September 23 – 29 is Banned Books week, a week celebrating the freedom to read, drawing attention to banned and challenged books, and highlighting persecuted individuals or groups. Each day this week, I’ll countdown the top ten books most often challenged or removed from schools, universities, or libraries across the United States.
With the current political climate in the US, more and more LGBTQA+ friendly, sex positive, and books featuring various levels of profanity are being challenged, especially those aimed at young adults and middle/elementary school children. These are the ages children should be exposed to such issues, and yet adults are trying to limit that exposure instead of using these books as a springboard for a discussion on these topics. And not just for their own children, but for all the children in that community.
This is why Banned Books Week is so important and why people should get involved to ensure that all voices are heard. Even the problematical ones. Especially the problematical ones.
For a more in-depth look at this growing issue and the books themselves, or if you want to find out how you can help, check out the American Library Association’s website or contact your local library or school.
#10 – I Am Jazz
written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
illustrated by Shelagh Nicholas
Like many of the books on this list, I Am Jazz highlights the LGBTQA+ community. This autobiographical picture book aimed at elementary schoolers centers around Jazz, a transgender girl in a boy’s body. There are some valid concerns about I Am Jazz—she reinforces some gender stereotype and adheres to a firm gender binary (male/female)—but that seems appropriate considering the target age of the readers.
I Am Jazz discusses things like gender dysphoria and her family’s confusion in an age-appropriate way while reinforcing loving and understanding as the way to move forward as a happy, healthy family.
Jazz Jennings became the youngest publicly documented person diagnosed with gender dysphoria at age 4. By her fifth birthday, she was living as Jazz, her true self as a little girl who loved pink, back flips, and mermaids.
The family now participates in a reality show, I Am Jazz, in which the struggles of a family with a teen-aged girl as viewed through the lens of a transgender youth. The tv shows airs on TLC and will begin its fifth season in 2019.
written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
illustrated by Henry Cole
Another beautifully illustrated children’s book, And Tango Makes Three tells the story of Ray and Silo, two male penguins who pursue each other instead of female penguins at the Central Park Zoo. They follow typical penguin mating rituals and even build a nest, but they only have a rock instead of an egg until a zookeeper helps them out.
The book, like all books, has its issues. An artificial environment and pseudo-manufactured situation (with the egg) may not be the best route to take while trying to convince children that homosexuality is “normal” in nature, but there are plenty of other examples to be found that may not as age appropriate as this one.
Kids will find the illustrations adorable because penguins are adorable in a silly, awkward way, and parents will find the story a good jumping point for discussions about same-sex parents and/or adoption as different but equally valid family units.
The book made #9 on the Banned Books list for just that reason: It features a same-sex relationship.