Posts Tagged Banned Books

KIDLIT UNITES AGAINST BOOK BANNING

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Kidlit Unites Against Book Banning

More than 13,000 MG and YA authors and illustrators have signed a letter condemning the current wave of book banning. The letter, written by Newbery Honor author Christina Soontornvat,  calls on Congress, state leaders, and school boards to act now to protect students and their right to access a diverse selection of books.

“This current wave of book suppression follows hard-won gains made by authors whose voices
have long been underrepresented in publishing.” (From Soontornvat letter)

Demonstrating the resonance of this message with children’s book creators, most of the thousands of signatures on this letter were gathered in under 48 hours. The letter is now posted on diversebooks.org and includes signatures from a handful of contributors from our blog here at From the Mixed-Up Files … of Middle-Grade Authors.

 

badge logo for We Need Diverse Books - text with pink brush marks at top and botto

“When books are removed or flagged as inappropriate, it sends the message that the people in
them are somehow inappropriate. It is a dehumanizing form of erasure …. At a time when our country is experiencing an alarming rise in hate crimes, we should be searching for ways to increase empathy and
compassion at every turn.” (From Soontornvat letter)

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

On May 18, Soontornvat sent the signed letter to the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, which is investigating book banning in schools. On Thursday, the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over civil rights and equal protection laws, held its second hearing on the subject and formally introduced the letter into its record.

((Interested in reading more on the fight against book banning? Click here.))

((Want a list of banned books you can support? Click here.))

 

WNDMG Wednesday – Banning Books Creates Selective History

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

 

Thinking about Banned Books

I want to think out loud about a subject close to the hearts of most readers and writers: the recent uptick in banned books. and how banning books creates a selective history of our world. Those of you who read our blog often know that just a few months ago, contributor Patricia Bailey collected a wonderful list of  Mixed-Up Files contributors’ favorite banned books.  This post is also an excellent resource for websites to plug into when you want to take action–so you should go check it out!

I wanted to revisit the subject here on the We Need Diverse MG series because of the unfortunate truth that the majority of the books being challenged or banned in recent years are by and about underrepresented communities. It’s a clear attempt to remove diversity from our children’s bookshelves.

a stack of books chained together banning books creates selective history

Gatekeeping Diversity

The reason I hear most often in my own community from parents who want to remove books is variations of this reasoning: “My child isn’t ready for that kind of story.” Or, “This is inappropriate or traumatizing, and I don’t want to scare my child.”

As a mother, I do understand the gatekeeping instinct that leads us to stand between our children and content that could frighten or traumatize them. Learning can’t happen when children feel threatened.

But children can’t learn empathy or understanding if they never have to be challenged to see beyond their own lives. Why shouldn’t a child who is raised in a safe white space be exposed to a book detailing the risks–and the joys–faced by BIPOC, AAPI,  Native, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ communities? Why shouldn’t a Christian child learn what it’s like to be a Jew or a Muslim in America?

Banning Books Creates Selective History

Equally as important, and we all know this, children from underrepresented communities need to see themselves and their experience validated and normalized in books. When we scrub the shelves of diversity, we devalue the experience of a majority of the world’s population, and this is a tragedy for all. Moreover, banning books creates a selective history of who we are, and no one is served by an incomplete narrative.

Yes, adults do sometimes need to help children process what they read. But is that so bad? Don’t we want to support a more inclusive generation of children who are supposed to be the stewards of a smarter tomorrow?

((Want to see which books are currently in the hot spot? Check out this list from Banned Books Week of 2021))

The First Banned Book

I was curious about the history of banned books and how long the practice of controlling the narrative has been going on. I  learned that while the practice goes back as far as ancient China, when Confucian scholars were buried alive, the first non-murderous American banning happened in 1637. Immigrant Thomas Morton wrote an anti-Puritan treatise called NEW ENGLISH CANAAN. It was such a scandalous and insulting book (this terrific article by Matthew Taub talks about how Morton compared his former community to crustaceans), the angry Puritans immediately scrubbed it, as though they could put the genie back in the bottle.

Thumbnail photo of Thomas Morton's New English Canaan book banned books create selective history

What intrigued me though, was that in addition to his comparatively hedonistic approach to life (can someone say maypole dancing?), he was also the closest thing that passed as an ally in those days. He broke off from the Puritans to establish his own community, forming economic partnerships with the Native population and getting rid of his business partner who owned enslaved people. Morton’s more diverse, inclusive, and equitable approach to community didn’t conform with the lockstep attitudes of the time, therefore his book was of suspect political nature.

Sound familiar?

Imagine a world like the one Morton envisioned, where we can embrace and honor our differences and thrive in each other’s company. I hope we will continue to write and read the books that give us space for this to happen, and to fight the crustaceans who try to ban them.

 

 

MUF Reads Banned Books

“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

If you’re someone who reads our blog, chances are you are aware of the barrage of book bans, book challenges, and, yes, even threats of book burnings in the US these past several months.

The list of books being challenged is long, and the challenges have little to do with the actual educational value of the books in question. The challenges are all about preventing children from having access to and the freedom to choose books that center a range of perspectives and, more often than not, the perspectives of characters who have been underrepresented in libraries and classrooms for far too long. These challenges focus on books kids desperately need to better understand themselves, their peers, and the world they live in. (See Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s Windows and Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors for more information about this idea).

Because that’s what books do. They let us see ourselves. They let us see that we’re not alone in our struggles, our confusion, and even our joys. And, they let us see outside of ourselves into a wider world. They let us explore different perspectives, try on different points of view, and develop empathy.

I remember finding such a book in my local library when I was 10. Even though the book was about a 15 year-old girl, the heart of the book –  the character’s fears, worries, grief, and guilt – mirrored by own, and reading it made me feel less alone and less broken in the year after my father’s death. The book was Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume – a book that has been banned for sexual content and language in school districts across the country. I’m forever grateful that no one deemed that book “too adult” or “inappropriate” for ten-year-old me. They couldn’t possibly have known how much I needed to travel with Davey that year and to read the words “We’re going to be all right,” at the book’s end.

As I look through the recent list of banned and challenged books, I don’t just see books, I see the faces of the students I have handed these books to, students I have had long and engaged conversations with about characters and settings and plot and life. I see students who read more, felt more, and thought more simply because they were given the choice to read a book that spoke to something they have experienced, or recognized, or wondered about.

I asked the other members of the blog to share some of the banned and challenged books they love. The list is varied – and not nearly long enough, but here are some of MUF’s favorite banned middle grade titles:

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Are You There God It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

New Kid by Jerry Craft

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Melissa (Previously titled George) by Alex Gino

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot by Dav Pilkney

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

Even the inspiration of this blog – From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg – has been banned.

This list is merely a tiny glimpse of the books being pulled off of school and library shelves.  There are far too many more.  The American Library Association has lists of Frequently Challenged Books on their website. It’s worth checking out.

If, like me, you are looking for ways to take action, check out the resources at:

The National Coalition Against Censorship

Texas Library Association

#FReadom Fighters

American Library Association

National Council of Teachers of English

Lots of people smarter than I am have written their thoughts on the subject as well. Check out Kate Messner’s post for an Open Letter that educators and librarians can share.

And, read this statement signed by authors, educators, librarians, booksellers,  publishers, concerned citizens and organizations standing up for students and their First Amendment rights.

 

Please, comment below with your favorite banned/challenged book as well as any resources you’d like to share.

And remember, books are powerful. No one would want to ban them if they weren’t.