At some point in their elementary career students magically transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” As they become stronger readers, a whole new world is open to them. Teachers can start to implement literature circles or book clubs to introduce children to the amazing concept of socially sharing a good book. Once students are reading on their own, teachers can have their enthusiastic learners complete independent learning projects such as animal research reports or biography projects where the students read books on their own to practice note-taking and writing skills. The problem that comes with children becoming independent readers is that the adults do not always know what is happening on the pages of the books a child is reading. We need to be aware of any potentially unfavorable or controversial children’s books that students have access to.
This post is not about banning books. It was not written to tell teachers they need to take any of these books out of their classrooms or that they can’t share them with their students. Instead, the purpose for writing it is to make teachers, who may not have read all the books in their library cover to cover, aware that these five titles have the potential to elicit parental complaints based on the language or topics they include.
These 5 titles were specifically chosen because I have personally known teachers who’ve found themselves sitting across from administrators and parents defending their choices. Teachers are professionals and should make their own informed decisions. This post simply serves to provide information to use when making that decision for yourself and your cohort of students. Read below to learn more about these potentially controversial children’s books!
5 Potentially Controversial Children’s Books
Below are 5 potentially controversial children’s books to check for in your classroom library. Clicking on the cover of each will take you to Amazon via an affiliate link for more details.
1. Superfudge by Judy Blume
The first on this list of potentially controversial children’s books is Superfudge by Judy Bloom. I love when students find a series of books they enjoy because reading more about the same characters not only engages learners, but also strengthens reading comprehension. The “Fudge” series is popular with 3rd and 4th graders and perfect in so many ways for that age. However, many teachers don’t realize that Judy Blume spoils Santa for many kids in Superfudge. During that book Peter admonishes his parents for letting Fudge continue to believe, and Peter’s mom admits “sooner or later, he’ll have to learn that Santa is just an idea.” The Polar Express also leaves kids questioning Santa’s existence, but Superfudge puts the fact that Santa isn’t real in clear terms.
2. Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
While these books are often a favorite among young learners they can be problematic as kids begin to read independently. One of the biggest benefits to independent reading is that student writing begins to blossom by reading mentor texts. Junie B. has the opposite impact as it is filled with bad grammar. Teaching kids to write and spell well is enough of a challenge without needing to erase words like “favoritest” and phrases like “holded it tight” from their minds.
3. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
This book is a beautiful story about friendship but it takes a tragic turn involving the death of a child. This puts the student at risk of developing anxieties about their own mortality and that of their friends. There is also mention of cremation. The book is a 1978 Newbery Medal winner and was made into a movie. It has appeared several times in popular book catalogs and therefore easily finds its way into classroom libraries. However, based on the content and the topics it includes, it has been known to really upset children.
4. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
Kids LOVE this book. I LOVE that kids connect with books they love. Captain Underpants is often a gateway to reading for children who otherwise resist. But, I personally have received more parent complaints about this one book than any other book I’ve put into my library. The pages are filled with bathroom humor and words like “doo doo.” A teacher friend of mine once found herself sitting in a meeting with parents and the principal because they did not send their child to school to “look at grown men in their underwear”. While most families may be OK with this type of book, you may want to proactively educate your students’ parents on the benefits of graphic novels.
5. Shiloh by Phillys Reynolds Naylor
The last on this list of potentially controversial children’s books is Shiloh by Phillys Reynolds Naylor. This is a Newbery Medal winner and a wonderful book. Shiloh is about an 11 year old boy and an abused puppy. It will have you and your students feeling all the feels and it promotes deep and meaningful discussions. The book’s character development makes it a great mentor text for improving your students’ writing craft. However, because this book is so complex and includes some language, violence, drinking, smoking and animal cruelty, it is often upsetting and hard to process for younger readers. This book would be best left out of your classroom library for student self-selection and instead reserved for teacher read aloud or teacher directed literature circles.
How to Easily Screen and Monitor for Controversial Children’s Books in Your Classroom Library
Teachers are not expected to read every book in their classroom library from cover to cover, but ultimately they are responsible for what they are providing the students with as reading material. My suggestion is to go through your library and jot down the titles of any books you have not read. Divide the list into sections and ask parent volunteers to look the titles up on Common Sense Media and/or read reviews on Amazon to see if anything stands out as a potential concern.
You’ll notice I did not say you should ban any of these books from your classroom. Nor did I say that your students should not read them. You may just not want to make every title available in a classroom library for student self-selection. Different students in varying developmental stages will handle books differently. My goal was simply to make teachers aware of topics and content they may be oblivious to in popular classroom library books. My suggestion is that you use your best professional judgement and make educated decisions on what you choose to present your students with and in some cases you may want to consider obtaining parental consent before introducing a book.
In closing, I hope you found this list of potentially controversial children’s books helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in these posts: