Banned Books Blog: April 2024

Welcome to the Banned Books Blog! This April 2024, we have a young teen dealing with racism and trauma in his community and a young boy visiting his incarcerated mother.

These titles may be available in other formats or languages. Check our catalog for availability!

Currently, a librarian faces a lawsuit for her actions in March 2022 at the Llano County Public Library, in which she highlighted books on display that were under fire by the Llano County Commissioners Court. After her refusal to remove these books, she was fired. The following month, residents filed a lawsuit stating that the Commissioners Court's actions went against the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The judge ruled that this librarian was in the right, but instead of gracefully accepting this defeat, the Commissioners Court considered shutting down the entire library rather than returning the books to their place on the shelves.

While books within public libraries remain a hot topic, public libraries aren't the only location facing bans and challenges. Many organizations and parents cite their concern for children as a reason for challenging books, but what happens when the library's audience tends to be over 18 years of age? North Carolina State Librarian of community colleges noted that due to the state’s new Parental Rights Law, all community college libraries would need to track what patrons under 18 were borrowing. This is a huge oversight of ethics: libraries uphold patron privacy at all times.

But with the Banned Books Blog, there is no debate. There's only reading!

Title: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Reason for Challenge/Banning: Dear Martin has been banned for a variety of reasons, including language, sexuality, as well as “racial tendencies as a negative attribute of society."

Summary: Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend — but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out. Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up — way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

Series/Standalone: Standalone, with a follow-up, Dear Justyce

Genre: Teen realism

Length: 210 pages

Content Warnings: Police brutality, racism, gangs, gun violence

Challenge/Banning Response: This book does have plenty of adult language as well as discussions of sex — this is true. However, you bet your you-know-what that I used plenty of four-letter words and talked about sex when I was Justyce's age. Adult language and sexuality being used as an argument to ban this book and not as an argument to ban books written by white authors who also use profanity and innuendo seems less like the challenger is concerned for the children, but more that the challenger doesn't like seeing teens of color — namely Black boys in this book's instance — act like teens. Besides, Justyce largely uses profanity when he's hanging out with his friends. When he accidentally lets it slip in front of his teacher, Doc, he always apologizes. Not only this, but Justyce talks about consenting sex with his ex-girlfriend and goes so far as to actively call out other teens who are trying to get a girl they like drunk so they can sleep with her. So it's not even that Justyce is being disrespectful towards others — he's just...a normal teen. 

As for the racial tendencies being a negative attribute towards society, well, that's just nice-speak for Dear Martin puts a magnifying glass on the micro- and macro-aggressions teens like Justyce face every day including being unlawfully handcuffed, being racially profiled, told to swallow his discomfort, and being viewed as less intelligent as his white peers. One of the two most important interactions with police happens in the first chapter when Justyce tries to get his drunk ex-girlfriend home safely and a police officer thinks he is up to no good. What follows is Justyce's reckoning of race relations alongside his Jewish crush, a white racially colorblind classmate, and his upper class Black best friend. Justyce, while rightfully upset with the police department, fluctuates between confusion, disbelief, and anger. This is only logical when someone personally encounters an injustice. 

Using the idea of mirrors and windows, someone who is white like me can use Dear Martin as a window to better understand how a Black teen might cope and process the idea that he is not as accepted as he thought in his school, community, and society. It also might better help someone like me realize the everyday aggressions that occur and how these can end up bubbling over the top like a shaken soda can. Alternatively, I can imagine how a Black teen might see their everyday reality in this book: having their intelligence and worth constantly questioned. The questioning of one's value and individuality is incredibly difficult to deal with and a reality that should not exist. But being able to read a book in which you can see someone like yourself is something akin to letting out a sigh of relief. To be seen is important — and while diversity in books is more common than it has been historically, there's still a long way to go. 

It's important for Black teens to know that someone sees them and important for white readers to acknowledge how different lived realities can be. Ultimately, children and teens deserve to see themselves in a book — even when that book shows the terrible reality of police brutality. 

Personal Thoughts: This book was difficult to read. Nic Stone throws you into the frying pan in the very first chapter when a police officer handcuffs Justyce as he's trying to help his ex-girlfriend. One hundred pages later, you're thrown directly onto the fire when a retired police officer thinks he's reaching for a gun. While there are some tender moments, like Justyce's growing crush on SJ, Stone does not let up on all the racism he faces. And it's a lot of racism. At first I was uncomfortable — I want Justyce to be happy! Where's the justice? Why are things just constantly so hard for him? And then it clicked. Whatever difficulties I had reading about all the racism and brutality in this book absolutely pales in comparison to what Justyce and teens like him deal with all the time. When I finish this book, I have the privilege to close the back cover and have a good think about our society's racism. I have the privilege to write this review. I have the privilege of not experiencing what Justyce has experienced. I don't have to worry about the police, I don't know anybody that is incarcerated, I've never considered joining a gang for protection, I've never been a suspect of a serious crime, I've never had my qualifications questioned. 

It's clear to me why this book is so highly regarded — and so frequently banned. It's a well-written book, reminiscent to me of Monster by Walter Dean Myers with its script-like dialogue, reminiscent to me of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas with its depiction of race relations in schools. This book is intense, charged, emotional. It demands to be read, especially as Justyce's faith in Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wavers, especially as he's forced to reckon with racial colorblindness, especially as he learns who he can turn to for support. It is a difficult and challenging book, but one that is intellectual and hugely important. I suspect that those who have banned this book don't want you to know that what lies in this book is a lot of pain, but also a lot of power.

Title: Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Reason for Challenge/BanningMilo Imagines the World was banned because it refers to incarceration and includes an illustration of two women getting married.

Summary: While Milo and his sister travel to a detention center to visit their incarcerated mother, he observes strangers on the subway and draws what he imagines their lives to be.

Series/Standalone: Standalone.

Genre: Children's picture book.

Length: 40 pages

Content Warnings: Incarcerated parent, if you consider this to be a sensitive topic

Challenge/Banning Response: The reason for banning this book is factual, but unfounded. This book does indeed refer to incarceration — we view Milo as he's on a journey with his sister on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York to the prison in which his mother is incarcerate — and it does have an illustration of two women getting married — though no women actually get married in the book (even though I don't believe that's a cause for banning, either). As Milo goes on his journey, he spots other MTA-goers and tries to imagine their lives. He sees a woman in a wedding dress and he imagines her and her husband at the altar. He sees three young women dance on the train and he imagines them being followed by police in a fancy neighborhood. And Milo sees a very well-dressed boy his age with someone who could be his brother or father, and it is us, the audience, who put our own expectations onto this young boy. 

But at the end of his journey, Milo and the reader discover that this well-dressed boy is also in line to see an incarcerated family member! We have made an assumption because this young boy is white, blonde, and well-kempt. How could he possibly be going the same place as Milo? And yet, he is. So Milo reimagines who he saw earlier. Maybe the bride is going to get married to her future wife, and maybe those three girls live in the fancy neighborhood. Is it possible that Milo's — and more importantly, our own — preconceptions and beliefs are wrong? Is it possible to imagine a better world?

Imagination is powerful. It allows us to use empathy and think of how the world can be different. Imagining a better world for yourself and everyone around you — especially when reality forces us to reckon that loved ones are incarcerated and injustice or biases run rampant — is incredibly powerful. 

Besides, this book does not ask us to agree with Milo (though I personally happen to). This book only offers an alternative. We have no idea what Milo's mother is incarcerated for, so it's not like this book is asking us to condone a horrific crime, nor is it making a statement about how there are twice as many people imprisoned in local jails and presumed innocent prior to their trial as there are in the entire federal prison system — it only asks us to remember that people who are incarcerated have loved ones and friends. This book doesn't ask you to condone or condemn same-sex marriage, it just asks you to realize that it is indeed a possibility among strangers.

Personal Thoughts: Look, I'm a sucker for Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. I wanted to balk when I saw that this title was challenged and banned. We're invited into a child's mind and asked to actually work on our own internalized biases without even realizing it. When Milo wonders, "What do people imagine about his face?" we are asked to wonder this about ourselves, and if you're an adult like me, continue to acknowledge and realize that we do place stereotypes onto children who are still learning to navigate this complex world. His response is to think about himself reciting a poem, listening to his mother read him a story, and getting ready to eat his aunt's Chile Colorado. We are so much more complex than people initially think we are. 

If you're an adult and you want to know more about the radical power of imagination, I also can't help but to recommend Imagination: A Manifesto by Ruha Benjamin, which can absolutely help provide this practical theory from an adult's mindset. Don't think that just because you're an adult you can just stop imagining a better world for yourself, others, and kids like Milo!