Voyager students speak out during Banned Books Week

Sep. 28, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Dissenters have said the Harry Potter series spews Satanism and “American Psycho” bleeds violence.

They’re both books that have been deemed unfit for school or library shelves. At least 464 books were banned or challenged across the nation last year, according to national Banned Books Week, when people filed complaints citing inappropriate content.

Some of Voyager Academy’s tenth-grade students admitted that before their class-wide Banned Books Project, which they presented at the Durham Farmers Market Saturday morning in Durham Central Park, censorship wasn’t an issue at the forefront of their minds. Some even agreed with banning a few books if they were too graphic, too obscene.

But their viewpoints changed after reading “The Hunger Games,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Great Gatsby.”

The Voyager students had to read a banned book, discuss the First Amendment implications of banning books, and then create symbolic posters and bookmarks of the works they read.

Fifteen-year-old Savannah Wilkins chose “American Psycho, w”hich was banned for its violence and sexual content.

“My teachers told me this was probably the most graphic book,” Wilkins said. “I’m kind of stubborn. … People have a right to read want they want to read.”

Voyager Academy English teacher Jen Adler wore a “Great Gatsby” T-shirt that morning, and she said this was a project she’d wanted to do for years after learning that many of her favorite books, such as Harry Potter or “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, had been banned.

Her class read the censored portions of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” of which they read the incomplete version in eighth grade.

“How much rights do you think people should have through the First Amendment?” Adler asked her class.

“I could see why some parents wouldn’t be happy with their children reading the book,” student Jay Huff said of his book choice, “The Giver,” where a seemingly utopian society has a horrifying underbelly.

“I don’t think the process they went through was the right way to handle it,” Huff said of censorship. “They just don’t have the right to decide what’s right for everybody. Everybody’s different.”

Students took turns Saturday passing out their bookmarks or reading their book presentation aloud to the farmers market crowd.

Sammy Sheagley, 15, read aloud her take on the banning of Harry Potter while Durham Farmers Market customers stopped on the sidewalk to listen. She said she liked the first book so much, she’s in the middle of the third, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

“They thought it was un-Christian values; that it was Satanic,” Sheagley said. “I think they were afraid of it.”