I love reading and reviewing controversial titles, but I understand other people may not have that passion. That is their right — choosing which media they want to put into their mind. The Apostle Paul urges Christians to think about what is “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable… things that are excellent and worthy of praise“ (Phil. 4:8 NLT). Those things look different for everyone, and each believer must decide which books (or movies, games, and so on) will bring them closer to God and which ones should be avoided.
Unfortunately, in 2023, groups of people are taking it upon themselves to make those choices for others. They are trying and succeeding to get books banned from schools and public libraries alike. As we move into an upcoming election season, Banned Books Week is more important than ever.
Instead of rehashing the more objective views of previous Banned Books Week articles, this year I want to discuss some facts that hit a little closer to home. If you are new to this annual tradition and need clarification regarding banned and challenged materials, please see our first Banned Books Week article. We also have articles reviewing specific challenged books and discussing why Christians should be against book banning. Check those out if you haven’t already.
As always, I am including the top banned or challenged books of the previous year in this article. Astute readers will notice many of the books remain on the list from previous years. Certain themes continue to dominate, even though this year’s list is mostly older books.
Leaving a Legacy
When I was in high school, I wrote and defended a paper about why Shakespeare should be taught in Christian schools. My own private Christian school was deemed too liberal for my mother. I listened to lectures about the sinfulness of the classics, missed class-wide movie nights, sat outside the door during choral readings, and endured bullying from teachers changing field trips on my behalf. Ironically, I grew up to become a librarian with a fierce sense of intellectual freedom, fighting for other students to have a larger role in their own literary pursuits.
In the last two years, the public schools in my hometown have begun challenging and banning books. One challenge included 156 unique titles, with five of them recommended by librarians for removal. The infamous Moms for Liberty group — an extremely conservative group participating in book challenges across the United States — started in Indian River County, the place where I grew up. My brother graduated from the high school seen in national news for banning the graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary. I can never be proud of this kind of legacy.
The Books Themselves
None of the books here are mentioned in the above infographic (though two of the top 10 have been challenged in the state where I currently work). Book banners have very specific titles they want to be removed from school libraries, and this has been going on for a couple of years now. Here is a copy of the 2022 list, though more titles have been challenged this year. I will focus on some of the graphic novels I heard about in the news.
Reason Banned: Children with guns
In a world with over a thousand school shootings since the ’70s, it makes sense this manga would be on someone’s radar. Whatever you believe about gun control, giving firearms to a class of middle school students is not a good idea. However, those who have read the manga or watched the anime know the children are never truly armed. They have rubber knives that cannot pierce skin and rubber pellet bullets. In fact, the teacher — whom they are trying to assassinate — insists they never make an attempt on his life during class time, in case someone gets hurt.
I watched the entire anime and not once did I think this story would make kids want to shoot anyone. On the contrary, this monster teaches his students the meaning of togetherness, empathy, and confidence. The assassination attempts are just action sequences in a coming-of-age tale about unwanted preteens discovering their worth.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation
Reason Banned: Explicit sexual content
Parents objected to the graphic novel for its depiction of nude breasts on statues and a discussion between two girls comparing their breasts. Even the official diary has been called pornography due to the teen writing about exploring her own body. As a teenager, I would have appreciated knowing other girls went through the discomforts of puberty, instead of trying to figure out everything on my own.
I have unfortunately never read Anne Frank’s diary, but I know she was killed at only sixteen years old. This adaptation was not removed from an elementary or middle school but from a high school. If Anne Frank herself was high school age, why do we assume high schoolers cannot deal with the things she endured?
I Am Alfonso Jones
Reason Banned: Critical Race Theory
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis states on his website, “We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards” (fl.gov). Some books are removed from Indian River County schools for pushing a political agenda: that of Critical Race Theory. I am a believer in systemic racism and will always say Black (and other people of color) lives matter, but I understand parents do not want their children indoctrinated by certain political viewpoints.
However, removing narratives that disagree with one’s own also removes opportunities for children to think critically. Parents have never complained about America’s white-washing of history or literature, even when some of those “facts” are proven false. By allowing multiple viewpoints in libraries and classrooms, youth can ask questions and strengthen their own stances, instead of simply regurgitating what they have been told.
Open to Discussion
Parents who want to ban books are trying to shelter their children from topics they deem age-inappropriate. However, those same topics will come up in a child’s life at some point. In my hometown, books are being banned at all levels, including middle and high school. Those youth are old enough to critically think for themselves.
We celebrate children and youth getting baptized without questioning the validity of their decision, yet we do not trust them to handle topics other children their age experience. There are LGBTQIA+ and children of color in elementary, middle, and high school. Anne Frank was a teenager when she wrote her “inappropriate” diary.
As parents or mentors, we can use these books to open conversations about critical thinking and diversity. Instead of policing the decisions of others, we can use narratives to broaden our horizons. Show kids how to look at everything — including ideas with which they disagree — through the eyes of faith, hope, and love.
Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association, www.ala.org