Event Recap: Banned Books, Critical Literacy, and the Power of Speech

On February 15, the K-12 Engagement Network hosted its second Education for the Future webinar, “Banned Books, Critical Literacy, and the Power of Speech.” The event was well attended by K-12 educators, public librarians, and Penn State faculty and staff.

Recorded Webinar 

Date Recorded: February 15, 2023
Duration: 55 minutes

Event Recap

Book Banning

A woman wearing a Hijab reads a book in a library.Russ Hall presented an overview of the current state of book banning in Pennsylvania:

  • Current wave of book banning is organized
  • Book banning is framed as a “parental rights” issue but is ideologically driven to exclude books written by and about people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community
  • Pennsylvania is the state with the 3rd highest number of books banned, after Texas and Florida
    • 457 books banned in 11 districts
  • Has a chilling effect on free speech

Critical Literacy

A group of college students browse the children's literature section of a small bookstore.Teri Dodaro shared a definition of critical literacy. Critical literacy involves questioning and challenging a text that has been read or viewed, in order to determine the author’s or creator’s values, beliefs, biases, and attitudes. Additional points about critical literacy include:

  • Critical literacy practices can contribute to change and the development of political awareness.
  • Students who engage in critical literacy from a young age are likely to be better able to contribute to a more equitable and socially just world.
  • Students are better able to make informed decisions regarding issues of power and control.
  • Students learn to question and feel confident in doing so.
  • Students will be able to “Think Beyond the Text.” They will be able to critique, analyze, infer, synthesize, and make connections to the text.
  • Critical literacy involves understanding the sociopolitical systems in which we live and should consider the relationship between language and power.

Seed Grant Project: Abington Education Majors in Philly Bookstores

College students listen to the owner of a small bookstore speak about her collection of materials.

In fall 2022, librarians and education faculty members at Penn State Abington piloted a project through a seed grant with the Penn State Center in Philadelphia that supported a group of elementary and early childhood education majors. The project allowed the students to take a field trip to independent Philadelphia bookstores that focus their collections around historically marginalized populations. The objective of the trip was to engage these future educators in conversations with the bookstore owners and prepare them to become advocates for the freedom to seek and read books that represent diverse perspectives.

Learn more about the project

Student responses to the project:

  • “I was so happy to find so many diverse books with representation for children of many different cultures and families. I want my students to be able to see themselves in literature.”
  • “This time allowed me to really expand my classroom library prior to being in the classroom and making sure that I was able to buy strong material for my future students.”
  • “It was really great to see small stores with books and [to reflect on] why they might have them.”


A student teacher stands in the hallway of a school. A bus can be seen through the open front doors.Throughout the event, many resources were shared verbally and via the chat feature. Below is a comprehensive list of all resources shared during the webinar. 

Goal Alignment

Sustainable Development Goals

This Education for the Future event aligned with the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs):

  • Goal 4: Quality Education
  • Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Learn more about UN Sustainable Development Goals

Contact the Presenters

  • Teri Dodaro, Assistant Teaching Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Penn State Abington
    Email: tlm128@psu.edu
  • Russell Hall, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
    Email: rah29@psu.edu
  • Katie Odhner, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Penn State Abington
    Email: kzo5154@psu.edu
  • Christina Riehman-Murphy, Open and Affordable Educational Resources Librarian
    Email: cer20@psu.edu
  • Shivaani Selvaraj, Director, Penn State Center Philadelphia
    Email: shivaani@psu.edu

Book Recommendation List

Cover of the book "Babel" by R.F. KingAt the opening of the webinar, we asked panelists and participants what books they are currently reading, or recently finished, and would recommend to others. Here are the responses:

  • Babel: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang (recommended by 3 attendees)
  • The World We Make: A Novel by N.K. Jemisin (recommended by 2 attendees)
  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (recommended by 2 attendees)
  • All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (recommended by 2 attendees)
  • Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Dog Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice on Lifetime Maintenance by David Brunner and Sam Stall
  • A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger
  • The Depths by Nicole Lesperance
  • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
  • Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  • The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
  • Long Division by Kiese Laymon
  • A Woman is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum
  • Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
  • Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Kevin
  • Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Angela Joy
  • The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
  • When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids by Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski
  • She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan
  • Bathe The Cat by Alice McGinty
  • Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller
  • Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson