does this mean for us as a TL?

Besides embedding the Gen Caps into the teaching and learning, breakout boxes draw in the skeptical teachers by breaking down barriers.  We all know there are teachers in every school that have strong aversions to libraries and teacher librarians.  There are ones that are not sure of what a TL can contribute to the classroom, and others that avoid the library like its a contagious disease.  Some are not even sure why we are there at all!

We have found that breakout boxes are so captivating that its plainly obvious how it can work in the classroom teacher’s favour.  But this indulgence comes at a cost…  They need to book a TL to do this activity either in the library or their classroom.  And maybe then they will see, we aren’t all that scary.  And then… maybe then, they will come back, to borrow books, request teaching spaces and most importantly, collaborate together in planning units of work.  

Maybe then they will understand what we do, and who we are.

Now who is feeling smug?

(my HOD…  this whole concept wasnt my idea, but as my HOD and colleagues are not going to blog about it. I might as well)

Modules 2 & 6 -13 reasons why – censorship and selection

Student: “Miss, why don’t we have the book ‘13 reasons why’?”

Me: Err…. well. It was not deemed suitable for this library.  

Student: Why?”

Me: Well it promotes suicide and that goes against the moral and ethical values of the school.

Student:“Thats dumb miss.  Oh well, I will just watch the series on Netflix”.

13 reasons why – a popular series on Netflix and was based upon a book by Jay Asher that highlights the controversial topics of suicide, bullying and consent.  The book was released in 2007 but did not reach widespread usage till the series aired on streaming channel Netflix in 2017 (Goodreads 2017). Suddenly the world exploded into anarchy because the children were reading such content.  Would somebody please Think of the children!

Gomez (2018) found that the popularity of the book and series was precisely because it caused such controversy among communities.  It is understandable that concerned parents and well meaning bureaucrats were worried that this show would promote suicide in a sub section of society already plagued by mental health concerns (youthbeyondblue.com) but the blanket ‘Ban the book’ is not useful.

 Arguably,  the book is contentious and also contains other morally debatable issues such as “drug and alcohol use, sexual content, suicide” and is definitely inappropriate for younger children (Gomez 2018). Many schools in the USA banned the book citing unsuitability for their readers and its promotion of self harm (McMahon 2018).  Granted I would not give my 9 year old this book as she is definitely too young for its content but I feel like just banning a book based upon fear is nonsensical. Personally, I would keep the books like these in a restricted section for our older readers and place it on a ratings continuum that corresponds to age and maturity levels.

Banned books often highlight controversial issues that society fears or tries to hide (McMahon 2018).  The banning of books in itself is very disquieting. Besides the simple fact that it stifles expression of thought and the exploration of ideas, it is simply censorship.  In a world where minorities still rarely get heard, and injustices occur worldwide, the banning of such books just move to hide these issues from the rest of the world. The American Library Association have established an annual event “Banned book week” to celebrate the inherent right for readers to have a choice.  Besides promoting freedom of choice of reading material, this week also promotes the value of access to information to all. It seems foolhardy to restrict access to book choices for older readers if maturity is not in question (bannedbooksweek.org).

So in the spirit of this post, I am going to list 13 books that have been banned and explain why I think they provide value to a collection within a high school library.

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
    Australia has shockingly high statistics about teen mental health.  With suicide the most common outcome for death in the 14-24 age group and supersede car accidents, I think we need to talk about suicide more.  (ABS 2014)
  2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    A graphic novel about a transgender child.  Well, considering we have a transgender child within our school community, I think this book needs to be included in our school collection.  Part of our library development policy is to ensure we have addressed the needs of our all learning community.  (ALIA 2017)
  3. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This book is amazing.  The senior students do study this book as part of their Senior English course and whilst it does highlight sexual violence, it is exceedingly well written.  It does also comment on that boys can be victims of sexual assault and that just being a spectator does not absolve you from guilt. It definitely plays a role in acknowledging the #metoo movement.
  4. George written by Alex Gino
    Another book that was banned because it included a transgender child. Urgh, such drivel! Transgender children are already at a much higher rate of mental disease and are also more likely to commit suicide compared to the cis-gender counterparts (lgbtihealth.org.au).  Isolation and social exclusion is commonly cited as reasons to this so it seems ludicrous to ban a book because of a character in the book. Transgender children need to feel normal and included across all aspects, even as characters in books.
  5. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg.     Oh wow. Lets stifle all normal dialogue about sex with children and leave it to Playboy and the internet.  I feel frustrated as sex was and always will be a integral aspect of life. Rather than leaving children to gain their information elsewhere, mostly wrong and often inappropriate, this book talks about sex in a fun joyful manner.  Sex is more than just ‘birds and the bees’. It is about consent, boundaries, emotional and physical connections (www.corysilverberg.com).  
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    A classic story and has been well read and loved across the world as it highlights injustice and inequality before the law.  But get this… This book IS STILL BANNED AT SOME SCHOOLS even in 2017 because it promotes immorality (Bellot 2017). Thankfully here in Australia, this book is often studied in Year 10 as a school text.  Phew!
  7. The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas    Inspired by the movement #blacklivesmatter this book highlights racial prejudice, activism, police brutality and media misrepresentation.    Yes there is swearing, violence, sex and drugs. But its 2019 and most of us know that our young people are already aware of these topics. I think many indigenous students would resonate with this book considering the prejudice many of them face themselves in their dealings with the law.
  8. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Based upon a beautiful story of two male penguins who love each other and raise a chick together from an abandoned egg.  Banned because of its same sex relationship storyline, the censors feared that penguins would rampage their blatant sexuality in our sensitive faces. Can you feel my sarcasm?  Well it is 2019, and even Australia has legalised same sex marriage so this should not even be an issue within our country. Morris (2016) in her article in the SMH pointed out that the iconic children’s TV show Playschool was featuring same sex couple as part of their families segment.  Unfortunately the same TV program aired a similar storyline back in 2004 and was slammed by the then PM John Howard as “foolish” (Morris 2016).  Thankfully times have changed and we as a society are more accepting.
  9. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    Another book banned because it highlights gender issues. Enough said.  
  10. Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald                           This book was and still is often challenged because of the sex, alcohol consumption, violence and language content.  Lombardi (2019) points out that the story challenges the fairy tale of ‘the American dream’ where wealth and fame does not always have a positive outcome.  A bit of a slur against a nation that prides itself on capitalism.
  11. Alice in wonderland by Lewis Carrol                                                                                       I struggled to recall what part in this book would lead to censure from various societal groups.  But it appears the book contains references to sexual fantasies which was actually based upon the author’s lifestyle vs actual content in the book.  The story also has animals that talk which has caused subsections of Chinese society to believe that it brings animals up to the level of humans and thus cause great disharmony in the minds of unsuspecting children. Bah! Drivel! The last reason is that the book promotes drug use as a hookah is present in a scene, well it has a talking animal using a hookah (Melendez 2018).  Considering this book is based on literary nonsense, I find these reasons to be just that.. Nonsense.
  12. Harry Potter by J K Rowling.                                    Well, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has definitely seen enough challenges to this book series with calls to have it banned and even burned (Peters 2017).  Challenged for its tales of sorcery and witchcraft, it is mostly religious zealots that feel that this book series is an affront to their world. But considering I was one of the early faithful and so far have not yet been burned at the stake nor have had my broom stolen, I think I can dismiss their angst. J K Rowling inspired so many children, teens and adults with her books and HP was the driving force of an entire generation of readers.  A brilliant story of the fight between good and evil, friend and foe, individual and society where it is love that conquered all, has such meaning in our world today (McMahon 2018).
  13. Hunger games by Suzanne collins                                    Violent it is.  This book series is truly terrifying.  Not in the violence it portrays but rather the dystopian society it highlights.  The disparity between the different districts shows symmetry between the haves and have nots in our real world and the way the elite feed off the suffering from the lowest members in society. The point of the ‘hunger game’ is to defeat your opponents at all cost even if they are more vulnerable than you is what I struggle with.  Whilst this series is distasteful on a personal level, it is an important addition to the collection due to the critical thinking and ethical discussion it invokes with critics and readers (McMahon 2018) .

References

ABS Causes of Death, Australia, 2012 (2014). Underlying causes of death (Australia) Table 1.3. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3303.0

ALIA (2017) A manual for developing policies and procedures in Australian school library resource centres. 2nd Ed. Retrieved from alia.org.au

Commonsense Media (2015) And Tango makes three. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/and-tango-makes-three

Bellott, G. (2017) Why are schools still banning To kill a mockinbird still banned in 2017? Shondaland Retrieved from https://www.shondaland.com/inspire/books/a13971188/to-kill-a-mockingbird-banned/

Beyondblue (N.D) Stats and facts. Retrieved from https://www.youthbeyondblue.com/footer/stats-and-facts

www.coreysilverberg.com (N.D)  Sex is a funny word. Retrieved from https://www.corysilverberg.com/sex-is-a-funny-word

Goodreads (2017) The hate u give. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32075671-the-hate-u-give

Goodreads (2017) 13 reasons why Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29844228-thirteen-reasons-why

Invaluable (N.D) 15 Banned books and the reasons for their censorship. Retrieved from https://www.invaluable.com/blog/banned-books/

Lombardi, E (2019) Why was the Great Gatsy controversial? Thought co. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-was-great-gatsby-controversial-739960

McMahon, R. (2018) Why your kid should read banned books? Commonsense media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/why-your-kid-should-read-banned-books

Melendez, D. (2018) Why Alice in wonderland was banned throughout the 20th century. Entertainment Retrieved from https://www.hercampus.com/school/uprm/why-alice-wonderland-was-banned-throughout-20th-century

Morris, L. (2016) Playschool segment to feature gay fathers. SMH. Retrieved from www.smh.com.au/entertainment/play-school-segment-to-feature-gay-fathers-20160204-gmlko0.html

National LGBTI Alliance (2016) The Statistics at a glance: The mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Australia. Retrieved from https://lgbtihealth.org.au/statistics/