Banned Books: Message Rewind

Bronx Masquerade
Bronx Mas­quer­ade


A teacher reached out to me, recent­ly, with a sto­ry that I found chill­ing. He had done a series of fundrais­ers in order to pur­chase 200 copies of Bronx Mas­quer­ade for a unit with his 8th grade stu­dents. How­ev­er, after suc­cess­ful­ly acquir­ing the books, his school’s lead­er­ship informed him that he could not teach this book at his school.

I share this sto­ry because it’s at the heart of the prob­lem with cur­rent mes­sag­ing about banned books.

For some years, there’s been an atti­tude in the gen­er­al pub­lic, and amid many authors, that book bans are a badge of hon­or, and are ulti­mate­ly a good thing because the banned book gar­ners more atten­tion and sales than it might oth­er­wise. And it may be true that, at least in some instances, said book does enjoy addi­tion­al, pos­si­bly even more robust sales. How­ev­er, as the sto­ry above demon­strates so painful­ly, a book’s pur­chase does not guar­an­tee that book’s acces­si­bil­i­ty to the read­ers for whom it was intended.

Ordinary Hazards
Ordi­nary Haz­ards, first removed from school library shelves in Lean­der ISD Texas, is one of the books con­sis­tent­ly being chal­lenged across the country.

To be sure, there are cas­es in which a chal­lenged book remains on library shelves while said book is being reviewed for pos­si­ble removal. How­ev­er, stu­dents who have not been intro­duced to that book by teach­ers, in the class­room, are not like­ly to be aware of that book’s exis­tence. Hence, they are less like­ly to request that book for check­out. In oth­er words, one must not only ask whether a book is being chal­lenged, but whether or not edu­ca­tors are allowed to teach that book, or to have it avail­able on their class­room book­shelves. This is key.

A par­ent or oth­er adult in the young per­son­’s life may pur­chase a copy of said book for the read­er’s per­son­al, home library. How­ev­er, not every child or young adult is priv­i­leged to have a home library. Those read­ers rely entire­ly upon school and pub­lic libraries for their access to books, as I did, grow­ing up. With­out such access, I’ve no idea what would have become of me. I shud­der to think.

The issue of book bans is seri­ous busi­ness, and when any of us laughs it off, or sug­gests that a book’s sale is the begin­ning and end of the sub­ject, this hurts every­one. That mes­sag­ing obfus­cates what’s real­ly going on, and we can’t afford that. Our chil­dren can’t afford that.

We’re in a war, and it’s time to ral­ly the troops. No one will enlist in the bat­tle, though, if we repeat­ed­ly send out the mes­sage that book bans are a joke. I guar­an­tee you, there’s lit­tle laugh­ter among the weary teach­ers and librar­i­ans who are being pub­licly shout­ed-down and maligned by book ban­ners who are call­ing them pedophiles, pornographers—and worse—for dar­ing to fight to main­tain their diverse book collections.

Teach­ers and librar­i­ans across the coun­try are suf­fer­ing metaphor­i­cal bloody noses from fight­ing to pro­tect our chil­dren’s right to have access to the wide range of books we cre­ate for them, books they need. These are books in which young read­ers see them­selves rep­re­sent­ed, books that make them feel less alone in the world, books that inspire, books laced with hope, books that nur­ture the dream­er in each of them. Let’s be clear about what we’re fight­ing for, and what a dead­ly seri­ous bat­tle we’re in. There’s a lot more to be con­cerned with, here, than the dol­lar signs at the end of our roy­al­ty checks. Let’s please, all of us, authors and pub­lish­ers alike, get on the same page for our read­ers’ sakes. There’s a lot at stake here, people.

Banned Books Resource List from Nik­ki Grimes