Bookshelf: Banned Books Week
Every year, for one week, the American Library Association observes Banned Books Week. This week, September 24 through October 1, is a week to “celebrate the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment,” according to the ALA, by highlighting books that have been banned by various communities in the U.S. Not surprisingly, books by or about LGBT folks have long been on that list. Among the most banned last year? And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, about two real male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who raise a baby penguin named Tango. It got the reception from Christian conservatives that Heather Has Two Mommies got 20 years ago. Also on the list: Twilight, Hunger Games, and feminist author Barbara Ehrenreich’s economic opus Nickel and Dimed. In honor of Banned Books Week, we looked back at five great but often banned LGBT books for kids of varying ages, with some help from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
King & King (Tricycle Press, 2003) $11
In this adorable fairy tale, authors Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland created a world where a young prince searches for love among the princesses looking for his soul mate. When he finally finds that person, it’s not a princess who becomes his bride, but instead he falls for another prince and takes him as his husband. The fairy tale ending so enraged critics that the book landed on the American Library Association's list of the 10 most challenged books for 2004.
Authors Esther Drill, Heather McDonald, and Rebecca Odes, creators of gURL.com, watched their hugely popular website blossom and realized that girls were as eager to find out about sex and love as they were. So they answered the call with Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a gURL. But parents in Texas and Arkansas didn’t like that the book — aimed at those 12 and up — says being queer is not a choice and talked plenty about LGBT birds and bees (including what two girls do in bed, how dental dams work, and masturbation methods). The Library Patrons of Texas accused the book of being “happily nonphallocentric” while Fayetteville, Ark.’s Parents Protecting the Minds of Children said it “promoted a homosexual agenda.”
Rainbow Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2003) $9
When Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys hit the list of 55 books Parents Protecting the Minds of Children wanted banned it was little surprise. The novel is a frank look at three gay teenagers — Nelson, Kyle, and Jason — celebrating their senior year while struggling with such things as coming out, unrequited love, and HIV. While the book is pure fiction, Sanchez has made it a heartwarming and accessible books that could speak to teens in the heartland, with support groups and organizations that are real (PFLAG) and real contacts listed in the back of the book. Citizens (including some without kids) challenged the book at Owen-Withee Junior and Senior High School in Wisconsin because of what they called pervasively vulgar gay content. According to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the school board reviewed the book and left it in the schools, but the superintendent recommended that parental permission be required for seventh- through ninth-grade students who want to check out the book.
Choir Boy (Soft Skull, 2005) $8
Berry is a lonely 12-year-old whose only joy in life are as a soloist in the choir in the aptly titled Choir Boy. But as puberty starts affecting his friends, Berry fears his own body’s push toward manhood. He decides then that he needs to stop the impending surge of testosterone in his body. After a failed physical attempt, Berry finds a pharmaceutical solution — only Berry’s not quite ready for the side effects of that remedy. Trans author Charlie Anders has written a rare and captivating book about teenage transgender experience in a knowing and amusing tone that made parents in Montana want it banned (along with Brokeback Mountain — that year’s breakout hit).
Heather Has Two Mommies (Alyson Books, 1989) Prices vary
Last printed in a 10th-anniversary edition, Heather Has Two Mommies is a minor classic as the first lesbian-themed children’s book ever published. With an enduring message of love and tolerance for the ages 2 to 6 set, the book follows preschooler Heather, who has two moms but discovers her friends all have different types of families. Her teacher tells her “each family is special.” In the afterword to the anniversary edition, author Lesléa Newman, who has written dozens of books, says that growing up in a Jewish home made her aware that there were no families like hers on TV or in picture books. She set out to correct that for children of LGBT folks. Since then the book has been banned and burned in bonfires, held up in the media as part of the culture wars, and even made it to New York City's Whitney Museum of American Art (as part of an exhibit called "The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000," along with photographs of Andy Warhol and a self-portrait of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe). It even got read out loud as part of a U.S. Senate session, and as Newman tells it on Beliefnet, folks even lost their jobs supporting in (including Joseph Fernandez, New York City's former chancellor of education, who supported including Heather in New York City's Rainbow Curriculum, a resource intended to help teachers teach diversity).