Karen Buley: Book diversity is more important than ever | Editorial

Years after learning about my eldest son’s sexual orientation, I wrote a blog post in 2017: “Queer is not a dirty word.” Reflecting on my early years of parenthood, I wrote, “I wish I had known how to look up LGBTQIA books. This acronym was not part of my vocabulary at the time, but acceptance, empathy, love and tolerance were.

Recently, book bans and efforts to ban schools from discussing sexual orientation, gender identity and race have increased. The diversity of books is more important than ever.

During a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on May 19 to “review ongoing efforts to ban discussions in K-12 classrooms about American history, race and LGBTQ+ issues, and to punish teachers who violate vague and discriminatory state laws by discussing these topics,” a letter, signed by more than 1,300 authors of children’s literature, was read from the filing. The bulk of the signatures were collected in less than 48 hours, and many more wanted to sign but missed the deadline.

The authors wrote, “Reading stories that reflect the diversity of our world builds empathy and respect for one’s humanity. At a time when our country is experiencing an alarming increase in hate crimes, we should be looking for ways to increase empathy and compassion in every moment. »

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Individual authors also express themselves. Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author, is also the National Ambassador for Children’s Literature. A pair of books co-authored by Reynolds, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism” and “You and All American Boys,” were two of the toughest books of 2020.

In a June 4 CNN article, he said, “There is no better place for a young person to engage and grapple with ideas that may or may not be their own than a book. These stories are meant to be playgrounds for ideas, playgrounds for debate and discourse. Books don’t brainwash. They represent ideas. You have the right to disagree with these ideas. Adults are not afraid of books. They are afraid of the conversations that young people bring home.

In 2015, Ashley Hope Pérez’s historical novel “Out of Darkness” was published to critical acclaim. Disputes and bans began six years later, making it one of the top 10 most contested books of 2021. When asked why she thought her novel was received so differently in 2015, Pérez said replied: “At the time, a national conversation about racism and radicalized violence was finally taking root. Now, however, there is a vocal minority of the American population that wants to shut down — and literally ban — discussion of racism as a historical and current reality. And books that depict various characters and their experiences have become targets in a proxy war. It’s not about the books; it’s about power: the power to tell stories and the power to silence them.

Award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson’s memoir, “Brave Face,” and the novel “We Are the Ants” have been challenged and banned in Texas and elsewhere. In response to his father’s support for Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, he created a poignant “Dear Dad…” video.

“The truth is, I’m not interested in fighting parents,” Hutchinson wrote in an email. “Gay youth experience far higher rates of suicide and homelessness than non-gay youth, so the only fight I care about is providing honest, positive representation and convincing teens who identify as LGBTQIA+ that they are worthy of love, that they are seen, that their lives are precious and have meaning. I can’t imagine why an adult would stand in the way of something that could save the life of a young person.”

Karen Buley is an author from Missoula and a library assistant at Hellgate High School.

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