One thing I adore about my life is being a high school teacher and sharing my love of reading with my students in my 10th grade classroom in Florida. I am known as the bookish teacher, and my recommendations are as good as the ones on BookTok (their words, not mine). I am the teacher that keeps a stocked library with young adult books showcasing all sorts of diverse backgrounds. I am also the teacher that takes donations and shares them with her students, many of whom cannot afford to buy a book themselves.
With the increase in book bans happening all around the United States, the conversations in my classroom with my sophomores have turned to reading and why books matter to them. A lot of them eagerly walk into my classroom clutching books that they discovered on YouTube, through my recommendations or, of course, BookTok. They proudly show me their picks as they sneak reading time in class when they’re done with work. They even come up to me to show me where their bookmarks are and how far they’ve gotten with their reading for the day.
These readers represent so many places in the world. My classroom is full of kids that moved to the United States with their families and guardians seeking opportunities here and the education my public school provides, including AICE and AP classes where they can gain college credit, as well as a prestigious JROTC program. They have goals including four-year colleges, trade schools, the military, and beyond. As a teacher, I encourage them to follow these goals, and I also give them credits for reading whatever they wish to read. Many of them tell me books give them an escape and inspire them at the same time.
With that said, I decided to talk to my own 10th graders, who all wanted to be a part of this essay, so they could tell me how they felt about reading and the effect of book bans. Many authors have expressed their thoughts on the issue, and I find their thoughts on this fascinating. The perspective of teen readers matters, too, and we need to pay attention to what they have to say on the subject.
When I asked my student Kaitlyn about why books matter to her, she told me a lot about it, excitedly. “Books are an important part of my life. They take my mind off of reality and [are] the best way of distracting myself, ” she said. “I’ve also learned from books that giving up on your life too early is not the best way, and also I learned that manipulation is never the best way to treat others. They offer valuable lessons to me.”
When it comes to the issue of book bans, she added that she feels that students should have the right to choose what they read. “I feel that young adults and mature teens have the same mindset when it comes to reading,” she added. “Book bans are harmful because I feel like teens are no different than adults at times, and they might like certain books that are ‘restricted’ for their age group. Also, most of the ‘good books’ are books that your age group ‘can’t’ read, due to so-called themes and issues in the books.” Kaitlyn is an avid reader, carrying a different book daily, most recently The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas, which she was thoroughly enjoying.
Then there’s my other student Cameron, an avid reader whose book tastes are eclectic and varied. I stocked her up in the beginning of the school year with books like Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid and titles that she had wanted from her scrolls through social media, such as A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. She said:
“Books for me have always had a tremendous impact on my life. Growing up it was hard to deal with a lot of the struggles I faced with my family and parents. I was faced with a lot of responsibility at a very young age and books saved me. They offered an escape from everything else that was overwhelming. Since then I haven’t stopped reading. Book bans would be harmful for teens that enjoy reading. Putting restrictions on things teens partake in takes away a lot of the enjoyment it brings. It would also restrict the exposure to diversity that we’d be allowed to develop and see. “
Cameron also added that she craves more diverse characters, characters that she can relate to and represent her background as well.
“I wish I could see more ‘non-cliché’ Asian characters,” she mentioned. “I also want to see characters that struggle with culture and identity in America, without being unrealistically dramatic about it, and in a high school student setting.”
“I believe teens and young adults should have the freedom to read what they desire. If we wish to read it, we should be able to. Everyone can handle different levels of writing. Some people enjoy the more graphic and gory styles of writing, and although it may be considered not completely ‘appropriate’, they should still be allowed to read what they enjoy. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from books is that every single person has a different perspective. It is better to be patient and empathetic to everyone you know, because you have no idea how they interpret a situation or event. No one way of looking at a situation is ‘wrong’.”
Cameron finished by saying that reading has connected her with others, and that mentors like teachers have encouraged her reading and to explore diverse stories and backgrounds.
“Reading was my first friend. Falling in love with reading was as easy as walking,” she added. “One of my favorite memories happened recently. A few of my friends who don’t casually read decided that they wanted to understand my interests. So, after I finished a book, I passed it on to a friend. Eventually, it made its way around my friend group. It is my most highlighted and annotated book that I own, and it brought us closer together. It was interesting to see how different lines and moments resonated with everyone differently.”
Finally, there’s Sophia, who used to be a hesitant reader until she realized that she can find a story she loves and can relate to. That ignited in her a newfound love of reading. Recently, I handed to her and she enjoyed Nina Moreno’s Our Way Back to Always.
“Reading is an important part of my life, because growing up, I never enjoyed reading. I felt ‘not as good’ as other students and convinced myself I couldn’t read so I never did,” she said. “But, last year during freshman year, I gave it a shot and ended up loving it. Reading is significant to me because I proved myself wrong and it proved to me that I could do something I thought I couldn’t and enjoyed it.”
As for book bans? Sophia thinks they are short-sighted.
“Not allowing teens to read certain books is completely foolish,” she told me. “Us teens have access to everything on the internet and through the our phones, but taking away a book that offers entertainment and education is not right.”
She also added that it’s their right as young adults to explore different stories and content from diverse backgrounds.
“Banning a book because it may have a few inappropriate things in it is simply just not right,” she added. “It takes away our access to a new learning opportunity. It’s not very intelligent to take that opportunity away from us.”
In the end, teens love books, and we should let them freely read about all topics.
“I think teens and young adults should be able to read all types of books because it allows us to enjoy reading. For me, the thing that made me want to start to read again were romance books. Some of those books may be deemed as ‘inappropriate,’ but that’s simply not true. Being teenagers, we all know how to handle a bit of language and kissing. It is not like we are still in middle school, where content might be a bit different. If those types of books got banned, as well as books that show different stories and characters, it may make me unmotivated to read. And I do not want to stop reading.”
You’ve heard it now, from my 10th graders, why access to a range of reading materials matter to them. Many of my students say I have helped them keep reading, as I hand them books and attempt to keep my classroom library stocked.
“I get most of my recommendations from either TikTok or my lovely teacher Mrs. Dominguez,” one of my students shared.
And this, dear readers, is why I teach. I want to inspire and allow students to explore stories they love. From romance to drama to LGBTQ tales, stories of immigration and diverse and realistic teen struggles, to stories representing themes that relate to the Black Lives Matter, let the teens read!
For example, the current read in on of my AICE General Paper classes is Furia by Argentine author Yamile Méndez. The students love it, and so do I, many telling me how much they enjoy the story: its lessons and the smiles and ups and downs they get from it. For many students, this might be their gateway into reading a different type of story. And many fall in love with that “first book.”
“I fell in love with reading because of the first book I read,” said Kaitlyn. “My favorite reading memory is when I realized I was smiling way too hard at a book when I was reading it.”