Luigi Brugnaro has taken one of his first stances after being elected mayor of Venice, Italy, by banning several children’s books from kindergarten classrooms.
Titles like Qual è il segreto di papà? (What’s Dad’s Secret?), Rosso micione (Big Red Cat), and even the classic Leo Lionni book Piccolo blue piccolo giallo (Little Blue and Little Yellow) are just a few of the 50 titles that Brugnaro claims contain content inappropriate for the classroom and “touch upon topics that should be handled not by the school, but by the families.” Subject matter ranges from topical issues such as divorce, gay marriage, and alternative lifestyles and family situations to more commonplace and simple subjects like embracing difference, developing friendships, and fighting stereotypes and discrimination. Brugnaro calls all of the books being targeted “gender books,” books that he believes violate the “traditional family” model and therefore should not be taught in schools. “We do not want to discriminate against children,” Brugnaro said in an interview with La Repubblica. “At home parents can be called Dad One and Dad Two, but I have to think about the majority of families where there is a mother and a father.”
In response to the pulling of the books, more than 250 more Italian authors have sent Brugnaro a letter requesting that their books be also pulled as an act of solidarity with the affected authors. As award-winning author Giorgio Fontana notes, their call to action is a protest against an “appalling gesture of censorship and ignorance.”
In response to the letter, a majority of the books are being allowed back into the schools; only the books dealing with homosexuality are still being excluded. As author Andrea Valente says though, “Nevertheless, as long as even one single book is banned, our letter won’t change.”
This case is without a doubt shocking, but sadly this is not the only instance where we see blatant forms of censorship in international classrooms. Around the world, many other countries face similar obstacles that lead to such drastic and detrimental results that end up hurting the educational system and ultimately the educations of the children themselves.
In 2012, two books from Herge’s classic comic series, Tintin, were challenged in both Stockholm and Belgian libraries for their outdated viewpoints and led to temporary bans. In March, Tintin in America was also temporarily pulled from the public library system and Chapters bookstore chain in Canada for its contentious content.
Japan too has seen its fair share book banning in libraries in classrooms. In March also, the mayor of Izumisano city in Osaka, Japan, called to have copies of the critically acclaimed manga series Barefoot Gen removed from elementary and junior high schools for its graphic content and wartime depictions. The same book was also temporarily banned from classroom libraries in Matsue City in 2013.
Although we are seeing a rise this type of censorship abroad, thankfully the First Amendment protects children’s books in the United States. Such blatant forms of censorship are rarely successful here, but that doesn’t stop people from attempting them, as we recently saw in Hood County, Texas, where a small group of people organized a failed campaign against two children’s books with LGBTQ themes.
As Fontana writes:
To order that some books must be removed from schools is disturbing, and the alleged motivation makes it all even worse: the idea that these books promote a ‘gender theory’ which would harm the only idea of family that Brugnaro has in mind: an heterosexual married couple with children. It’s all so depressing. Hopefully our letter will be effective – but even if it isn’t, we have showed at least that we strongly disapprove Brugnaro’s choice. We’ll see what happens next.
Hopefully Mayor Brugnaro will realize the detriment that he is doing to his city, the educational system, and ultimately the community’s children by banning these books and reverses his decision in full, allowing all of the books back into the classroom.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!