Spotlight on Censorship: Letter from the Authors of ‘This One Summer’

ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books, Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, General Interest, National Library Week

By: Ellie Diaz

This One Summer an award-winning young adult graphic novel is the No. 1 most challenged book of 2016, according to the American Library Association.

This One Summer coverThis coming-of-age tale follows 12-year-old Rose, a girl on the cusps of adolescence, and her family’s summer vacation in a small beach town. With her friend Windy by her side, the pair attempt to relive their childhood summers but are confronted with boys, parents fighting and the strains that accompany growing up.

The graphic novel, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, was challenged for “LGBT characters,” “drug use,” “profanity,” “mature themes” and being “sexually explicit.”

This One Summer caught the attention of many awards. When it was listed as a Caldecott Honor Book in 2015 — an award that’s usually given to books aimed at younger audiences — librarians and educators rushed to purchase the book for their shelves. Some buyers were shocked to find that the graphic novel was intended for audiences age 12 and older, according to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

One such case happened in Sabal (Fla.) Point Elementary School, when a third-grader brought This One Summer home to a surprised parent. After the parent complained, the school ushered an apology and removed copies of the books from three elementary schools.

“When the parent brought that to the attention of the principal, we immediately took a look at it and realized yes, that’s a teen-reader book, not appropriate for elementary school age students,” said Michael Lawrence of the Seminole County School District to WFTV 9.

But the district took it one step further, challenging the graphic novel in three high schools as well, where students needed parental permission to access copies. In March of 2016, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund stated that the books were returned to the unrestricted section of the high school libraries. 

Both Mariko and Jillian have been vocal about these censorship attempts, including on Twitter and on the radio. Below is a statement from the authors, touching on the power of ideas and the reality of growing up.

This One Summer is a book about two girls’ summer at a cottage in Northern Ontario. When we wrote this book our goal was to create a story that explored the experience of summer and of adults, from a young person’s perspective.

This book was not created for elementary readers, but for young readers. The publisher lists it for ages 12 to 18. There has been some controversy as to its inclusion on the Caldecott Honor list, so maybe it bears repeating that the ALA defines children as up to and including age 14. We agree the book is not for young children, nor was it intended for that audience.

We worry about what it means to define certain content, such as LGBTQ content, as being of inappropriate for young readers.  Which implicitly defines readers who do relate to this content, who share these experiences, as not normal, when really they are part of the diversity of young people’s lives.

A book doesn’t stop existing by taking it off the shelf. Nor do the ideas contained within. Pulling a book from a library shelf makes it inaccessible to kids who depend on the library for books.  It’s an infringement on the freedom to read, to explore, to experience things outside of your world, to see yourself and your story in the pages of the books you read.

The main character of  This One Summer, Rose, is often afraid, confused, exposed to things outside of her comfort zone, things she doesn’t completely understand. We believe that is part of growing up. Life is often upsetting. But upsetting things in books are not actually happening in real life, but at a safe distance. You can read about an experience outside of your own, and gain the opportunity to better understand someone who it happens to in reality. You get to experience some of those emotions, without a personal price.

Connecting to an experience outside of your own, or inside your own, is the core of social-emotional education, of developing empathy, which is very much needed in our current climate.

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