The American Library Association recently released their list of the top 10 books that were challenged in 2017 – and I must admit, a lot of those that made the list are some books I really enjoyed. More importantly, many of the books that made those lists are incredibly popular with our students.
Some of the books I didn’t like. But that doesn’t mean I think they shouldn’t be available.
When books are challenged, that means someone complains with the intent to restrict or remove access to the material. Because libraries provide ideas in various forms and different points of views, we want our readers to make their own choices: that’s what intellectual freedom is all about.
Four of the books are on the list because they include LGBT content and characters. But these books are also award-winning books (one of the main reasons we selected them for our collection), and the diverse characters appeal to our students. People want to read about characters who are like them or who would be friends with them. These books are incredibly appealing to students.
One that has been frequently challenged is Raina Telgemeier’s Drama, a popular middle grade graphic novel featuring LGBT characters. Telgemeier is probably the most checked-out author from the Avenues’ graphic novel collection. She’s funny, she’s real, and the drawings are great. The librarians at Avenues get asked on a weekly basis for her books; students would be very upset if I told them we removed Drama from our collection.
Another book challenged is the award-winning novel The Hate U Give by debut novelist Angie Thomas. A heavy book dealing with some very real issues of police brutality against black men and boys, The Hate U Give has been challenged for various reasons, including profanity. When I think about this book, I think about the heartbreaking grief the main character suffers, the racism she sees in everyone from cops to friends, and how she learns to use her voice to speak the truth. I think about how this book won pretty much every single award in 2017 (GoodReads Debut Author, GoodReads Young Adult Fiction,William C. Morris Award, Printz Award Honor Award, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, and I could go on…), I think about the growth I saw in the main character and I think about the book’s excellent writing.
While every book is definitely not for every age group and reading level, restricting books that limit other people’s choices is not the answer. Libraries are places for books of all kinds. Just because I’m not the biggest mystery reader doesn’t mean I don’t think libraries shouldn’t carry mystery books. And horror books tend to keep me up at night – yet I still think others should be able to read those titles.
As a school library, we encourage our students to share their reading selections with their parents, who have insight into the reading level and maturity level of their child. Children prefer books they choose themselves. Encouraging children to read what interests them and allowing them to select their own books helps to fuel a lifelong love of reading.
And if the book is not for one person, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be available for all readers.
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