Voices of Youth: How does book banning affect communities?

This article is part of Concentrate's Voices of Youth series, which features content created by Washtenaw County youth in partnership with Concentrate staff mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth. In this installment, student Sennen Querijero examines the issue of book banning and its effects on society.

Book banning is when some people in a town or school district decide that they don’t like the content that is depicted in an available book, and try to get the book banned from said town or school libraries. This means that all copies of the book on shelf will be permanently removed, and people, usually kids, will no longer have access to them. 

Recent cases of book banning have occurred in some very popular series. For example, "Harry Potter" books have been banned in many libraries nationwide. In fact, the "Harry Potter" books have made the American Library Association's list of most challenged books several times since they first topped the list in 2001 because the series contains and supposedly encourages occultism and Satanism through its fantasy themes of witchcraft. And while "Harry Potter" is beloved worldwide, there are many people who disapprove of that concept alone. 

The way books get banned is often a very long process called a challenge. A challenge starts when a person, usually a parent, goes to a school or library board and requests that a book be removed from library shelves. After a fair amount of meetings and discussions and judgements, the board will decide whether or not to ban the book. Thankfully, only a small percentage of challenged books end up being banned.

Wouldn’t it be a good thing to ban books that are inappropriate or harmful to kids? Actually, no. That's because some people's definition of "harmful" or "inappropriate" is different from others'. Most of the time, the inappropriate material involves LGBTQIA+ characters or relationships. 

Truly Render, owner of the Ann Arbor bookstore Booksweet, had this to say: "Parents can trust that their child's teachers and librarians can handle the tough questions – they are skilled professionals who love what they do! Parents can also join their kids in reading books with tough themes; conversations that stem from a shared read are priceless and especially healing when conducted with love." 

Truly Render.
The reason that books are banned isn’t because they contain inappropriate material. Some parents want to shelter their children from topics they think are uncomfortable. They want to ban books because they don’t want their kids to know the reality of the world they live in. But kids can't ignore it because it is the reality of the world we live in. 

One instance of book banning in ancient history was the former Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang's attempt to deny reality. During his reign from 259 to 201 BC, he burned all the existing books and scrolls in China, even going so far as to bury scholars alive so that they could not tell the destroyed stories. He did this so that when new scholars arose, the stories that they would write would not contain tales of the past, and people would believe that China’s history started with him.

Another case of this educational inequity involves the constant challenges to Jeff Smith's "Bone." While it is not quite as famous as "Harry Potter," it is still a popular graphic novel series. It has been banned in many places for its depictions of gambling and alcohol, which challengers say are not appropriate for its young target audience. However, most of the target audience is well aware of the topics the series is banned for and that they are not things that they should do at that age. 

The number one advocate against banning the "Bone" series is the author himself. In a 2014 interview, Smith said, "Comics are now part of the literary scene, part of the discussion, and it shines a spotlight on these kinds of attacks. That doesn’t mean the people who want to ban these books are malicious; in fact just the opposite. They have a concern which to them is legitimate. But that isn’t the point. The point is that they are trying to take away someone else’s ability to choose what they want to read, and you can’t do that."

Book banning is getting very close to Washtenaw County. Recently, in nearby Dearborn, several books have been challenged, one age-restricted, and two have even been banned. The age-restricted book, "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell, was deemed inappropriate for middle schoolers, but will stay on high school shelves. I have actually read the book in question, and frankly, it was an excellent read. 

The two banned books are "Push" by Sapphire and "Red, White, and Royal Blue" by Casey McQuiston. "Push" is a bit of a darker book about a teenager who has been abused by her father and must overcome adversity. It brings attention to some modern problems that unfortunately occur in real life. "Red, White, and Royal Blue" is a classic "enemies become lovers" tale about the Prince of Wales and the son of the U.S, president. This book was banned for including an LGBTQIA+ relationship and characters. And unfortunately, both of these books are forever gone from Dearborn’s school shelves.

Banning books is oppression and discrimination in the form of literacy, as it often means suppressing the representation and diversity depicted in many banned books. When these books are banned, it takes away the relief that minorities feel when they can read a book and say, "Hey, that person’s like me."

When asked how she would feel if a book that she wanted to read was banned from public libraries, Slauson Middle School student Cecelia LaRocca said, "I would be mad and sad because they had no right to ban a book that someone was willing to read in the first place." 

When asked how it made him feel to know that other students have their reading options restricted, student Elijah Wynn said, "It makes me feel sad. Books being banned is no doubt controversial. Banning books for being vastly violent or inappropriate in a children’s section is one thing, but banning a personal favorite like "Captain Underpants" because a cartoon man is in his underwear for a portion of the book is just ridiculous." 

Young people today care greatly about this issue. After all, it is the reading material on their shelves that people are trying to restrict. But students aren’t the only ones who care about this issue. Render offered this solution when considering book banning: "Remind yourself: difficult themes are hard, but necessary. … Don't let hate be the loudest voice in the room." 

If those opposed to book banning feel there is nothing they can do to stop it, or that it isn’t going away anytime soon, then it will keep on happening. Being silent on the matter is so much worse than speaking out and doing something. Sure, it might sound scary,to put yourself out there. But it is even more scary to watch great works of literature disappear from our shelves. 

Sennen Querijero is an 8th grader at Ann Arbor Open School in Ann Arbor. Concentrate staffer Sarah Rigg served as Sennen's mentor on this project.

Truly Render photo by Doug Coombe. Elijah Wynn photo courtesy of Elijah Wynn.

To learn more about Concentrate's Voices of Youth project and read other installments in the series, click here.
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