Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Two Takes on Challenging Materials

Among the standard review and professional journals to which my library subscribes, there are a few that are a little more unusual to find in a public librarian’s inbox. Literacy Today, the magazine of the International Literacy Association (ILA), is one of these. I certainly had never encountered it before I started in this job, but I’ve come to look forward to each issue. While ILA members come from a wide range of disciplines, I particularly value the perspectives of classroom teachers that I get from reading Literacy Today.

From the website of the International Literacy Association

A recent article on using challenging materials in the classroom resonated with me because of my work on the Intellectual Freedom Committee. More and more, the challenges to reading material for young people that we’re seeing across the country are coming from school libraries and class reading assignments more than from public library collections. As we consider ways in which we as librarians can support our schools in promoting the importance of challenging reads, I found the two differing opinions on navigating book selection in the classroom featured in this article to be truly thought-provoking.

ILA has generously allowed us to provide the article here, so I encourage you to take a few minutes to read and consider it.

Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website
Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website

I’m intrigued by the middle school teacher who whets her students’ appetites for challenging materials by using excerpts in class, but encourages them to seek out the full book outside of school in order to avoid parent complaints. It’s evident that this approach to potentially forbidden fruit gets teens excited about reading these titles.

At the same time, I understand the perspective of the high school teacher who worries that teachers deferring to outside pressure are diminishing their roles as professional educators. Additionally, as IF advocates frequently point out, no one can ever predict what someone else will consider “offensive” or “inappropriate.”

What do you think of these two viewpoints? Does the first suggestion offer an acceptable compromise for teachers looking to avoid reconsideration battles? Or does it give in too much to a “potential challenge” that may never come? Do you have other examples of ways in which teachers navigate the selection of classroom reading assignments? Please share your thoughts in the comments, and visit for more information on Literacy Today magazine and the International Literacy Association.

Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Co-Chair ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

Two Takes article from Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Literacy Today shared with permission of the International Literacy Association.

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