With critical theory continuing to be embroiled in controversy, there has been an uptick in banning, challenging, or judging children’s books in our schools and libraries. After years of teaching and learning with educators in Pre-K through 12, I have yet to meet a teacher who deliberately try to make children uncomfortable about the identities they bring to school. Yet, many children are already uncomfortable at school, especially when there is bullying, disabilities not fully accommodated, and racial, cultural, economic, and linguistic ignorance. I have read that children’s book authors do not purposely set out to write books just to be controversial per se. Instead, they listen to where children and teens are coming from and explore ways to acknowledge differences from the mainstream or difficult circumstances. And just recently, I visited Blackstone Books and picked up picture books that are simply vibrant, joyful, and affirming such as I am Every Good Thing, A Place Inside of Me, Hello, Hello, Outside, Inside, and My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World.
Instead of banning, challenging, or judging books, how can we have conversations with children and teens around topics in children’s and YA books?
What are the ways we can support children and teens toward putting books into historical, current, or futuristic context?
How do we demonstrate keeping our own culture, beliefs, and values while learning about multiple views and experiences?
Removing books is often a matter of controlling information deemed as harmful to children and teens. But children and teens already see and hear things all around them, by eavesdropping adults, through media blasting from every corner, listening to lyrics, and from their peers. How can we foster curiosity, understanding, empathy, and critical analyses on their developmental terms?
Where is the line between sheltering versus preparing children?
How do we support children and teens—and adults—who are triggered by uncomfortable points in books?
How can adults engage in thoughtful conversation about books in schools and libraries rather than simply express outrage?