Banned Books Week Reminds Us of the Need for LGBT-Inclusive Children’s Books

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, bringing issues of LGBT content in children’s books once again to the fore. The ALA’s list of the top 10 most challenged books in 2011 did not contain any that were challenged because of LGBT content—but several children’s and young adult books with LGBT content are on the top 100 list for the 2000-09 decade, including And Tango Makes ThreeThe Color PurpleThe Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Rainbow Boys. The 1990-99 top 100 list includes Heather Has Two MommiesDaddy’s Roommate, and Annie on My Mind.

My favorite quote about banned books remains this one from Chris Crutcher, whose books have several times landed him on the ALA’s list of Top Ten Most Challenged Books (sometimes for “homosexual content”):

When we ban a book about a kid on the outside, we’re taking a step toward banning the kid.

Chris Crutcher, as reported by Sarah Brannen, author of Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, which has itself been on the most challenged list.

LGBT content isn’t the only reason a book may be challenged, however. The Harry Potter series continues to top the 2000-09 decade list, which just proves to me that some Muggles are muddled.

I fear, however, that the lack of challenges to children’s/YA books with LGBT content this year isn’t because people are becoming more tolerant (although I hope that’s part of it), but because there haven’t been that many published. Despite the success of television shows such as Modern Family and The New Normal, which depict same-sex parents, there is still a stunning lack of representation of these families in the places that really matter: the schools and libraries and home bookshelves of children with LGBT parents and their classmates and friends.

As young adult author Julie Anne Peters told School Library Journal a few years ago:

You can’t ban a book that never makes it into a library. When I hear about authors who are up in arms about their book being banned, or removed from reading lists, I confess to a sliver of jealousy. I’d actually love for my books to be banned so at least I’d know they were once accessible to readers who needed them.

That’s exactly why initiatives like the Make It Safe Project, started by a lesbian teen to give free LGBT-inclusive books to schools that lack them, are so important. That’s why guides for librarians like Rainbow Family Collections, an annotated list of almost every LGBT-inclusive book for grades K-5, are so important. That’s why shows like Modern Family and The New Normal are still important, because they will (I hope) emphasize to publishers that LGBT families are a part of our world today and deserve representation in books just like any other family.

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