We are all different, and that’s okay. I say this statement out loud at minimum once a month, usually when confronted with the unsavory news about banned and challenged books, book burnings, etc.; activities that are, at best, seriously misguided attempts to protect young minds from being exposed to topics deemed to be above their maturity level. The empath in me is always seeking to fully understand and walk in the proverbial shoes of someone else. However, the more I peruse the list of challenged titles, the more confused I become. Our country is a gumbo of cultures enhanced by the lived experiences and traditions of diverse people whose uniqueness adds flavor to our Americanness. Just as there is no such thing as a one ingredient recipe, neither should there be the promotion and elevation of one singular story. To say that there is not room for more than one type of story is to belie this country’s composition. Yet, somehow, in an increasingly diverse society, books featuring BIPOC and LBGTQ characters and authors continue to be targeted for such efforts.
Children and teens need to see themselves, their family structure and their communities reflected back to them in books. I won’t belabor the importance of access to materials that are windows, mirrors and/or sliding doors to their worlds and those that are different from them. However, there is an urgency in continuing this charge. To the librarians in school and public libraries, I salute you for your work in standing firm in the face of serious opposition and working to create a more inclusive and just world one book at a time, one child at a time. Your work is instrumental in normalizing and honoring differences without “othering” and a testament to the ways our differences make for a better collective.
The AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation has been hard at work on a resource list that will hopefully make our jobs easier in the face of so much uncertainty. Keep an eye out; it should be coming very soon!
Tamela Chambers is a branch manager at the Chicago Public Library and a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation.