On Banning Books

Back when I was a kid, I remember reading about repressive societies in the 20th century who banned and burned books. I felt grateful that I didn’t live in such a place. I couldn’t have foreseen what’s going on now, that school districts and community members across the U.S. would put so much energy, hatred, and rage into removing books from libraries: books by and about Black, Jewish, and LGBTQ2A+ people. If I’d heard about this happening in my time when I was a kid, I’d have some of the same questions I have today:

How can we have an equitable, inclusive society if children aren’t allowed to read stories that reflect their identifies or share with them the experiences of identifies that are different from their own? How will our society survive if we don’t celebrate the differences that make us, as a society, strong and vibrant? How can anyone not want such a thing?

It can be hard not to feel weak in the face of such virulent attitudes. Yet there’s much that we can do. We can write letters to school boards—that’s starting to work in many communities—and support the students who are speaking up for the right to read what they want and need to read. We can join school boards, join local government, and always be sure to vote. (And here’s a very powerful article from Martha Hickson, a New Jersey school librarian, about her experiences with book banning, with action steps she recommends for librarians dealing with these issues.)

Children’s authors have a certain power in this as well. We regularly enter classrooms, libraries, and school assemblies, and for a few moments have a platform from which we can talk about the importance of reading books that reflect us and reflect experiences that are different from ours. We can recommend titles that show kids that even if we’ve white and cis, we authors read broadly beyond our own experiences. And in our own books, we can depict worlds that look and feel like the diverse, vibrant world that surrounds us today (and do our research, and hire expert readers to double-check our research when we need to).

This is part of my own vision of myself as an author. I need to be a proud ally to my fellow authors whose books are being banned, and to the students who need these books in their libraries and classrooms. I know my young self would feel that strongly too.

(This post first appeared in my enewsletter, Adventures From an Open Book.)

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