Banned Books Blog: February 2024

Welcome to the Banned Books Blog! This February 2024, we have a young Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution, a young trans boy wondering what makes a good brother, and a woman who finds her confidence after being married to an abusive husband.

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

Recently, a minimum of 10 Massachusetts school districts restricted at least 17 books in their curriculums, classrooms, and school libraries, though not all of these came from conservative voices. Some parents cited many Dr. Seuss books as having outdated and racist imagery. Unfortunately, this isn't surprising considering that Massachusetts experienced the fourth-highest number of reported book challenges nationwide

However, Louisiana is putting up a fight for protecting books featuring queer characters! The local group Queer Northshore, upon learning about how many book challenges arise, created the St. Tammany Library Alliance, which sends individuals to library community meetings whenever book challenges appear. And while book challenging issues seem to be a politically binary fight, prominent conservative Bill O'Reilly recently discovered that a Florida school district has removed two of his books from the library in order to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s book-banning law.

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

Title: The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Reviewer: Kayla

Reason for Challenge/Banning: “Persepolis has never been banned in the United States, though it has been challenged several times. The brief ban in Chicago drew national attention and forced the district to remove the ban. Persepolis was banned in Iran, and the film and graphic novel were temporarily banned in Lebanon because of its portrayal of sex and the way it depicts the events of the Iranian Revolution.” [Source

Summary: In Persepolis, heralded by the Los Angeles Times as "one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day," Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Here is the continuation of her fascinating story. In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna. Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging.

Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation. Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria. Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she finds some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university. However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran.

Series/Standalone: Two-part series

Genre: Biographical graphic novel

Length: 352 pages

Content Warnings: War, torture, violence, death, rape, sexual assault, suicide attempt, sexism, drug use, Police brutality

Challenge/Banning Response: Persepolis was banned in Iran, and the film and graphic novel were temporarily banned in Lebanon because of its portrayal of sex and the way it depicts the events of the Iranian Revolution. In 2013, the Chicago Public School's superintendent, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, specifically had the book pulled from schools because she felt its graphic language and images were not acceptable for the intended seventh-grade classes.

Personal Thoughts: I do not think there's any words to accurately capture the story Marjane Satrapi not only managed to put into words but illustrate as well. This violent and confusing history being experienced and lived by someone so young makes this story even more candid and authentic. Satrapi’s story is intertwined with so many other stories of growing up in Iran under the Islamic Revolution; the same stories that many of us would have never been able to hear or begin to understand otherwise. The fact she is able to share her story through her art is a tragically beautiful skill.

This second novel touched me in a different way than the first. The first shocked and informed me as I didn’t fully understand the effects and lives of those in Iran, I’ve only heard bits and pieces and seen news stories. This one continued to form my world view but I also found it more relatable; I felt closer and more empathetic to Satrapi, and maybe this was just from having the amazing context from the first book, but I felt that she was more human instead of just someone behind these pages. She shared her growth but her struggles as well — her success and courage but her fear and cowardice were all brought to the forefront of these pages, she was someone who made mistakes but also someone who learned from them to do better in each new chapter of her life. It is through this that the message of education being one of the most impactful ways to grow truly touched my heart and made me absolutely adore this book. I hope everyone has a chance to read this, of all ages too.

Title/Author: When Aidan Became A Brother by Kyle Lukoff (author) and Kaylani Juanita (illustrator)

Reviewer: Morgan

Reason for Challenge/Banning: “Sexually explicit” (meaning it has a trans character)

Summary: Aidan, a Black trans boy who looks to be around 4 or 5 years old, learns that his parents are going to have a baby! He loves helping pick out clothes and nursery furniture, but is that what makes a good brother?

Series/Standalone: Standalone

Genre: Picture book

Length: 32 pages

Content Warnings: None

Challenge/Banning Response: This book was first banned in Pennsylvania in 2021, and was nearly banned again in Oregon at the end of 2023. Both times, challengers claimed the picture book was “mature” or “sexually explicit.” Either these people didn’t bother to read it, or they equate trans-ness with sex — and I find both options equally disturbing.

I’ve read this book at Story Times (and we also had the privilege of hosting author Kyle Lukoff at my Branch last year!), and I can confirm that there’s nothing remotely sexual in it. Ironically, challengers never seem to have a problem with depictions of pregnant women in heterosexual relationships. We can infer that Aidan’s mother had sex during the book since she’s pregnant, but I suspect that if his parents were a queer couple, her pregnancy would be considered explicit. And a child simply living his life certainly isn’t erotica.

Oregon banners also came for And Tango Makes Three, a fairly well-known picture book about two male penguins raising an egg together. I have also included that one in past Story Times. If I read a sexually explicit book to toddlers, I can assure you I would have been fired long ago. It’s disturbing — on a personal level as well as a professional one — that people in favor of challenges can look at penguins caring for an abandoned egg, or a preschooler dressing the way he wants, and somehow turn it into something sexual.

Let’s take the description “mature” at face value. Even if the banners meant it more in the sense of gender sometimes being complex, that’s also inaccurate. Lukoff keeps things very, very simple: “Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl. He was really another kind of boy.” This is language for children. The book doesn’t mention politics or hormone therapy or the nuances of identity. It just has the kid-friendly, ever-popular encouragement to be yourself and be kind. Nothing sexual or overly mature about that.

Personal Thoughts: This is one of my favorite picture books! Aidan is a delightful child, full of energy and joy — not to mention a great fashion sense. I adore how loving, accepting, and open to learning his parents are. They set a wonderful example for Aidan as well as readers!

The art is equally charming. Kaylani Juanita does a perfect job drawing the world through a child’s eyes. Between the bright colors and whimsical style, the illustrations appeal to any age. When Aidan Became A Brother is an excellent choice for bedtime stories, art inspiration, or escapism into a kinder world.

Title/Author: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Reviewer: Amy

Reason for Challenge/Banning: Sexual and social explicitness, and troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.

Summary: Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, Celie writes first to God and then to her missionary sister Nettie about her life being married to Mister, falling in love with Shug Avery, and navigating difficult familial and friendly bonds as well as oppression and abuse. Through her letters and her experience, she and re-evaluates her relationships not only to God, but to herself and those around her.

Series/Standalone: A series, though most people read The Color Purple as a standalone novel.

Genre: Realism

Length: 286 pages

Content Warnings: Rape, abuse, racial slurs, racism, sexism

Challenge/Banning Response: This book is a difficult book to read, largely in part due to the fact that rape and abuse comprise nearly the first half of the book. Reading this book can take a lot of strength to face the brutality of this world. But Alice Walker uses Celie’s horrific circumstances to bring her to a place of knowledge, understanding, and acceptance, both in regards to herself and those who have done her wrong.

To ban this book is to ban a book that gives us a framework for forgiveness and awe. To ban this book is to prevent us from questioning how different cultures can be across a community and across countries, to prevent us from questioning our relationship to God or spirituality, and questioning our relationship to our bodies and our sexuality.

When this book was first released, it was assigned as required reading for many English classes. Almost immediately, parents were concerned about the violence, sexual content, religious discussions, and graphic content. While this book is not necessarily a coming-of-age novel, it is a coming-into-being novel. Celie would have been about the same age as these high school students when her story begins, and to know that someone their age, eventually my age, and eventually what my age will be, has suffered and succeeded and cried and laughed in such powerful ways and came out on the other side happy brings a feeling of hope rather than horror.

Personal Thoughts: This is the second time I’ve read The Color Purple, and nearly ten years later it took my breath away for a second time. I’m no stranger to reading brutal books, especially those that focus on brutality against women, but Alice Walker’s book somehow manages to transform from a difficult read to an absolutely awe-inspiring and beautiful one without anyone noticing. Celie’s deep unhappiness echoes across the pages but it’s amazing how a little love and affection can go a long way into helping someone realize their self-worth. And with that tiny bit of love and care can blossom open a life filled with enjoyment and community. Without the likes of Harpo, who begins to confide in Celie about his romance problems, or Shug Avery, who recognizes all the hard work Celie does in her household as she’s healing from sickness, Celie’s life would certainly look a lot different.

There’s a reason that this book is a classic, and I think much of it is to do with how frankly Alice Walker shows us her characters: Celie transforms into confidence over the course of the novel, Mister is shown as abusive but also as someone who used to be full of life and love and can change, Harpo as the son who learns the same lessons quicker than his father, and Shug as someone who cannot help but to let life take her anywhere, regardless of who’s waiting for her at home. The cast is unforgettable and blend together to offer not just community—but support—to each other as they all continue learning what it means to be human and whole.