September 28-October 2 is Banned Books Week. Buckle up, because – surprise! – I have some feelings about censorship.
Librarian Mike Rawls, otherwise known as @thebookwrangler, put it beautifully on his Instagram page this week: “Books are banned for all kinds of reasons… but 8 out of 10 books on the American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books of 2019 had one thing in common: LGBTQIA+ content. When you challenge, ban, or censor books with LGBTQIA+ content you are challenging, banning, and censoring someone’s identity, including my own. Representation matters, and remember you might not want your child to read these books but you shouldn’t get to dictate if they are available to everyone else.”
Book censorship is dangerous. Full stop.
When we say that some stories are acceptable and others are not, we are sending a clear message: Some identities are acceptable, and others are not. Some lives are acceptable, and others are not. These subtle messages become foundations in childrens’ realities.
A lot of attention goes to the top 10 and the loud, splashy challenges every year. But what has come to scare me even more is the quiet, intangible censorship that’s difficult to spot. The “this isn’t the right time” reactions to book club proposals. The author visits cancelled last minute due to “scheduling issues” (no, seriously…. just ask brave authors Phil Bildner, Kate Messner, or KA Holt, among others). The looming threat to educators and librarians of being punished, fired, or blacklisted for handing a book to a child. The order to to keep the book behind the desk until someone asks for it. The decision to remove it from the purchase order at all. It happens, quietly and politely, every single day.
Librarians, administrators, and teachers: Fight to protect your students’ intellectual freedoms. Not every book fits every child. But every family, and each individual within it, should get to make their own decision about what is best for their readers. Children deserve access to these books and the thousands of others that can make a difference in their lives.