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The Writers’ Room: When Schools Ban Books

Across the country, parents are challenging the books their kids have access to in the classroom. Increasingly, those books are about race.
Across the country, parents are challenging the books their kids have access to in the classroom. Increasingly, those books are about race.

In late October, Republican Texas state legislator Matt Krause wrote a letter to the Texas Education Agency asking it to look into how 850 books are being used in state schools. According to a breakdown of Krause’s list from Book Riot, about two-thirds of the books explore LGBT storylines or feature LGBT characters. Another 15 percent or so could be categorized as sexual education. About 8 percent discuss race and racism.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined Krause’s efforts this week, sending his own letter to the Texas Education Agency asking it and other agencies “to immediately develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

While the censorship of some books in schools is nothing new, a growing number of challenges are against books about race. In her reporting on the topic, KERA reporter Miranda Suarez spoke to Deborah Caldwell-Stone who leads the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom:

Each year, the American Library Association compiles a list of the top 10 most challenged books nationwide, based on media stories and reports from the public. After the murder of George Floyd and the racial justice movement that followed, there have been more challenges to books about anti-racism, police violence and even just the lived experience of Black people, Caldwell-Stone said.

“We went from a situation where the majority of books being challenged and removed in schools and libraries dealt with LGBTQ themes, to a situation where there’s a real mix,” Caldwell-Stone said.

Pushback on certain books isn’t limited to Texas. In late September, cartoonist Maia Kobabe found out that parents were complaining about eir book, “Gender Queer”, in school libraries after being tagged in an Instagram video from a city council meeting. Kobabe wrote about what happened for The Washington Post:

The story unfolded slowly over the next week. I learned that Fairfax County had become the center of a heated debate over transgender students’ rights, and the protests and counter-protests at the board meetings had already resulted in shouting, chanted prayers and an arrest. I learned from a Post article that one of the Fairfax parents “chose to target ‘Gender Queer’and [Evison’s] ‘Lawn Boy,’ both of which happen to feature LGBTQ characters, because she saw media coverage of the texts after parent outcry in Texas. She then checked her children’s high school library and saw Fairfax was offering the books, too.” One of the charges thrown against the book was that it promoted pedophilia — based on a single panel depicting an erotic ancient Greek vase. Others simply called it pornography, a common accusation against work with themes of queer sexuality.

Here are a few pages from Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir”:

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We look into which books are being challenged and why. Then we sit down with the authors of three of those books for their perspectives.

Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5