Dear Banned Author: A Letter to Todd Parr
The 2018 Banned Books Week (September 23-29) theme is “Banning Books Silences Stories” — a reminder to speak out against censorship. The Dear Banned Author letter-writing campaign invites readers to write to their favorite banned and challenged authors during the week, sharing how much their words mean to them. Library leaders share their stories and letters in this Intellectual Freedom Blog series. Find more letters by following the hashtag #DearBannedAuthor.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to you for creating your delightful, engaging books for young readers. Children from all around the world have been drawn to your vibrant, artistic style as well as your accessible approach to sharing messages of belonging, peace, and acceptance. Your work supports the mission of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), which is for our members to engage communities to build healthy, successful, futures for all children. Making books such as yours accessible is one way that librarians can do this.
For over 17 years you have created more than 40 books, translated into 15 different languages, that allow librarians, educators, and caregivers to create a welcoming, safe space for the youngest of children. Your books provide vivacious mirrors that reflect the lives of all children, while also providing a window into the world of other children that might be different than the reader. These works help young children proudly affirm that it truly is okay to be different.
While many, many adults and children love and appreciate your books, some educators and caregivers have attempted to ban your work because they believe it covers topics that are difficult for children to understand. One such book is The Family Book (2003, Little, Brown and Company), which explores diverse types of families. Concerned adults in a school district in Illinois suggested the topic of family structures should not be explored at the elementary level. Obviously, these adults have not listened to the many “why” questions that young children have when they try to navigate the culturally pluralistic world around them. Young kids are curious. They want to know how things work and why everything isn’t the same. The topic of family diversity should be explored well before elementary school – in preschools as well as learning spaces in libraries. You understand this so well. The Family Book, like all your books, celebrates diversity, fosters acceptance, promotes positive social and emotional development, and takes a stand against bullying. Available in languages such as Chinese, English, Finnish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish, the book helps children around the world affirm that their family is special and filled with love. This is an extremely critical message during a time when contemporary children may encounter adults and peers that tell them it is not okay to be an immigrant, speak another language, have two moms or two dads, or just be who they are.
For decades your signature style has welcomed children with open arms and helped them to see it is okay if they think and look differently than their friends and global peers. Thank you for creating the opportunities to explore topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion at an early age.
Jamie Campbell Naidoo, Ph.D. is the 2018-2019 President of the Association for Library Service to Children and the Foster-EBSCO Professor at the University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies. A former school and public librarian, Jamie teaches and researches in the area of diverse children’s materials and outreach to diverse populations in libraries.
What a wonderful letter, Jamie! Todd Parr is one of my favorites as well. Besides being an amazing author and illustrator who knows exactly what children like and need, he is also a delightful and generous human being. Thank you, Todd, and thank you, Jamie.