After months of battling over “inappropriate” books on a student book club reading list, the Leander Independent School District (LISD) in Texas removed even more books from classrooms.
At a board meeting in February, the school board listened to LISD’s parents complain about a variety of titles on the list. The list, which included 15 books for students to choose from, came under fire because some parents found the options in it to be inappropriate. These titles were, of course, those with queer relationships, stories of sexual assault and violence, mental health, and racial violence. When they first met, a parent brought a sex toy to illustrate the content of Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House, a memoir on queer domestic violence.
“This is what we should read to our children,” she said as she pulled out the pink sex toy and then continued reading an excerpt from the book about a sexual encounter between two women that contained a sex toy. Parents even went so far as to suggest that exposing children to such books was “child abuse”.
After the meeting, the 15 books on the list were drawn for review through the district review process. LISD stopped student book clubs and reassured parents that they would not return until each title was cleared for use.
In April, the district removed The Lottery by Miles Hyman (author and illustrator of the graphic novel adaptation of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson), Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault, Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, and V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd.
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LISD assured parents that they would work over the summer to update their guidelines to ensure that “inappropriate literature for the age of the assigned students” is avoided. Although the protesters against these books by and about marginalized populations were small, their voices were the loudest and the district not only bowed to their pressure but also added more books to its prohibited list.
This week, LISD added more “inappropriate” books to the list of those not allowed in classrooms or on book club lists. These include None of the Above by IW Gregorio, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, Brave Face: A Memoir by Shaun David Hutchinson, In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado, Ordinary Hazards : A Memoir by Nikki Grimes and Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Other books are still under review, including Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, American Street by Ibi Zoboi and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.
PEN America led the campaign to reinstall these books when challenges first emerged and continues their struggle to ensure access to these essential and important texts for LSD students.
“This is a sad day for literature and student freedom to study,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education for PEN America. “It is disheartening to see a school district closing off avenues for learning and engagement across borders. The removal of these books is not only detrimental to the literary community as a whole, but it also helps to further minimize the problems that People of Color and LGBTQ + individuals face. The district has an obligation to open students to the difficult subjects these books anticipate and not to close them off from diverse life experiences. Because how can we expect young people to learn diversity if we do not expose them to different perspectives in literature? “
In contrast to the many challenges in the recent past, LISD is characterized by the fact that books have been removed from classrooms and reading lists – this means that students do not have direct access to them. A handful of parents have made the decision for a whole population and restricted their right to information; These books were never required reading in the beginning, but were part of a wealth of opportunities available to students.
Believing that this means that authors have written good books or that it will increase sales is no reason to celebrate or cheer. Rather, this is a significant loss for young people who have to work harder to gain access to books that are relevant to them and, in the case of the outright racism and homophobia at play here, essential to understanding the world around them them around. Removing the books allows conservative viewpoints to dominate the community rather than ensuring that the entire community is represented.
This is nothing to celebrate.
Though that removal occurred in the school district, Leander’s public library came under fire just two years ago when the principal was removed for hosting a Pride story time. The Leander parish is a suburb of Austin, Texas, with approximately 27,000 residents and approximately 87% white residents.
You can contact the Leander Independent School District to raise your concerns as they continue the process of reviewing and updating books that students have access to by emailing Governance.team@leanderisd Send .org. School board minutes and documents containing names and specific complaints are available online here.
Locals, maybe this is an opportunity to drop these books off at school, the free libraries in your community, and public places where teenagers may come across them. Also, whether you are a parent or not, appear at these meetings and ask to have your voices heard. Know that these parents are not going to quit, and even if their concerns about sexual content and language are not addressed, the move to Boogieman of Critical Race Theory is not far off.
More ways to counter a rapidly accelerating culture of book challenges and bans can be found here.