Burning Truth

“It’s absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.”

                              Oscar Wilde

                              The Importance of Being Earnest

No, it’s not the 16th century. This image is from a book burning in Tennessee this year, 2022.

Oscar Wilde would know about being challenged. It is ridiculous that we even have banned books in a supposedly open society. While everyone is free to make reading choices for themselves and for their children, they are not free to make those choices for their neighbors or their neighbors’ children. And yet, 2022 has seen more challenges to books than any year since the American Library Association has been keeping track. This year, September 18-24 is Banned Book Week. We don’t celebrate Banned Book Week. We mourn that we have to observe it still.

Many of the recent challenges have been toward books about sexuality, particularly LGBTQ+ themes. It is understandable when a parent tells a teacher that they do not feel that their children are developmentally prepared for these topics, but to insist that the books are removed from libraries, including high school and public libraries, is tantamount to insisting that these people are removed from our society. That is impossible and offensive.

Even less rational is the push to remove books about diverse racial and ethnic groups. There is no age restriction for such knowledge. Brad Meltzer’s picture book I Am Barack Obama has been challenged, along with other titles in his popular young children’s series that sometimes features black people from history. Why? Do Americans want their children to think that we never had a black president? Do they want them to be ignorant of history? It is unconscionable.

I make a deliberate effort to read banned and challenged books. I want to understand and empathize with the spectrum of human experience, and fiction allows us to live inside someone else’s head for a while. If we live another life for a time, we may be less inclined to try to erase them from existence. We are all more alike than we are different.

Here are some of the children’s and teens’ books that I’ve reviewed for EatReadSleep that have been banned or challenged over the years. You can select from any of these for yourself or your kids, or you can choose any of the 850 titles on the Texas congressman’s list that he is forcing schools to remove. Read, get uncomfortable, stretch, read more. Let’s stay free.

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang. A terrific middle grade novel that was challenged for being anti-white. This is the author’s real-life experience as an Asian immigrant.
New Kid, by Jerry Craft. In the same post, this friendly middle-grade graphic novel tells the story of the author’s and his son’s experiences as black students in mostly-white schools.
All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This teen novel about police brutality is on the banned books list, along with Stamped, which Jason Reynolds wrote with Ibram X. Kendi.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson. The author’s poetic autobiography of her childhood. I am proud to own an autographed advance reader copy.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. A gritty, realistic debut novel about urban violence. The truth is sometimes difficult, but we can’t make it disappear by silencing authors.

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. Banned for foul language and because Park is mixed-race. Because neither of those happen in real life. It is also heartbreakingly beautiful.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Two Mexican-American boys fall in love. There are no sexual descriptions in the book, and the author is gay. LGBTQ+ people are a target.

We Are the Ants, by David Shaun Hutchinson. A wild debut by a really nice author, who is also gay. Mind-bending sci-fi.
Answers in the Pages, by David Levithan. This is not a banned book, but a middle grade novel about banned books, by a gay author and editor who has many other banned books to his name.

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