Saturday, September 26, 2015

Banned Books Week: Youth Books and Diversity

Banned Books Week is upon us, and this year's theme is young adult fiction. Before I delve into this topic, I'd like to share the difference between challenged books and banned books, which is explained on the American Library Association's website for banned books: "A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials."

I thought I'd take a deeper look at challenged young adult books, since many people are finding that challenged young adult books are correlated to diverse young adult books. Malinda Lo, author of Adaptation, Ash, Huntress, and Inheritance, wrote a post for Diversity in YA where she talks about the research she did and statistics she compiled in regard to challenged young adult books and diversity.

There is much to be said about what Malinda Lo has found. I had never considered that books that are challenged are the books that include diversity, and while this isn't always true, it's certainly something to think about. Mostly, I'm thinking about it in terms of how does it make me feel to know that books that are rich in diversity, such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, are also frequently challenged? Given my interest in seeing more diversity in youth literature, it upsets me to see those books challenged, but then, it upsets me to see any book challenged, regardless of the presence of diversity or the reason for the challenge.

Diversity is so important because, as many authors, librarians, and readers have pointed out, people need to see themselves represented in books. It's also important because studies have shown that reading fiction can lead to an increase in empathy. If that's the case, then having diversity in youth fiction is good, as it'll increase the empathy youth have for others, and of course, for the adults who read youth fiction, it can increase our empathy, as well.

Here's another reason why diverse books are good: Yes, young adult fiction can touch on topics that might be uncomfortable. Youth literature in general can do that. But it's important that they do, not only because it lets people see themselves reflected in books and because it can increase empathy, but also because they can inspire families to start conversations about those topics.

To celebrate diversity in young adult fiction, and also to celebrate those diverse books that have been challenged, here's a list of some of my favorite YA novels that have been challenged, with the aspect of diversity they include in parentheses. (Note: While many people talk about diversity in terms of ethnicity, LGBTQ themes, mental illness, and disability, I also talk about it in terms of socioeconomic status, which I've included in my list.)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (ethnicity)
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (mental illness)
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (sexual orientation)
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (socioeconomic status)
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (sexual orientation)

How will you be celebrating Banned Books Week this year?

1 comment:

Jerry N. Wesner said...

Many people fear change, and a book which shows a different way of seeing the world frightens these people. Their fear is understandable, but shouldn't be allowed to drive public policy. My librarian daughter reminds me that widening world views is one of many duties of a librarian, and of a library.