BBW Day 5- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.  I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway

Banned Book: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Removed from the Harford County, Md. High School curriculum (2007) because its message on the dangers of bullying is overshadowed by instances of vulgar language, including homophobic slurs. In November 2007, the Harford County’s school superintendent reversed her decision to bar Cormier’s novel and returned it to the classroom. Teachers now have the option of using the novel in a course that deals with harassment and decision making, but must get permission from all parents of students in the class. Challenged as an optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego, Oreg. Junior High School (2007) because the novel is “peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence.” Students are given a list of book summaries and a letter to take to their parents. Four of the eight optional books offered are labeled as having “mature content/language.” Challenged in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho School District (2007). Some parents say the book, along with five others, should require parental permission for students to read them. Challenged as required reading for seventh-grade students at the John H. Kinzie Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. (2007). Challenged at the Northridge School District in Johnstown, Ohio (2007) because “if these books were a movie, they would be rated R, why should we be encouraging them to read these books?” Source: July 2007, pp. 147-49; Sept. 2007, p. 181; Nov. 2007, pp. 242-43; Jan. 2008, pp. 28-29.” (Taken from ala.org)

Why It Should Be Read: This is the perfect example of how horrible bullying can become.  Archie is the leader of a “secret society” called the Vigils at his private school.  He’s very much a sociopath and forces those that rank below him in the social hierarchy to take part in activities they normally would avoid.  Selling chocolates in the annual chocolate sale is one of those activities, but one student, Jerry, refuses to sell them.  This sets off a chain reaction of increasing amounts of bullying against Jerry.  The social hierarchy, however, also involves the school’s administration, so it’s difficult for Jerry to gain support; Archie also holds power over the administration. 

Yes, there’s poor language and sexual situations, but that doesn’t take away from the message.  This book teaches about the importance of standing up for yourself and the dangers of giving one person too much power.  Another great part of The Chocolate War is Cormier’s amazing ability to create dynamic characters.  The reader gets to know Archie and Jerry like they would in any other book, but Cormier takes it to another level by taking the reader into their psyches.  We understand them at a different level, along with the lessons meant to be learned.

And of course, this book has really been a home run with not only reluctant readers, but reluctant learners.  My first year of teaching involved a student who constantly got himself into trouble (at school and with the law) and wouldn’t do his work.  When my students started working on an independent reading project I recommended The Chocolate War to him.  He was reluctant at first, but after some encouragement he tried reading it.  After that day I never saw him in the hall without it in his back pocket, and he never forgot to bring it to class.  All of a sudden he was staying awake in class so he could read.  Even better, he wanted to talk about it and do his project.  When he finished, he asked if he could go to the library to pick up another book by Cormier.  That in itself is reason enough to read this 🙂

Student Response: This is a response from Zach, one of my students that graduated last year- “The Chocolate War opens your eyes to how bad censorship can be especially towards books that absolutely have no reason for being banned. The only book I have ever seen/read that doesn’t need to be banned, but contains alot sexuality and maturity so should be strongly discouraged towards younger readers, is Boy Toy.”

Comments

  1. Thank you for such a great review! I remember reading this as a child … but I have to say that I am surprised that it’s a banned/challenged book!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      Thank you for the comment/compliment! 😀 I read this before I knew it was challenged, and I felt the same when I found out.

  2. arsthly2015 says:

    i live in new york and my class at kipp infinity read this book… it’s a very good and life changing book

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