Restricting Kids' Reading Through Bans Is Bad For Everyone
Original image by Alycia Fung
Lately it seems like everyone is trying to poke their noses into kids’ reading habits. From their own parents to their friends’ parents to the literal government, kids and teens are having their reading scrutinized — and restricted. Over the past few years, we’ve been inundated with news stories about the rise in book bans; heck, I’ve even written about the state of book bans in 2023 for this very site.
And yet people are still out there attempting to restrict reading for kids and teens. Personally, I think the people raising these challenges have realized kids are a crucial demographic that will have a big influence on the future of our country and the rest of the world. These people saw that, generally speaking, kids were leaning toward a more inclusive, progressive way of thinking. They understand the power of representation, and how the simple act of seeing yourself in others fosters empathy and can change the way you act, and they’re trying to stop progression in its tracks.
The thing is, it doesn’t really matter to me why these bad actors are doing what they’re doing; whether some of them genuinely believe they’re acting in young peoples' best interests, or if they’re all hardened political operatives who literally don’t care. I don’t care about their motivations. I care about the consequences of their actions.
And those consequences are dire. For most of my childhood and adolescence, my reading was…let’s say curated. I grew up as a missionary kid in Italy, so I didn’t have public or even school libraries with English-language books for me to read in secret. I read voraciously from what I had available to me, which was mostly Christian historical and romance fiction. That formed my understanding of the world, and the truth is, I didn’t really miss other fiction because I didn’t know it was an option.
If I’d lived the rest of my life in that same bubble, I probably never would have grown to resent my parents for said curation. But I eventually grew up, went to college, and importantly, moved to New York City for grad school. I encountered books like Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which opened my eyes to the fact that I didn’t view queerness as a sin. You see, I had never seen queer people portrayed like that before. I knew homosexuality existed, but only in the context of something one shouldn’t be. That book really opened my eyes to the fact that, maybe, I didn’t believe that way after all.
But it’s not just LGBTQ+ identity that’s being restricted in kids’ reading. It’s also topics like racism, white supremacy, and the very violent colonialist history of the United States that are being brushed over. That was not something I encountered as a kid, either, and I had to learn everything I know today about race in the US — and about the white supremacist systems that underpin this whole country — as an adult. Which sucks, because I could’ve been a better person and ally sooner had I known. As a kid, I was taught that slavery was bad, yes, but also that racism ended in the US in the 1960s. It simply wasn’t a problem anymore! It took growing up and reading books like Stamped from the Beginning for me to start seeing the ways racism upholds everything in our country.
As an adult, I’ve been able to form my own opinions about the world, and create my own understanding of my identity. I’ve found freedom and a new way of looking at life. Books were a part of that, because they opened my eyes to people who were different, and allowed me to step into stories and circumstances and shoes I couldn’t otherwise relate to.
So yes, of course conservative right-wingers are targeting books. Because books have power, as the containers of vibrant stories. And we need to speak up and speak out about how dangerous that is going to be for future generations.
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