Celebrating Banned Books

A conversation between two fifth graders last week in the GDS LMS library:

Student A: “What’s wrong with this book? (Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan)
Student B: “Nothing’s wrong with two boys kissing. What’s wrong is that someone thinks it’s wrong!”

Nearly every student who has walked into the LMS library in the past couple of weeks has noticed the banned books display.

Their reactions rarely vary. At first, confusion. “Are we allowed to read these books?” Kay, Rhona, or I will carefully explain that indeed we want students to read these books and that it is other libraries that have banned them. Relief. But next, true to their GDS education, righteous indignation: “Why would someone ban King & King? Who wouldn’t want their kid to read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, really?” Their questions and sense of injustice are something to be proud of.

There are, however, many books in our collection that we, ourselves, question. Last year the book A Fine Dessert, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, drew wide criticism for its depiction of smiling slaves. Many libraries chose not to add the book to their collection. This is also a form of censorship. We previewed the book, followed the online discussion, consulted with many of our co-workers, and ultimately decided to add the book to our collection. This is not to be interpreted as our diminishing the faults of the story. Rather, it was a hopeful act.

We know that all members of the GDS community, starting with our youngest, are trained to question things that don’t sit right with them. We hope that when GDS students encounter racism, sexism, homophobia, or other problematic scenes in books, their first reaction is to recognize something is wrong. That recognition will then evolve into critical thinking questions such as: “I wonder why the author did that?” or “Is this an accurate reflection of the world that I know and understand?” The conversation that follows will always be enlightening.

Whether it is a book about two boys kissing or one that has an illustration of a smiling slave, we welcome all books that encourage us to question what others might consider “wrong.” Stop by the library and check one out!

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