For educators to ask young Black person, someone who is not often represented in canonical literature, to divulge the title of the book that had the greatest impact on them as a child can be a sort of loaded question. As a Black person who grew up in South Georgia, it was especially challenging for me to recall reading texts such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, or To Kill a Mockingbird and remember the old let’s take turns reading this aloud as a class exercise. Imagine for a moment sitting in class with a white teacher surrounded by mostly white students and hearing “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n*****; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way.” Imagine being on the receiving end of curious stares when a white classmate reads “Well, if they like it, Tom, all right; but I don’t want to be a king and have only just a given name, like a n*****.” Imagine the confusion a child would feel hearing a classmate read the following passage aloud as if it’s normal conversation: “Suppose you and Scout talked colored-folks’ talk at home it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbors? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses.” My teacher in those classes did not take the time to highlight the objectification of the human beings in these texts. She in no way reached out to those of us who were obviously uncomfortable. She did not handle this potentially pivotal moment in a way that would invite the Othered beings in the class into the conversation. We, like the Othered characters in the texts, remained in the margins.
These novels, set in what most simply refer to as The South, normalize referring to Black people as “n******” and “colored folks.” Situating these novels within their historical context is important to discussions about the literary canon because doing so exposes the pitfalls of American culture. According to Randall Kennedy, “. . . regardless of Twain’s intentions, Huckleberry Finn (like any work of art) can be handled in a way that is not only stupid but downright destructive of the educational and emotional well-being of students” Texts such as these reveal issues not only with race, but also with issues of gender, class, and nationalism to name a few. Often times, the discussions about what is wrong in these novels stop at how freely the authors use derogatory language, but there are much bigger issues that are often ignored in mainstream and academic discourse about the works. Let’s have a discussion about how the novels illustrate how white children learn about race and racism. Let’s have a discussion about how the novels depict children’s indoctrination into classism. Let’s have a discussion about how these novels are the Southern bildungsroman. So yes, they are painful to read but they definitely should not be burned or banned because that is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These problematic texts illustrate a part of American culture that many want to pretend did not happen. But it did happen. It happened to people who went on to have children of their own, and those children are now living with a different version of the same issues. What novels are they reading? Do they see themselves represented in their assigned reading? What will they learn about how America sees them when their classmates are asked to read aloud?
Fortunately, educators, scholars, publishers along with children’s and young adult authors are making great strides in building a catalogue of scholarly and fictional works that call out canonical works. Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, for example, discusses the complicated nature of “race talk dilemmas” in her article, “‘We Always Talk About Race’: Navigating Race Talk Dilemmas in the Teaching of Literature” (2015). Thomas notes that “Reading literature that wrestles with both the history of race in the United States and contemporary race relations encourages a critical view of social and cultural reproduction (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990), with the ultimate intent of creating ethical and literate citizens (Alsup et al., 2006)”6. We all play a role in the development of discourse and the subsequent discussions about intersectional identities. Fortunately, there are a great many more diverse books (https://diversebooks.org/resources/) being published from the perspective of various American identities and this gives us all an arsenal of texts to be taught in place of or preferably in conjunction with canonical and banned books. Most importantly, these texts provide an array of identities that reflect the lives young people in America today.
Check out the following links for additional resources:
 Kennedy, Randall L. (1999). Who Can Say "Nigger"?...And Other Considerations. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, (26), 86-96.
 Twain, M., & McKay, D. (1948). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Illustrated junior library). New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
 Twain, M., & McKay, D. (1946). The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Illustrated junior library). New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
 Lee, H. (1982). To Kill a Mockingbird (Warner books ed.). New York: Grand Central Pub.
 Kennedy, R. (2002). Nigger: The strange career of a troublesome word (1st ed., Black thought and culture). New York: Pantheon Books.