September 22, 2013

When The Book That's Banned is Your Own

"There is no LGBT material allowed in the library. There were two books in there last year and the school board had them banned and removed."  

 

Like so many others, this student's statement (from GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey) speaks to the paucity of LGBT-positive resources that students find in school classrooms and libraries across the country. September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, an annual event organized by the American Library Association that celebrates the freedom to read. For GLSEN, this includes the freedom to access LGBT-relevant texts in schools. In recognition of this this week, we asked GLSEN's friend and Young Adult author Tim Federle to share his experiences and thoughts on the subject of banned books. We hope you enjoy Tim's blog post, "When the Book That's Banned is Your Own."

 

Tim FederleWhen I was a kid, I turned to books like Bridge to Terabithia and James and the Giant Peach and A Wrinkle in Time to keep me company and keep me sane. These novels featured contemplative kids who didn’t quite fit in—just like me. They shared another distinction, too: each spent time as a banned book. 

A couple decades out of middle school, I wrote my own novel for young readers. Told from the perspective of a boy auditioning for a Broadway show, I wanted Better Nate Than Ever to inspire kids to dream big, and to laugh while doing so. And though Nate isn’t a “gay” book—how can a book be attracted to another book?—it does feature a subplot about a teenager who’s starting to notice other boys, and beginning to wonder why. 

A refrain kept popping up after Better Nate Than Ever was released this year: librarians who had loved the book, and invited me to visit their students, were suddenly backing out for fear of parental backlash. My own middle school even canceled a long-in-the-works trip, a week before my visit. And I recently read a blog post by a concerned parent who gave Better Nate Than Ever an “Extreme Caution” rating because “homosexuality is presented as normal and natural in this book.” 

You bet it is. 

All kinds of people deserve all kinds of stories. When you support books that feature diverse kids, you’re telling those kids that you support them, too—that they are, more than anything, okay. The opposite is true when you shut those kinds of books down. 

I still think about that canceled trip home. There had to have been at least one kid at my old school who, like me, wondered if there was anyone else like him on earth. Maybe he would have even picked up my book, and read so for himself.

 

Tim Federle is the author of Better Nate Than Ever and its upcoming sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate. He’s on Twitter @TimFederle.

For suggestions on developmentally-appropriate LGBT-inclusive book titles, See GLSEN's Ready, Set, Respect! or the American Library Association's Rainbow Lists.

For guidance on creating LGBT-Inclusive Lessons, See GLSEN's Guide to Developing LGBT-Inclusive Classroom Resources

 

Robert McGarry

About Robert McGarry

Senior Director of Education and Youth Programs

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