Monday, September 12, 2011

Banned Book Week: September 24--October 1 and Robert Cormier

My Children's Lit class is doing a Banned Books Week project. We're getting started a bit early, so everyone has time to locate and borrow their chosen banned book from the library and finish reading it in plenty of time.

I'm not sure what I'm going to end up reading, but I would like to read another novel by Robert Cormier, whose book The Chocolate War has been read in high school classrooms all over the country since its explosive publication in 1974. In that year, The New York Times and Newsweek magazine named it "one of the best books of the year," for adults, mind you, not teens. And every one of Cormier's subsequent novels continued to smack up against the censor's teeth, making him the most censored novelist for young people from 1974-2000. No matter, many teachers and schools ignored the cries of terrified parents and school administrators and continued and still continue teaching his books.

Communities have listed many reasons for banning his books over the years, but if I may cut to the chase, experts acknowledge that the real reasons, though frequently unstate, were largely political in nature. Cormier's prose is exquisite, his dialogue pitch-perfect, but his novels are dark and shine a bright light on the underbelly of society, government, and, most of all, of human nature. He is known as a master of psychological suspense, but he never pits one lone human against another lone human. Society always looms large--that's why The Chocolate War is so frequently compared to The Lord of the Flies.

It's absolutely true that parents and school administrators freak out about young people's books that deal with anarchy and rebellion of the young.

Robert Cormier resided in the town where I lived (Leominster, Massachusetts) when I taught elementary school from 1975-1985. During that time and later, I heard him speak many, many times and was always captivated. He was so humble, so unpretentious, and full of anecdotes about the forces in society that pushed him to write each book. He died in 2000 at the age of 75, a great loss to teen readers and those who love freedom from tyranny.

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