On Monday, the American Library Association released their “State of American Libraries 2019” report. Among other things that are mostly interesting to librarians, the report included the top 11 most banned/challenged books in 2018. The report lists all 11 titles with the reasons people gave for wanting these books removed from library and school shelves.
If you’ve looked at past lists, as I have (because they make great collection development lists), it’s impossible not to notice trends. Most of the time, I get a kick out of the reasons given for book challenges (requests to remove books) and bans (actually removing the books). On old lists, I’ve seen the usual suspects: swearing, sexuality, the occult (why Harry Potter gets challenged), and so on. The reasons can usually be put under the heading, “these books will teach kids to be subversive to the status quo,” and I am all in favor of that. The list for 2018, however, made me profoundly sad. The reason given for many of the titles on this year’s list relates to LGBTQ+ topics. Here’s the list for 2018:
- George, by Alex Gino, “for including a transgender character”
- A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss and illustrated by E.G. Keller, “for LGBTQIA+ content, political and religious viewpoints
- Fun fact, I bought a copy of this for my niece for her last birthday.
- The Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey, “for including a same-sex couple, perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior.”
- The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, “for profanity, drug use, sexual references, deemed ‘anti-cop'”
- Drama, by Raina Telgemeier, “for LGBTQIA+ characters and themes”
- Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, “for addressing teen suicide”
- This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, “for profanity, sexual references, certain illustrations”
- The Skippyjon Jones series, by Judy Schachner, “or depicting cultural stereotypes”
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, “for profanity, sexual references, religious viewpoint”
- This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, “for LGBTQIA+ content”
- Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan, “for LGBTQIA+ content”
I am so saddened by this list because it shows just how under siege our LGBTQ+ population is in the United States, especially our teenagers. If they can’t find acceptance anywhere else, I would have hoped that they would be free to find solace in books that show them that life can get better, that they won’t always be stuck where they are, and that there is nothing wrong with them.
The other reaction I had when I saw the list was surprise at seeing Skippyjon Jones. I recall having a great time with more than one of my nieces and nephews at the antics of Skippjon the Cat, though there were places where I raised my eyebrows. I can absolutely see why Latinx and Hispanx people would be upset by the way the books perpetuate stereotypes. But even though I agree that the books are racist (even a little bit racist is still racist), I don’t want these books to be pulled from shelves either. What I wish is that, if a parent wants to read one of the Skippyjon books, they immediately follow it up with something that is more realistic. It’s not an ideal solution, but my answer to problems like this is always more book not less.
Removing books from library and school shelves doesn’t make these topics go away. It just makes it less likely that children with questions about them will not talk to their parents or teachers. And the topics on this and previous years’ lists definitely need to be talked about. If we can’t read freely and honestly express our questions or ideas, we will never have the kind of progress we need to ensure that our teens know that being LGBTQ+ is not shameful or wrong; that it’s not anti-cop to expect that police won’t kill you for the color of your skin; or that our society needs to do a better job of helping teens with depression, abuse, addition and other things that are hard to talk about.
As a librarian and a reader, I hope that I will always have books around me that might make a difference if I hand them to a reader in need at the right time. America, leave the books on the shelves.