Children's & Middle Grade · Picture Books · Queer · YA

Banned Books Week 2017

Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week, and I forgot! Fortunately Eclectic Alli reminded me with her Banned Book Bloggers of the Last Minute linkup. Everyone is welcome!

Instead of just doing a review this year or even several reviews, I thought what we’d do is take a look at the top ten most-challenged books of last year and see what we think. Here’s the list:

  1. This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
    Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes
  2. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
  3. George written by Alex Gino
    Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
  4. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
  5. Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
    Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
  6. Looking for Alaska written by John Green
    Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
  7. Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
    Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
  8. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
    Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
  9. Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
    Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
  10. Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
    Reason: challenged for offensive language

No less than five of the ten are on the list for LGBT content. I probably shouldn’t be surprised. I talked about I Am Jazz in relation to other trans-themed children’s books, and Two Boys Kissing has been on my list for ages because David Levithan is great. I may have to add the other three to my TBR, I’ve heard good things about George and literally nothing about the other two.

The remaining books on the list are mostly there for sexual material as well — although Big Hard Sex Criminals being “challenged because it was considered sexually explicit” makes me laugh because I can’t imagine anyone doubting that it’s sexually explicit. (For what it’s worth, I thought the idea was really interesting but the story itself isn’t always.)

Bill Cosby, though. That’s a thinker. The books aren’t being challenged because of sexual content, but “because of criminal sexual allegations against the author.” I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my hypothetical kids developing an affinity for Bill Cosby. I wouldn’t want to read the books, and there have been other books I decided not to read because the authors had been charged with similar crimes. But the whole point of Banned Books Week is to not ban books or ideas, and the books themselves aren’t criminal.

For me it would fall under “Sure, we carry the book and I’ll gladly check it out to whoever wants it, but that doesn’t mean I have to personally recommend it or put it in a display.” I mean, I wouldn’t put Big Hard Sex Criminals in a kids’ display either, but then part of the given rationale for challenging LGBT+ kids’ books is that they’re age-inappropriate. I guess we need to have a conversation about how being queer is not fundamentally bad, and what level of sexuality is appropriate for kids’ literature, because “zero” is not helpful either way. Opinions?

6 thoughts on “Banned Books Week 2017

  1. The Bill Cosby thing is interesting, that it’s the author really being objected to, and not the content of the book itself. I probably wouldn’t give these books to my future kid to read, either. But who knows, maybe the book would be valuable in some context.

    Yeah, nearly all of these books have some kind of “diverse” content, mostly of the LGBT+ variety. It makes me sad every year, because so many of them are great books.

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    1. Yeah, I try to bring that “valuable in some context” point up in library-related discussions especially — we’re making the book available. We’re not prescribing its use. People need books for different things.

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  2. The “Drama” thing is NUTS. My 7-year-old LOVES this book (the main character shares her name), and the author went to School of Visual Arts with a good friend of mine. I’ve read & acted out portions of the book with my kid; while the LGBT bit goes over her head (she’s 7), I find nothing offensive about this book at all.

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