Vermont Book Ban Leads to Discussion About Dangers of Censorship in Schools

In response to the recent event cancellation and removal of her book The Seventh Wish from a South Burlington, Vermont elementary school library, author and former middle school teacher Kate Messner took to her blog to tackle the tough topic of title selection and regulation in elementary schools, and called upon K-5 librarians to discuss and offer insight into the impact of and solution to book banning in schools and libraries.

Earlier this month, Messner was suddenly disinvited from a book reading at Chamberlin Elementary School in South Burlington, Vermont, when concerns arose over the school’s lack of preparedness to discuss one of the book’s themes: how drug addiction impacts families. Upon being uninvited, Messner soon discovered that all copies of her book had also been pulled from the library and returned to a local bookstore.

In light of the event, Messner put together a blog post to discuss with fellow teachers and librarians their thoughts on the matter as well as compile some advice from those on the frontlines about how they handle books with challenging subject matters in elementary schools. From leading regular discussions with parents and community members about books being included in classrooms and libraries to having dedicated shelves where students that require students to talk with teachers first about specific titles before checking them out, teachers from across the United States submitted their methods for handling potentially “controversial” books.

The pretty much unanimous agreement that Messner took away from the feedback on her post is that having a conversation about books is key. “Many agree that the answer lies in education,” sums up Messner, adding:

Explaining to parents that a library serves a wide range of readers, and while every parent has a right to guide their own children’s reading, none have the right to make those decisions for anyone else’s child. Teaching children how to select books for themselves is also key — advising them about how to choose an appropriate book and how to bring that book back if it turns out not to be the “just right” book they hoped it might be, so that they can choose something else.

Unexpectedly, though, in going through the comments from teachers and librarians Messner also inadvertently uncovered another alarming trend — segregating books into separate sections based on their challenged subject matter. In response to feedback from educators, Messner called upon the insight from fellow authors who have also experienced censorship first-hand to discuss their thoughts on the subject of segregating books.

“I don’t think these librarians want to harm children, but the signals they send when they make LGBT [children’s books] ‘controversial’ harms children in real and devastating ways,” notes Alex London, author of the popular children’s book series The 39 Clues, in response to the segregation of LGBTQ titles into separate categories.

“With addiction books, I think there is a similar damage in placing them on shelves that are ‘other,’” says Corey Ann Haydu. “I want books that deal with addiction to be on the same shelves as books that deal with cancer… The work of recovery from addiction has so, so much to do with denial and shame, and that a library would add to that by singling out a book about that disease as different than any other disease is exactly why the issues are shame and denial and addiction are not getting solved still.”

Messner’s post illuminates further the numerous challenges that teachers and librarians face when selecting books for their school’s libraries. Whether it be potential backlash from the parents and community members for including “controversial” titles in schools, or even labeling a book “controversial” in the first-place, the feedback Messner received demonstrates how now, more than ever, it is vital that this conversation take place to educate people of the dangers of censoring access to materials.

Although there is no clear cut solution to this problem, Messner points out that there are numerous resources available to teachers and librarians that can help them best incorporate these books into their schools.

To read Kate Messner’s full recap of her blog post, click here. And don’t forget to check out CBLDF’s own Librarian & Educator Tools for more information about adding graphic novels to your school’s libraries and classrooms.

Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work in 2015 by visiting the Rewards Zonemaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

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!