Children’s book authors condemn recent bans

·4 min read

More than 1,300 children’s book authors are signing on to a letter to Congress condemning the recent spate of bans at school libraries in Republican-led states, which came ahead of a Thursday House hearing that heard testimony overwhelmingly from advocates speaking out against the censorship.

The letter is signed by famous and well-known authors including Judy Blume, Mo Willems and Rick Riordan, who say the bans are targeting not just their works and the nation’s intellectual discourse, but also the “children, families, and communities who are caught in the crosshairs of these campaigns.”

“When books are removed or flagged as inappropriate, it sends the message that the people in them are somehow inappropriate. It is a dehumanizing form of erasure,” the letter reads. “Every reader deserves to see themselves and their families positively represented in the books in their schools.”

Authors sent the letter to Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which held its second hearing on the issue Thursday.

In opening statements, Raskin said that “book censorship wrecks the healthy environment for free inquiry and learning” and tied book bans to rising extremism in the nation, including the white supremacist gunman who shot and killed 10 people at a supermarket in a majority-Black neighborhood of Buffalo, N.Y., last weekend.

“These laws are being used to undermine public faith in public schools and destroy one of the key pillars of our democracy,” Raskin said.

During the hearing, lawmakers heard from people who identify with the LGBTQ community, including high school students and teachers who spoke out against the bans because they can lead to mental health issues for LGBTQ students, who have some of the highest rates of suicide in the nation.

Lawmakers also heard from a historian who warned banning books would be the beginning “of the end for democracy,” as well as other free speech activists.

One activist spoke out in support of the bans, arguing against racial or sexual indoctrination.

Since 2021, officials have placed more than 1,500 bans or restrictions on books in 86 school districts across 26 states, according to an April report from advocacy group PEN America.

The states with the most restrictions or bans on books in public schools are Texas, with 713; Pennsylvania, with 456; Florida, with 204; Oklahoma; with 43; Kansas, with 30; and Tennessee, with 16.

Tennessee has proposed one of the most restrictive bills, advancing a measure this spring to ban any book supporting LGBTQ issues. One Tennessee state lawmaker has said he would “burn” books that he objected to during an assembly session on tightening book review restrictions.

Republicans have objected to books that they consider salacious or that indoctrinate students on issues including race or gender. Critical race theory, an academic framework based on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, has also been a focal point for the book bans.

During Thursday’s hearings, Mace, a Republican, said she supports teaching the full history of the U.S. but that she has “seen attempts to indoctrinate our students” on topics that should not fit into the school curriculum.

“Our children’s innocence should be protected and prioritized,” she said, arguing against critical race theory or hypersexual topics.

The Hill has compiled a list of the 10 most targeted books, including “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, which focuses on a high schooler who witnesses the death of her friend at the hands of a police officer, and “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, a critically acclaimed graphic novel about World War II and the Holocaust.

Thomas signed the letter that was sent to Congress on Tuesday, as did John Green, whose book “Looking for Alaska” has been frequently targeted. Other signers whose books are on the list of most-targeted texts are Lesléa Newman, Jerry Craft and Maia Kobabe.

The authors argue that libraries and school systems have systems in place that allow parents to express concerns about a book but that outright bans are harmful. Recent progress to include more Black, Indigenous and people of color in books is being eroded by the increased censorship, they wrote.

“A book may not be for every student, but — as we know from the many letters we receive from young readers — a single book can matter deeply to an individual student,” the letter reads. “Libraries are bastions of the First Amendment. They provide equal access to a wealth of knowledge and ideas for all public school students.”

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