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Book Challenges Update

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Book challenges and bans are increasing in libraries and schools throughout the United States. To help spread the word about these activities and efforts to combat them by librarians, parents, students, politicians, and concerned citizens, I Love Libraries will highlight several stories each week on the current crisis. This roundup includes reports from Michigan, New York, and Ohio, as well as news on efforts by authors to address and thwart censorship.

Michigan librarian resigns over book ban efforts

A Hillsdale (Mich.) Community librarian has resigned following a failed book ban that sought to remove LBTQIA+ books form the children’s section of the library, reports Hillsdale Daily News. She is the second librarian to resign in the wake of the controversy.

Librarian Bryonna Barton’s resignation follows the resignation of children’s librarian Lauren Jones, who quit following a May 20 library board meeting where Jones clashed with board secretary Joshua Paladino, author of a leaked amendment to ban LGBTQIA+ books from the library’s children’s section. Palandino had accused Barton in an email of filling the library with Critical Race Theory, LGBTQIA+, and “sexually promiscuous books and displays.”

New York librarians urge New Yorkers to read 10 banned books

Just a month after offering free digital library cards to people across the U.S. in response to book bans, New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library have launched a new Banned Books Challenge, urging New Yorkers to read 10 banned books through June 26 to stand against censorship. The list includes The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, 1984 by George Orwell, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings, and All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson.

In the Time of Butterflies to stay in Ohio school

Milford (Ohio) Schools will keep Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of Butterflies in its curriculum after controversy led to a vote by the school board, reports WLWT.

In a letter to parents and staff, Milford Superintendent John Spieser said there were requests for the board to reconsider including the book as part of its 10th grade English Language Arts class. After reading the book and convening to discuss, a committee of parents, teachers and administrators voted to keep the book as part of the curriculum (with one of the five voting to restrict it to more mature students). Spieser said he accepted the overall recommendation of the committee.

Atwood is unburnable

Margaret Atwood is burning mad. The Handmaid’s Tale author has announced in a Youtube video—armed with a flamethrower—that a one-off “unburnable” edition of her famous dystopian novel released in conjunction with Penguin Random House will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s New York.

Penguin Random House stated: “Across the United States and around the world, books are being challenged, banned, and even burned. So we created a special edition of a book that’s been challenged and banned for decades. Printed and bound using fireproof materials, this edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was made to be completely unburnable. It is designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship.”

A banned-book author speaks out

Author Seamus Kirst’s children’s book, Papa, Daddy & Riley, follows a young girl and her two fathers as they navigate the world of adolescent inquisition and belonging. The author feels the story is necessary, particularly now. “I had always been really interested in (writing) children’s books,” Kirst told “I feel like the books you read when you’re really young … are so formative for how you experience the world and also so important for how you process the world by seeing characters who reflect your own experiences.”

However, the author is incensed by the book’s inclusion on ALA’s list of frequently banned books and efforts by conservatives to limit what people can read.

“I think the movement is fundamentally anti-American and (anti) what our country allegedly stands for in terms of freedom of speech and inclusivity,” Kirst said.

Kid lit authors petition Congress to condemn book banning

At a hearing held May 19 by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, chair Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) introduced into record a letter drafted by authors Christina Soontornvat, Phil Bildner, Alex London, and Ellen Oh, urging congressional protection against book bans, reports Publishers Weekly. The letter was signed by more than 1,300 children’s authors, including Judy Blume, Jason Reynolds, Rick Riordan, and Jacqueline Woodson.

The letter condemns “efforts by organized groups to purge books from our nation’s schools,” and voices concerns over “the children, families, and communities who are caught in the crosshairs of these campaigns.” The signees wrote: “We call upon Congress, statehouses, and school boards to reject the political manipulation of our schools, to uphold the values of freedom and equality promised in the Constitution, and to protect the rights of all young people to access the books they need and deserve.”

Take action

Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are five steps you can take now to protect the freedom to read.

  1. Follow news and social media in your community and state to keep apprised of organizations working to censor library or school materials.
  2. Show up for library workers at school or library board meetings and speak as a library advocate and community stakeholder who supports a parent’s right to restrict reading materials for their own child but not for all
  3. Help provide a safety net for library professionals as they defend intellectual freedom in their communities by giving to the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund.
  4. Educate friends, neighbors, and family members about censorship and how it harms communities. Share information from Banned Books Week 2021.
  5. Join the Unite Against Book Bans movement to learn what you can do to defend the freedom to read in your community.
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