Musings on Book Banning…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I read a book yesterday called The Breakaways. I did not like it.  I think the main reason I did not like it is that it is about a bunch of junior high girls, and I generally don’t like the whole “junior high” dynamic.  The kids in it are bratty and mean to each other and do and say dumb stuff.  Too much like real junior high!    Also, it’s a graphic novel – not my favorite format.  But, you know, the book wasn’t written for a 62-year-old lady, it was written for junior high kids, and according to the Amazon ratings anyway, junior high kids like it.

Oh, and by the way, there’s a girl in it who thinks she might be a boy, who kisses a girl, and there’s another girl who might like other girls. That’s why I was reading it.  “Gender ideology” isn’t the main point of the book – negotiating gender is just one example among many of the exciting/confusing issues the annoying kids in this book are experimenting with/trying to figure out – but I think it probably was the main reason the book made it on to the  Texans Wake Up “concerning books” list.

I found out about Texans Wake Up from a friend of mine who is very concerned about book banning, and worried that the book banners – the Texans Wake Up people — are setting their sights on Waco.  (Side note: It is funny to me that this group is called “Texans Wake Up” – when it seems to me like they would be outraged at being called “Woke.” Ha!)

I generally don’t believe in “book banning,” but I also think there are probably some lines – particularly regarding sex and curse words – that I wouldn’t want to cross in books meant for elementary school kids.  When people like me are making the case against banning books we usually point out books of unquestionable literary merit – To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn – that have frequently been banned, but I’m not sure the books on the Texans Wake Up bad list are future classics.  I don’t want to back myself into a self-imposed corner defending books “on principal” that, if I am honest, do seem like a bit much for an elementary school library.

With all that in mind, I thought I would read a few of the books on the Texans Wake Up “concerning books” list.  I focused mainly on the ones that looked like they were intended for elementary age kids.  Here’s the list of the books I read … my thoughts on each are below.

Honestly, I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with Not Quite Snow White. The gist of the story is that a little girl of color wants to play Snow White in the school play.  She overhears some other kids whispering that she is too tall, too chubby, and too brown to play Snow White.  She gets discouraged.  Her parents encourage her.  She tries out and gets the part.  Everybody lives happily ever after!   I cannot imagine a more typical, wholesome plot line for a kids’ book.   I was interested to see that the Texans Wake Up website had a video clip of a parent complaining about the book at a school board meeting, so I took a look.  Evidently the (white) parent’s point of view is that her child was not raised to be racist and that she did not want her child to even be exposed to the idea that a white child might be mean to another child because of her color.  I tried to point out that kids will be mean to each other about ANYTHING… but she was on the video and did not listen to me.

Anti-Racist Baby does use the word “Racist” right in the title – so I guess if that word grates on you, you might have a problem with the book.  Otherwise, the content seems pretty tame to me.  It’s basically a list of traits an “anti-racist baby” would have – like sticking up for yourself and others.  I think if the title were something like “Patriot Baby” and the pictures were a little different, the same people who don’t like the book might be singing its praises.  I think the word “racist” just triggers some folks.

In the two Julian books, the main character is a little boy named Julian who seems pretty obviously gay and is interested in dressing up like a girl.  Julian’s grandmother and her friends are fine with his proclivities, and everyone lives happily ever after.  In Julian at The Wedding, the “wedding” is two women getting married.  If you are OK with LGBTQ people being themselves, you most likely will think these are beautiful books about acceptance and love. If you are not OK with LGBTQ people being themselves, you probably will not like these books.

The Family Book is about how families come in all different shapes and sizes.  It has a page or two that lists the different family arrangements that kids might see – a mom and a dad, just a mom, just a dad, two dads, two moms.  The whole point of the book is that families are different, but all families love each other and are beautiful.  I think it is probably more factually correct to say that “some families have two dads, and some have two moms” than it is that all families love each other and are beautiful… but I’m not going to launch into a whole diatribe here about how some kids come from some pretty difficult families and might be sick of hearing about other people’s happy families.

I don’t have a problem with any of these books – the content to me is well within the appropriate range for elementary school kids and I didn’t notice any bad words in any of them.

So, did reading these books solidify my beliefs that no books should be banned?

No…but it did solidify my belief that a good starting place for grown-ups when it comes to fighting over controversial kids’ books is to read the books. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to stake a claim for or against a book that is meant for a child until you have read it yourself.

I didn’t read all the books on the Texans Wake Up “bad list.” I still think there may be some I would agree are too much for little kids.  If I stretch a little, I can see why some people might have a problem with the books I did read. If someone is extremely sensitive about white people being accused of “racism,” I guess the first two books might tread on some toes.  If someone hasn’t come around to the idea that LGBTQ people are …well…just people…then I guess the Julian books would be troubling.  I might strongly disagree with the folks who don’t like these books, but at least I can see what might be bothering them.  Without reading the books, we would just be arguing in the abstract, and that almost never ends in any kind of productive, practical result.

Also, it makes a difference to me what we are talking about when we talk about “banning.”  Are we banning books from being read aloud by a teacher?

I think parents have a right and a responsibility to monitor what their kids are reading, and to some extent that applies to what is being read to their kids at school.   I trust teachers and librarians to choose books that are appropriate for the kids, and to also be sensitive to the community.  I am pretty much OK with drawing a smaller circle around the set of books teachers read aloud to a captive audience of kids.  I would not want public school teachers reading Bible stories to kids, so I am OK with someone else objecting to things I might be fine with kids hearing. After all, there are PLENTY of great books that are not terribly controversial that can be used for read aloud.  I don’t think story time is where I would pick my fight.

Are we banning books from a school library? When it comes to school libraries – I say the wider the variety the better.  No one is forcing a kid to check out a book – and the book I might find offensive, or just dumb, might mean all the world to some particular kid who comes from a different life circumstance.

That brings me back to The BreakawaysThe Breakaways is a graphic novel about a bunch of middle school girls who end up on a soccer team together.  They are all mean and catty to each other at first – but then they get better.  Not great literature – unless of course you are a lonesome, lesbian, middle school girl who is having trouble fitting in.  Then it might be great literature – for you.

Kids, especially kids who like to read books, are stronger and smarter and more aware than we sometimes seem to think. They live in the world.  They notice things. They have their own ideas. They are curious.

On the one hand I think this means that we can trust them to read books – even books we adults don’t like – and ask their own questions.  A book is not a brain-washing machine.  Sometimes the books you learn the most from, are the ones where the people say and do things you decide you don’t like.  Literature lets you practice ideas in the world of fiction, so you don’t have to learn every single thing in the world of hard knocks.

On the other hand, it also means kids who are curious learners are going to learn about things even if they are not in the school library. We don’t have to act like the school library is the only place a kid will ever have the chance to learn every important thing they need to learn in their lives.

We don’t have to put school administrators on the front lines of this particular battle in the culture wars.  We community members can afford a little give and take among ourselves. We can afford to be a little understanding if a significant percentage of parents just cannot make peace with a book in the school library.  Likewise, we can just warn our kids off of certain books in the school library, if most of the other parents are fine with them.

What about banning books from the public library?  I will fight you about banning books from the public library! No child is “required” to go to the public library.  If you don’t want your child to be exposed to something in the public library – don’t take them there.  Or even better, take them there, but pay attention to what they are checking out and discuss it with them if you don’t like it.  I can afford to grant you that some books may not be appropriate for a school library, BECAUSE I know that the students/people who want and need those books can get them at the public library.

This feels like a reasonable way for a diverse community of folks to live together — take a little freedom here, give a little freedom there. I hope we aren’t losing our ability to work together this way.



  1. Ferryn Martin on May 31, 2023 at 4:07 pm

    As usual, I like this.
    This sentence, “ I trust teachers and librarians to choose books that are appropriate for the kids, and to also be sensitive to the community.” is my favorite. I feel really sorry for librarians and teachers that are being vilified by a few people these days.

  2. Cassy Burleson on May 31, 2023 at 7:57 pm

    Agree. Especially that librarians and teachers can be trusted to choose. Just concerned that books like “1984” and “Fahreiheit 451” may be banned. It’s a slippery slope.

  3. Lisa A Combest on June 1, 2023 at 9:08 am

    You hit the nail on the head. Just let kids explore and decide what is right for them. Sadly, the parents who are worried about the LGBTQIA+ content are also the parents who are likely to get their kids “treatment” if they come out as a member of that community. Their kids are also much more likely to take their own lives when they realize they’re one of those kids that their family hates so much. The people who hate the word racist need to look in the mirror and really ask themselves why are they so offended by that word. Maybe it looks too much like them.

  4. Carol Munn on June 2, 2023 at 6:05 pm

    I agree with all you’ve written, Ashley. Your statement that “a book is not a brain washing machine” seems to be the key issue in the book banning controversy. The book banners believe that a book is definitely a brain waging machine, and your faith in students, teachers, and librarians to select the most age appropriate books for read aloud and any assigned reading places the warranted responsibility on those most able to determine what to read. Thank you for another thoughtful essay on a pertinent topic.

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