On Challenging LGBTQ #DiverseKidLit

While many of us demand that the publishing industry give us books that reflect our diverse experiences, there are others out there in favor of the opposite: the production and promotion of only white, heteronormative, cisgender, ableist stories. Last year, those people demanded that libraries and schools in their communities ban several books that feature LGBTQ themes.

The top five (of the ten) most challenged books on the American Library Association’s 2016 list are:

  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  • George by Alex Gino
  • I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

All of these books include LGBTQ characters and themes.

To people with the audacity to challenge these books, it’s not enough to prohibit their own children from reading them. They feel a need to prevent everyone’s children from reading them too. And for what? To protect impressionable youth? Books like Alex Gino’s George, which features a transgender child, don’t “brainwash” children into being anything other than who those children already are. As I’ve said several times before, initially in Please Stop Parenting My Children (2013):

All I can say to [book challengers] is this: exposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does. If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.

But I’m not going to waste my time arguing with those people. They’re fighting a losing battle. The more they kick and scream about a book, the more children will want to read it, and my sense is that librarians and the courts will probably protect their access to it (though not all of the time, especially when it comes to school curricula).

Our most recent case on book banning from the U.S. Supreme Court, our highest court, is Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), an old case and a mere plurality opinion (which means fewer than five Justices agreed on it).  For now, though, it is our best indication of where the law stands on the issue. That means that public schools and libraries, to which the First Amendment applies, may not remove books from the shelves “simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Pico, 457 U.S. 853 at 872.

The people who challenged George and the other books on that list might not like the ideas contained in those stories, but those “ideas” are fictional depictions of a reality they cannot change or ignore. Diversity exists whether they like it or not, and they can’t hide that fact from their children (or anyone else’s) forever.


*Thanks to @thelogonauts (of The Logonauts blog), whose tweet inspired this post.



  1. Ugh this is such a shame. When I reviewed George, I actually titled my review “Why you should read George by Alex Gino with your kids.” I am obviously on the opposite end of the spectrum and think we 100% need books like this in school.

  2. People who want to ban books somehow think they are protecting children but really they are protecting themselves and their own world view. It’s just sad to me that they are so afraid of other lives and viewpoints.

  3. Excellent post! It saddens me that so many people still fear “normalizing” homosexuality, bisexuality, being transgendered, etc. So many of us survived adolescence through books, which reminded us — day after day — that we aren’t alone. I wonder how many suicides by non-hetero or transgendered youths have been prevented due to fiction exploring their experiences.

    1. It is sad that some people still fear relationships and families that are different from their own. I hope the resistance will diminish with each passing year, as so-called “non-traditional” families become more noticeable in our communities. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. It’s so maddening to me when people try to prevent other people’s kids, not just their own, from encountering ideas they consider harmful. It never would have worked, but in this era of the internet, it’s even less possible to keep your kids from finding out about ideas and ideologies that are different from your own. In my opinion the much smarter play is to let kids read freely and then debrief with them what they’re reading — that’s the perfect time to talk about what your own family’s values are and how they maybe differ from the values in this or that book or TV show. The fear of doing this just baffles me.

    1. “In my opinion the much smarter play is to let kids read freely and then debrief with them what they’re reading — that’s the perfect time to talk about what your own family’s values are and how they maybe differ from the values in this or that book or TV show.”

      Exactly! I suspect people fear it because on some level, perhaps a subconscious one, they know how unpersuasive their positions are.

  5. I recently read an essay by Lawrence Hill (Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book) that touched on book banning, as well as book burning. It seems crazy to me that it’s still happening.

  6. Some people are so afraid of books, afraid of education, afraid of exposure to different ideas. I’ve never understood the point of view of someone who wants to take a book out of a library for ALL children. How about you just parent your own child, and let other parents and children alone? Must have very fragile belief systems. Now I want to read all five books you listed. 🙂

    1. “Now I want to read all five books you listed.” Same here! It shows how futile it is to challenge books. The effort only makes those books more popular.

  7. When a school bans a book, does that mean they are banning it from the classroom, or the library, too? I’ve never asked that question before, but your post made me think of it. Not that I agree with banning any books, but it seems extra aggressive for one parent to claim that their morals are right for all children, whereas other people, like me, would claim that they’re not trying to get books banned for moral reasons, but out of fear.

    1. “When a school bans a book, does that mean they are banning it from the classroom, or the library, too?”

      Good question. It could be that the school has removed the book from the library or that the school has removed it from the curriculum. Courts tend to give schools more latitude when it comes to what books are in the curriculum than about what books are on the library shelves.

        1. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear because you’re right: schools have more latitude to decide what books stay or go from the curriculum. It’s harder for schools to remove books from the library (as it should be!)

  8. There are two quite separate concerns at play in this important topic. The first is the unacceptable banning of books based on discomfort and/or ignorance of stakeholder groups. You do an excellent job of addressing that. But there is also an underlying, usually hidden issue; most writers write from their experience, and for most that means in children’s lit able-bodies mothers and fathers. For example, how do we start to provide opportunities for children of same-sex families to read stories in which they can identify themselves? I know I have inadvertently fallen into that trap myself. Our literature, especially for kids, needs to be able to speak to everyone. Easier said than done, but something to encourage.

    1. You raise a very important topic! Everyone deserves to see themselves in literature in an authentic way. We need more #ownvoices books for children of same-sex families.

  9. In a nutshell: banning books is stupid. Because you’re right: it only makes people try harder to get their hands on it. When my mother told me not to read a book she was reading, I snuck it out of her purse whenever she wasn’t around. 🙂 It was about polyamory, an idea that was new to me then, and I devoured it. I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t dismayed, I was enthralled with someone else’s view of “marriage” and what it could be. People need new ideas to consider. Just as travel broadens the mind, so do books. This is especially pertinent when it comes to differences in orientation and gender. The extremists are attempting to vilify people who are different from us instead of teaching tolerance and understanding. *snort* Look how well that’s working.

    1. “People need new ideas to consider. Just as travel broadens the mind, so do books.” Well said! The agenda fueling the complaints about these books will fade eventually (though not soon enough!). However, the ALA’s top ten list also contains a book by Bill Cosby, and my guess is that it’s parents of a different political persuasion behind those complaints. I am not a fan of Cosby, nor do I want any of his books in my house, but I’d never ask a librarian to remove those books from the shelf.

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