In a country where the average adult reads less and less Books, it’s surprising to find Americans arguing so much about it. In this election year, parents and politicians – a lot of politicians – are jumping into the fray to say how powerful books can be. Sure, politicians often make what I do magic, but I take that as a compliment.
I’ll admit, one of my first thoughts about the current wildfires I tried to censor I was: how strange. Conservatives have seemed to dust off the rules of the game since 1958, when the only way our stories could reach children was through schools and libraries. While both remain important havens for readers, they are hardly the only options. Many booksellers provide titles that are pulled from school shelves. And the words can be widely shared for free on social media and rest of the internet. If you take my book off the shelf, you keep it off that shelf, but you hardly keep it away from the readers.
With the outbreak of censorship wars Lots of communities, harming the lives of countless teachers, librarians, parents, and children, he was beginning to feel less strange. This is not your father’s censorship of books.
We are no longer talking about fear of “dirty words”. Early in my career, some adults expressed unease about the number of f-bombs in my books. I’ve always made it clear that they have been used precisely – saying “I’m really angry” is different than saying “I’m really angry”. Since I do not consider the use of f-bombs to be an essential part of my identity, I have not taken such controversies personally. We were arguing over words.
I really miss arguing over words.
Because now, it’s very personal. The vast majority of books being challenged today are by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and LGBTQ+ authors. Observers do not only pursue freedom of reading; They are trying to completely erase identities and history. Observers claim that they are protecting children from ideology… by imposing their own ideology on classrooms and entire communities. Or at least try.
This is something I never thought I would be nostalgic for: honest censorship. When my first novel,boy meets boyIn 2003, it was immediately the subject of several challenges, some of which prevented the book from being put on the shelf in the first place. At the time, the challenge usually meant a parent trying to obtain a book from a school or library, through a formal process. I often reminded myself of trying to find some sympathy for these parents; yes, they were wrong, and their desire to control what others read in society was wrong – but for the most part, the challenge came from fear of a changing world, a true (if unfair) belief true) that being gay would lead kids straight to ruin and hell, and/or the mistaken idea that if all the books that challenged the status quo (anti-homosexuality and racism) disappeared, the status quo would remain. It was, in some ways, personal. For them as it was for those of us on the other side of the challenge.Nine times out of 10, the book will remain on the shelf.
Not so now. What I came to believe, as I spoke to authors and librarians and teachers, is that the attacks are fewer and fewer than the actual books. We are used as targets in a much larger proxy war. The aim of that war is not only to restrict intellectual freedom but to dismantle the public education system in this country. The censors burn the ground without caring how many children are burned. Racism and homophobia are still very much present, but they are also power grabs and money grabs. The goal for many is a for-profit, more authoritarian and less diverse culture, one in which the truth is all you are told, your identity is determined by its acceptance and the past is a lie that the future must be forced to emulate. Politicians who shout and post and put up Lists of “harmful” books They are not actually afraid of our books. They use our books to scare people.
There’s a reason this tactic might work, and why you don’t see people using adult reading options as an excuse to ban books. Nobody particularly cares what adults read, because the power of reading isn’t widespread among adults (unfortunately).
However, the power of reading is widespread among children. Many of us know this, because even if we didn’t read much in adulthood, the odds are good that we felt the magic of reading when we were young: whether it was a loved one reading us to sleep, or navigating the world’s imagination on our own and then talking to our friends about it, we got it. That we were in the presence of something greater than ourselves which, in a way, also lives within us.
I laugh when someone attacks one of my books (or any other LGBTQ+ children’s book) because it “will turn the reader gay”. We are strong, but we are not who – which strong; The strength of our books comes from providing affirmation, affirmation, inspiration and space for thought, not from creating something that doesn’t already exist. I’ve heard from readers saying that my books and other LGBTQ+ books saved their lives, because the recognition and verification they felt brought them back from the brink of despair. And I’ve heard from far more readers that our books help them live better lives and be honest, by showing what’s possible, honoring the tricky parts and by giving them characters who often navigate situations similar to the ones they encounter. Rarely does a reader write to me and say, “Your book has power,” but what they say is often synonymous with it. We are not the engines of change. Readers are the engines of change. We can sometimes supply them with the fuel they need, often when they need it most.
Observers want to cut this show. And once upon a time, it could have worked. But because of the internet and all the support networks that queer, BIPOC and other targeted youth have created in recent decades, it can’t work now.
The censorship manual may be outdated, but that doesn’t make it any less insidious.
Two months ago, I spoke at the American Library Association’s annual conference, at an event to celebrate intellectual freedom. It was a dreary day, and I’ll admit I used some fake bombs. Raw vs. Wade He was upset that morning. I was wearing a T-shirt that read “I’ll say like me“ To acknowledge the bizarre and despicable attack on gay youth in Florida. Librarians who won awards at the event spoke about how politicians turn some (but not all) people in their communities against their libraries. Demonstrators sit one conversation in which the drag queen appeared. And a librarian told us how, after she posted a statement supporting diversity in her library, the local mayor told her not to bother calling 911 if something went wrong.
There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to any of this. But we still ask each other: What gives you hope?
We all had the same answer, which is Not The power of books. It’s the next generation of readers, the same kids and teens that censorship is trying to control in the name of “protection.” The threat to intellectual freedom never comes from children. No teacher or librarian I spoke to could remember a child requesting that a book be banned from the classroom or library. (There are plenty of kids who say a book is bad and shouldn’t be taught; I know that, because I’m definitely one of those kids.) If a child comes across something in a book that frightens, confuses, or makes them uncomfortable, they may stop reading, but they won’t insist on stopping anyone. Another read it too.
As I told librarians in June, censors want us to believe that lions are right around the corner. But the truth is that it is we who value and defend the books that protect the gates. They want us to shut and lock those gates, to be on the defensive. But we’re here to keep the floodgates wide open, for anyone and everyone, especially kids of color and LGBTQ+ kids who’ve been turned away so many times before.
Those of us who value and advocate for books do not do so because we love books and live better because of them, even though those two things are usually true. We defend books because we are defending all the children represented in those books. Censorship is the antithesis of telling the truth, and although it is a stressful job, we must continue to tell the truth – not just about books, but about censorship and what they really pursue.
David Leviathan, according to PEN America, is the eleventh most censored author in the United States. His most recent book isThe answers are in the pages. “
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