Once again, it’s Banned Books Week—and a new list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books from the last decade reminds us that LGBTQ-inclusive books for kids remain among the most (needlessly) controversial.
The American Library Association (ALA) has compiled its annual Top Ten Most Challenged Books lists into a list of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019. Many are acclaimed novels, like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and even the Bible. As the Banned Books Week Coalition said in its press release, however, many of the books on the list were targeted for LGBTQIA+ content. They include:
- George, by Alex Gino
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
- And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
- Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
- I Am Jazz, by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
- Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
- A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss
- Sex is a Funny Word, by Cory Silverberg
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel
- This Day in June, by Gayle E. Pitman
- This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki
- In Our Mothers’ House, by Patricia Polacco
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
- This Book is Gay, by Juno Dawson
- The Family Book, by Todd Parr
- Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah Hoffman
- Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher
- Heather Has Two Mommies, by Lesléa Newman
- My Princess Boy, by Cheryl Kilodavis
- Prince and Knight, by Daniel Haack
- Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, by Amy Sonnie
- Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen
Many more of the books on the list also include LGBTQ characters or ones of other marginalized identities. When the annual list for 2019 came out this past April, the ALA noted “a rising number of coordinated, organized challenges to books, programs, speakers, and other library resources that address LGBTQIA+ issues and themes. A notable feature of these challenges is an effort to frame any material with LGBTQIA+ themes or characters as inherently pornographic or unsuitable for minors, even when the materials are intended for children and families and they are age and developmentally appropriate.” Additionally, they observed:
Organized groups also continued to protest and disrupt Drag Queen Story Hour events held in libraries, claiming that the events advance political, social, and religious agendas that are inconsistent with the groups’ conservative Christian beliefs about gender and sexual identity. In 2019, OIF [the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom] tracked more than 30 challenges to Drag Queen Story Hours and other Pride programs, and identified a new and distressing trend of disinviting authors who had been invited to speak or read from their books, solely on the grounds that the authors identify as LGTBQIA+ or because their books include LGBTQIA+ themes. [Here’s my coverage of a school that disinvited author Phil Bildner from a virtual visit this May, and one that disinvited author Robin Stevenson from a talk last year.]
I don’t think I need to remind readers here of how damaging such censorship can be to LGBTQ children, children of LGBTQ parents, and also their peers, who will grow up never fully learning about the world around them. This is not to say that all books are appropriate for all children; some are clearly geared towards different age ranges. Yet even children of the same age have differing levels of maturity, so it is ultimately up to us parents or guardians to decide what books are appropriate for our own children. I will also add, speaking as the parent of a child who is almost grown, that inevitably our children will learn about some things in life before we think they should. It’s then up to us to help them understand and contextualize this information—and books are often more of a help here than a hinderance. Banning books from schools and libraries is rarely the answer and can even make a parent’s task harder.
The ALA also reminds us that the censorship of books in libraries is a violation of our First Amendment rights, yet 82 to 97 percent of challenges remain unreported. (To confidentially report a challenge, use this handy ALA online form.)
Despite the continuing challenges to LGBTQ books, however, I see several reasons for hope: Although Heather Has Two Mommies has been under fire since 1982, when it was used as an example of “the militant homosexual agenda” by an Oregon group campaigning to allow anti-gay discrimination, it came out in a new edition with revised text and graphics in 2015. And Tango Makes Three saw a 10th anniversary edition in 2015 that brought the tale to the board book format. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, which has seen challenges since 2008, came out in a new edition this past May. Clearly, the challenges haven’t slowed down the popularity of these books or the commitment of their publishers.
As I wrote in April, too, I believe that the increase in challenges to Drag Queen Story Hours and queer-inclusive children’s books is in part an indicator of their success as they spread to more libraries and communities. I’m also heartened by the many, many LGBTQ-inclusive books I’ve reviewed that haven’t been banned, although I do wonder whether this is because they’re not becoming known and getting into libraries in the first place. I’d like to think that even though queer-inclusive books will undoubtedly face more challenges, it will be harder for them all to be challenged as their numbers grow. In 2018 and 2019 there was a rise in the number of queer-inclusive children’s books published, and 2020 is continuing the surge. Get them for your own family or recommend them to your local children’s librarian.
Want to hear more about banned books from an author who’s dealt with many challenges? Alex Gino’s George, an award-winning middle grade novel about a transgender girl, has been on the yearly Top 10 list for four years in a row, topping the list in 2018 and 2019. Gino will be joining the Banned Books Week Coalition and OIF for a special Facebook Live event on Wednesday, September 30, to talk about censorship and representation in literature. For even more (mostly virtual) events on various topics related to censorship, inclusion, and more, see the Banned Book Week Events listing. Read proudly this week and every other!
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