According to Mike Jung, librarian, young adult author, and team member of the grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books, censors of Raina Telgemeier’s critically acclaimed graphic novel Drama got it all wrong. In a special Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out, Jung talks about the attacks against Drama and how, in their haste to pull a book off of school and library shelves, would-be censors overlooked the true value the book can bring to students making their way through middle school.
Since its publication in 2012, Raina Telgemeier’s appropriately-named young adult graphic novel about navigating the drama of middle school as told in the context of a school play has received accolades and praise from School Library Journal all the way to The New York Times. Nominated for the Harvey Award and a Stonewall Honor Book, readers have embraced Drama for its fresh and fun tale of one seventh grade girl’s adventures navigating middle school life and love.
“[Drama is] very much about being part of a community,” Jung tells us. The main character, Callie, “so embraces the community that she is in,” and in that way acts as a potential role model for all middle school students trying to find themselves and where they belong in their own communities. As Jung admits, he himself struggled with finding a sense of belonging during his school years, but perhaps reading a book like Drama could have “emboldened” or “empowered” him then — and children now — to “push forward for what we want against limitations that are around us.”
From embracing and realizing one’s own creativity to building a sense of community during a time when children are particularly vulnerable, Jung notes all of these great values the book offers were overlooked when the book was challenged and banned at Chapel Hill Elementary School in Mount Pleasant and Kirbyville Junior High, both in Texas.
Drama has been included on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Challenged Books. Complainants called the book “sexually explicit” and “politically, socially, or racially offensive.” In particular, they most likely with the two gay characters present within the book, not the numerous heterosexual couples who are also finding themselves and dealing with their own personal crushes throughout the graphic novel. Further, none of these couples participate in anything more sexual that a kiss.
As Jung points out, though, censors thinking is completely backwards and the challenges that Drama faces are for things that have nothing to do with the reasons why students are seeking out the book, or are being guided to it by “wise librarians.” At the sacrifice of student’s ability (and often willingness) to try something new — something that they can potentially relate to and help them be better community members — a small subset of the community is working to ban books based on personal biases and unfounded reasons. “It’s not even necessarily that the thing the book is being challenged for is what kids are looking for; although I think more often than not that is vitally important.”
In light of his own experiences, Jung urges people to get out a read, whether it be banned or otherwise.
Watch Mike Jung’s full Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out below and don’t forget to check out CBLDF’s resources about the book:
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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!