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    This semester I am requiring my students to read The True Story of Hansel and Gretel a novel takes place in Poland during World War II The good news is that my students love the book in fact several of them are reading ahead The shocking fact the bad news is what they don’t know It is not just knowledge of history that they lack it is knowledge of basic geography God bless PowerPoint and blackboard To be fair my students do ask intelligent questions yet the lack of basic knowledge is shocking At times I feel like I am teaching a culture and history course in addition to a reading skills course Now I don’t think it is the students’ fault I think the fault lies with the schools as well as parents and special interest groups Here’s why There is a group called PABBIS Parents against Bad Books in Schools I disagree with them on so many different levels but their website does have two good features It actually quotes the material they find objectionable and it has a complete list of banned and challenged books as recent as 4 5 years ago The Devil’s Arithmetic is on that list by the way Everything by Stephen King makes the list Everything by Dahl Blume Block There are a few Black Stallion books on the list as is Black Beauty Harry Potter His Dark Materials Three to Tango The Diary of Anne Frank The Lorax and Shakespeare In other words pretty much anything good Lately history and science text books have been subjected to strange changes ie as in Texas and warning labels usually about evolution In terms banning and challenging books I might under the idea if the book was being assigned at an inappropriate grade level say Beloved to first graders Why an exceptional first grader might not have a problem with such a book there are several things wrong in general about such assignment least of which is the subject matter Yet I have never heard of such an assignment Age appropriateness isn’t really the issue It seems to rest on what might offend any group anywhere Take for instance The Diary of Anne Frank This book has been banned challenged and rejected by parents and text book committees because of the sex and tragedy of the story Raisin in the Sun has been banned and challenged because it’s pornographic Can someone please please show me where? I can certainly see why The Devil’s Arithmetic is banned It is the mention of a wedding Blatantly heterosexual Okay it’s most likely due to the violence it’s about the Holocaust and the ending Romeo and Juliet was dissed by a teacher who said it was a blatant endorsement of heterosexual love so I guess teen suicide is okay BUT Yolen’s magnificent book is exactly the type of book that should be used in schools Let’s face it the wrong text book andor the wrong teacher can make history very boring and sometimes people just don’t like learning about history for a variety of reasons This is the reason why good historical fiction should be used in schools A good historical novel can get a reader interested in a period in an event in a person This true to a degree of such less accurate work than The Devil’s Arithmetic 300 caused some people to become interested in the Spartans Titanic in the actual ship In terms of books vampire novels and historical fiction such as The Other Boleyn Girl also cause readers to become interested in the actual events or myths that the novel is based on Curiosity and a desire to learn are fueled by a variety of things interest is one of them The Devil’s Arithmetic is precisely the type of book that for young readers can help history seem real and perhaps get a reader interested in history Yolen does not talk down to her readers her main character is sympathetic an older sibling and because Yolen doesn’t pull her punches it is a real history not a feel good history This makes the story far compelling and interesting The story is told actively and quickly Words are not wasted The reader learns but is not lectured to and screamed at Because of this reality and vividness parents object to the story and this raises the question of whether teachers and parents should sugarcoat history It’s true that are plenty of novels and movies that present history in a flattering light look at the perfect teeth the clean bodies the small pox vaccination scars A reader can quite easily find it in any average romance novel Such writing does serve a sense of purpose escapism and there is nothing wrong with that But that is not education Is this what parents want a school to be? I hope not I suppose it is easy for me to comment on appropriateness and the evil of banning because I don’t have a child and I was raised in a house where you were encouraged to read what you wanted I see however the effects of banning and challenging which are a total lack of knowledge or worse a lack of interest about a subject because the subject has been taught in such a sterile environment so devoid of any color or shading where everything is the color and taste of sugar where everyone in the world has always treated everyone with respect and love where women always had the right to vote and slavery only existed in North and South America and was totally destroyed by the American Civil War Good literature of which The Devil’s Arithmetic is a prime example forces its readers to examine their own knowledge and lack of knowledge forces readers to think about their own responses notions and stereotypes Good literature teaches or enlightens the reader even if the reader already knows It is a bond between writer book and reader that is no less real than those ties of family and society that provide the excuse for book banning