They call it book banning.
This week in Palm Beach County, two picture books about transgender children were removed from public school classrooms and libraries.
There has also been an increase in book challenges in Utah. Last fall, nine titles were removed from the libraries of four high schools in the Canyons School District. School boards across the country have made similar decisions, removing books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel, “Maus,” from libraries and curricula.
While it’s true that some classics are being questioned, most of the concerns voiced recently have been around titles that are much more radical and graphic in nature than Harper Lee’s novel that drew attention to racial prejudice and injustice.
Yet the outcry is the same: the books are “banned”. But are they really?
On the American Library Association website, there is a historical list of “banned” books by year. These are books that customers have objected to, for one reason or another.
In 2013, the most contested book was “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey, a title my family owns. The most common reasons people gave for objecting were “offensive language, inappropriate for the age group, violence”.
Simply put, the series introduces kids to what we call pot humor. “Captain Underpants” isn’t a book I like my kids to read, but it’s also not something I would banish from my home.
Several years ago, the types of books that topped the ALA list took a dark turn. The majority of library patrons no longer objected to “Captain Underpants” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
In 2021, the most “banned” book was a graphic novel called “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. The year before, it was “George,” a novel by Alex Gino written for middle-aged children – those between the ages of eight and 12.
The explicit depiction of a sexual act in “Gender Queer” is too graphic to share here. But I would like to offer an excerpt from “George” – again, a book written and marketed for children in grades two and up.
George had seen an interview on television a few months ago with a beautiful woman named Tina. She had golden skin, thick hair with blonde highlights, and long, sparkling fingernails. The interviewer said that Tina was born a boy, then asked if she had had the operation. The woman replied that she was a transgender woman and that what she had between her legs was not about anyone but hers and her boyfriends.
So George knew it could be done. A boy could become a girl.
“George”, which has since been renamed “Melissa”, is tagged “Teacher’s Pick” on Amazon and is a Stonewall Award winner. It’s part of the Scholastic Gold line, which its publisher says “features award-winning and beloved novels.”
To be clear: this famous book promotes the idea that gender transition, including surgical and hormone medications, can be chosen by a child too young to consent to taking a Tylenol at summer camp without parental permission. .
Last Thursday, House Democrats held a subcommittee hearing on what they called “politically motivated efforts to ban books and censor free speech in schools and public libraries.”
But the desire to protect children from sexually explicit and age-inappropriate content is not politically motivated, no matter how much Democrats claim otherwise.
Speaking on the merits, a Republican committee staffer present at Thursday’s hearing told me that Island Trees School District v. Pico, a 1976 Supreme Court case, has been cited several times. This case involved the issue of removal of books from public schools that was based on politics or religious beliefs.
He told me that while the decision applied to the removal of books from middle and high school libraries, he did not believe the decision extended to addition of books, especially age-inappropriate books, to elementary school libraries, a claim by some House Democrats.
It’s an interesting reckoning for Democrats to take in an election year, aligning with the right of adults working in school systems and public libraries to expose children to inappropriate and graphic sexual content.
The same Republican staffer told me that the Democratic members were unchallenged on the content of these books and described any opposition to them as bigotry and racism.
In an effort to draw attention to the inappropriate nature of these books, many parents began showing up at school board meetings to read them aloud. They are usually arrested because their testimony, where they just read books, is too explicit.
On the whole, the people who draw attention to radical literary offerings for children are not politically motivated, nor filled with hatred. They are simply caring adults, often parents and grandparents, trying to protect childhood innocence from outright assault.
Any political party positioning itself in opposition to this fight should prepare for a rude awakening in November.
Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret. She is a homeschooled mother of five and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is the editor of the “Heroes of Liberty” children’s book series.