“But that’s one of my favorite books! Why would anyone ban it?”
This morning, my kids and I ran through a list of children’s books that are currently banned by school districts and libraries across America. As we read the titles, much incredulity, outrage, and downright anger was expressed by all. But there was also satisfaction, because we own (or have borrowed and read) many of the outlaws:
A considerable number of banned children’s and young adult books address race and racism, from classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bluest Eye to fresh newcomers Ghost Boys, The New Kid, and The Hate U Give. These are generally labeled “too mature”, “divisive”, or seriously, “too much of a sensitive matter right now”. An increasing number of titles feature LGBTQIA2S+ characters or issues, like Hot Dog Girl, This One Summer, Drama, and A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo; these are labeled “inappropriate”, “sexually explicit”, or even better, “designed to pollute the morals of the reader“. Then there are many that have been labeled “heretical” because they feature witchcraft, which “conflicts with a religious viewpoint” (the entire Harry Potter series) or otherwise “undermine Christian values” (A Wrinkle in Time).
But what’s really chilling is that books illustrating how censorship, oppression and control are essential for successful totalitarianism are on all the lists: Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, Anne Frank’s Diary, Farenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984.… These generally are cited for “Objectionable political material” or “Political bias”. In that category, many have already heard that Art Spiegelman’s brilliant graphic novel Maus, which depicts his parents’ Holocaust experience, was just banned by a school district in Tennessee, for “objectional language and nudity”. Many may also be aware that conservative Rebublican leaders are more frequently and boldly calling for book bans, and even burnings. For example, Texas politician Matt Krause recently released a list of 850 books he plans to ban, of which quite a few cover individual rights and due process, one example being a textbook titled The Legal Atlas of the United States. There is evidence that that this is part of a well-funded and organized movement, laundered through righteous-sounding pseudo-grassroots franchises such as Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, and No Left Turn in Education. It’s no coincidence that fascist regimes all over the world and throughout history have consistently attacked literature and the arts as part of a larger attack on freedom. It’s a very slippery slope we’re approaching, folks.
The kids and I decided that we want to do our part for intellectual freedom and individual rights. Now, I well remember that I only encountered Maus when I was in college, and only because I saw it on a friend’s bookshelf. I read it in one sitting when I probably should have been studying physics. Which is probably why I took physics twice. But this is what we need to happen: We need people to read these books and share them, to spread the word, give away their copy, and then buy another one so that they can give that one away too. So, as we’re noting that Maus is now a runaway #1 bestseller on Amazon (Ha! Take that, right wing tyrants!), we decided on an action plan: We’ll purchase and support banned book authors.
My favorite resource for targeted children’s books that I have come across is The Ultimate List of Banned Books by Scholastic, which is organized in a brilliantly snarky way: By the category for which is was banned. For example, “Too scary!”, “Objectionable politics”, and my personal fave, “Promotes the Occult”. Just reading through the list is entertainment.
To start, here are our recommendations for some of our favorite prohibited children’s literature:
What are some of your favorite banned books? Share in the comments. Consider recommending them on social media with the hashtag #bannedbooks. And FYI: The next official Banned Books Week will be September 18-24, 2022. Mark it on your calendar!