Spotlight on Censorship: ‘I Am Jazz’

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

By: Ellie Diaz

“I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way!”

I Am Jazz coverI Am Jazz follows the transition of its co-author, Jazz Jennings, and her journey after recognizing she is transgender at an early age. Illustrations from this 2015 Rainbow List Selection show Jennings playing dress-up, visiting the doctor and playing on the girl’s soccer team.

Despite its messages of acceptance and anti-bullying, the children’s memoir ranked No. 4 on the American Library Association’s list of Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016. Censors wanted the book removed because it depicts a transgender child, and because of sex education, language and offensive viewpoints.

Both co-authors have continued to spread the messages highlighted in the book: Jennings has a TLC TV show, which follows the now-teenager through first dates, surgery appointments and confrontations, and Jessica Herthel travels to organizations across the country to show schools and nonprofits how to be welcoming places for all children.

“Ideas cannot be contained,” said Herthel during an ALA webinar on banned books. “The answer to hate speech is more speech.”

Jazz Jennings at the NYC Pride Parade
Jazz Jennings at the NYC Pride Parade. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Steven Pisano

This is the children’s book second time on ALA’s annual censorship list, first appearing on it in 2015. In 2015, when a reading of I Am Jazz to welcome a transitioning student was canceled at a Wisconsin elementary school due to a threatening lawsuit, the community rallied to host the reading at the local public library.

Not only did local businesses donate goods, but the Human Rights Campaign donated 40 copies of I Am Jazz, sent an HRC staff member to the event to discuss LGBT students, and paid for Herthel’s plane ticket to read the story at the public library.

Originally, the library planned to not have more than 20 people in attendance, but more than 600 people parents and children alike piled into the library to hear the story. It was not publicized if the 6-year-old transitioning student was present at the reading, but the library did receive a note from the family, which the director read to the packed crowd.

“Many of you may not even know who we are, but have stepped up to do a truly amazing thing and show us that you are behind us 100 percent.”

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