I’m so excited to introduce author Phil Duncan as my guest author today. His latest young adult book, Wax, is out (see bottom of post). Today, he has three banned or challenged books that he highly recommends.
By Phil Duncan
Much is made of banned and challenged books in schools, with constant debates springing up over age-appropriateness vs. freedom of expression and ideas. As a writer I am firmly on the side of fostering intellectual growth of children via challenging work, but I can also understand that some books — especially those aimed at young readers — might be too mature for certain age groups. So where is the middle ground in this politicized issue? How can we allow books to do what they’re meant to do — open up new worlds and ideas to our children — while also protecting young readers from material that may be too advanced?
The key to answering this question lies in investigating these books and finding out why they are “challenged” in the first place. Screening hundreds of books is a daunting task, so I’ve compiled a list of three books that I have read, either as a young reader, adult or both, that I believe are completely suitable for young readers (though they appear on the more conservative “challenged” books lists):
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
As one of the best young-adult novels of recent years, Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary… details the life of a young Native American protagonist who attends a nearby “white” school and the dichotomy that grows from juggling two very different lifestyles at the same time. While the book covers topics such as death, alcoholism, and poverty, these topics are approached softly through the eyes of a teenager, educating young readers on some very vital issues while also maintaining and the light, humorous air that only Alexie can achieve.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
I vividly remember reading this book as an 11-year-old when it was first published in 1995. As a young boy in a small rural town, this warm, loving novel about the Watson family and their journey from Michigan to Alabama was a well-rounded introduction to African-American family life in the 1960s and the tribulations of the Civil Rights Movement. While the book can be thematically very heavy, like Alexie’s novel we view everything through the lens of a child. The most chilling — and absolutely necessary part of The Watsons — details the bombing of a Birmingham church. While hard to read at any age, it imparts a valuable lesson on American history that will help shape the views and perspectives of a young reader.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
While Persepolis is a graphic novel, this series isn’t your typical comic book. Like the previously mentioned books, Persepolis details complex social issues from a child’s perspective — this time a young girl trying to make sense of the startling social changes in post-revolution Iran. At once gripping and hilarious, Satrapi gives us an autobiographical story that informs young readers of geopolitical issues that are still at the forefront 30+ years later.
Phil Duncan is the author of Wax, a young-adult novel published by RainTown Press, as well as of various short fiction published both in print and online. He is a graduate of Goddard College’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and the University of Washington’s English program. Duncan is a former Jacob K. Javits Fellow and recently served as a Creator-in-Residence at the Tokyo Wonder Site-Aoyama in Tokyo, Japan. He currently lives in Portland, OR.
Yancey Muncey is dead. Or, he was. Raised from the grave by the shadowy figure of Dr. Blankenship, Yancey is now back in high school, hanging out with his best friend, and working up the nerve to ask the girl of his dreams to the upcoming Halloween carnival.
But not everything is the same as it was before: Yancey’s eyes are yellow, his skin is blue, and he’s indestructible. As if that weren’t bad enough, Dr. Blankenship has made it his life’s mission to hunt Yancey down. Because the only reason Yancey is alive again is to help the good doctor destroy his rival.
An average boy with a new lease on an extraordinary life, Yancey must battle high-trained security and high school bullies in his quest to get back to normal. What’s the worst that can happen after all? He’s already dead.
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