Earlier this year in the Murray School District in Utah, the book Call Me Max by Kyle Lukoff was challenged after it was brought in by a third-grade student for their teacher to share with the class. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, After the book was read to the class some families reached out to the school district to complain, upset that this book was shared with their children without their permission. The reason they were upset? Call Me Max is a book about a young transgender child and his experience explaining his feelings about his gender to his classmates and teacher. A spokesperson for the Murray School District, Doug Perry, told The Salt Lake Tribune that while the book was being read to the class, the children began to ask questions – including a question about puberty – which the teacher deflected. He also said that the teacher “flat out made a mistake” and the book “is not appropriate at the grade level it was being shared.”
But the Murray School District’s response to these challenges did not stop there. In response to this incident, the school district also chose to put their equity book bundle program (a separate program designed to encourage teachers to include diverse books in their curriculum and help give them access to the materials to do this) on hold while they reviewed the titles included in this program. While Call Me Max was not part of the book bundle program, the district called for the equity book bundle lists to be reviewed to determine if any books included in the program contained similar subject matter to Call Me Max or “might otherwise cause concern.” The announcement to temporarily suspend the equity book bundles happened in early February, coinciding with the onset of Black History Month, which the district has stated was “purely coincidental.” As of February 26th, 2021, the school district has reinstated the equity book bundle program without removing any books from the program or their district’s school libraries. Their announcement of this decision on their website also included a reminder to parents that they can review the books available in the library at their child’s school and restrict their child’s access to specific titles by contacting the school librarian.
Incidents like this seem to be an indication that the trends we see related to challenges to books with LGBTQIA+ materials in 2020 is continuing. The Top Ten Most Challenged Books as reported by the OIF were challenged in libraries and schools because of issues of racial content and LGBTQIA+ content. In addition to the challenges to materials, Pride-themed displays and Drag Queen Story Hours also faced resistance in 2020. It seems clear that LGBTQIA+ materials and programs still continue to face scrutiny in many communities.
So what can you do to help protect kids’ and teens’ right to read? If you are a librarian, firstly, please continue to collect diverse books. Censorship starts with self-censorship, so it’s important to remember to keep your own personal biases (and fears of challenges from members of your community) out of your collection development process so that you can continue to provide the best collection for all members of your community. Also, be sure to have a strong collection development policy that is based on the professional standards for your library type. If you create a strong collection development policy before any challenges arise, you will have a policy to point to and a procedure in place to deal with any materials challenged at your library. The ALA’s interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights in relation to library resources and services for minors states,
“Every restriction on access to, and use of, library resources, based solely on the chronological age, apparent maturity, educational level, literacy skills, emancipatory or other legal status of users violates Article V [of the Library Bill of Rights].”
So if you’re a parent and your child’s school has a policy similar to the one in the Murray School District that allows parents to restrict what a child can access in their school library, let them know that you disagree with the policy and that it interferes with the right of all children to access information.
And if you’re a kid, write a letter! Your words have power.
Tayla Cardillo is the Branch Librarian of the Oak Lawn Branch Library in Cranston, RI. Before her current position she was a YA librarian. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.