A Kansas school district is pulling 29 books out of its school libraries based on a single parent complaint, and guess what—the books are overwhelmingly by authors of color and women authors and LGBTQ authors. Surprise, right? At least it’s not as many books as appeared on one Texas state legislator's 16-page list.
In the Goddard school district, after a parent complained about language in Angie Thomas’ critically acclaimed young adult novel, The Hate U Give, he went on to submit a list of other books he was concerned about, and the district pulled them all from circulation while it debates whether to get rid of them permanently.
“At this time, the district is not in a position to know if the books contained on this list meet our educational goals or not,” Julie Cannizzo, Goddard’s assistant superintendent for academic affairs, wrote in an email to principals and librarians. “Additionally, we need to gain a better understanding of the processes utilized to select books for our school libraries.”
The Hate U Give is a novel about the aftermath of the police killing of a Black teenager. It was a well-reviewed, massive young adult bestseller, with Kirkus Reviews calling it “necessary” and “important” in a starred review. Relevant to its inclusion in a school library, the School Library Journal also gave it a starred review. No doubt it’s a book with some difficult content, but if you want kids to 1) read and 2) be able to grapple with important issues in U.S. society, school libraries should have books like this on their shelves.
So what else is the Goddard school district “not in a position to know” if they “meet our educational goals or not”?
Fences, the August Wilson play that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was included among the 2008 American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults, among other honors.
All Boys Aren't Blue, an essay collection by journalist and LGBTQIA activist George Johnson that was included on best books of 2020 lists from Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, and others.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, a classic that makes frequent appearances on Advanced Placement exams.
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, which the College Board actually uses as an example for AP exam preparation.
The list goes on. Echo Brown’s Black Girl Unlimited, described as “just brilliant” by Kirkus. Susan Campbell Bertoletti’s They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of An American Terrorist Group, which won the American Library Association’s 2011 award for excellence in nonfiction for young adults.
By now, it should be fairly clear that the books in Goddard’s school libraries have been chosen off of lists of award-winning books and from the most positive reviews in industry-leading review journals like Kirkus. That much jumps out within a few minutes of the most cursory research into these books. But the school district needs to form a committee to “gain a better understanding of the processes utilized to select books for our school libraries,” substituting the judgment of a parent who is obviously incensed about books about people of color, LGBTQ people, racism, and sexism being available in school libraries for the judgment of professional school librarians.
Many of the books, by the way, also appear on another list: The American Library Association’s list of most-challenged books. Because this kind of objection is all too common from parents who want their kids to live in a white, straight, male-dominated world in which none of those things are questioned and no one has to confront, even through reading fiction, the horrors that this country has visited on people who do not fit that mold. That was the theme of Virginia Republican Glenn Youngkin’s ad featuring a parent upset that her high school-age son had been assigned a book containing “the most explicit material you can imagine,” a book that was nowhere in the ad revealed to be Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved. It’s the theme of the entire Republican campaign against “critical race theory” in schools, by which they mean not critical race theory but the teaching of things like children’s books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruby Bridges.
The media keeps pretending something else is going on, talking about school COVID-19 responses that only a very small minority of people are upset about, rather than directly calling out the viciously racist—and homophobic, and transphobic, and sexist—campaign Republicans are waging against public education and against any view of history more nuanced than a U! S! A! chant. But this is a hysterical, terrified Republican fight against having their kids see people who are not like them as fully human, against having their kids learn that the history of the U.S. includes some very bad stuff—and not just in the distant past, either—and maybe possibly coming out with higher expectations or aspirations.
So, yeah. What we’re talking about is not critical race theory. We’re talking about parents wanting books that have won Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards and appeared on multiple best-books lists and are regularly included on Advanced Placement exams pulled out of public schools. And in a lot of places, they’re succeeding, helping to ensure that their children won’t learn another way is possible.