With Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novel This One Summer topping the American Library Association’s most recent list of frequently challenged books, the cousins are speaking out on the “honor” and their thoughts on young people’s freedom to read.
This One Summer is both the first graphic novel and the first Canadian work to take the #1 spot on an ALA Top Ten list since the Office for Intellectual Freedom began tracking challenges in 1990. Mariko Tamaki wryly told the National Post by email that “it’s a nice ‘we’re #1’ moment.” Ironically, the book has received more challenges than it otherwise would have due to its Caldecott Honor, widely perceived as an award for picture books even though the criteria cover readers up to 14 years old. Many parents, teachers, and librarians were caught off-guard by This One Summer’s adolescent-appropriate content, inspiring CBLDF to begin our Adding Graphic Novels series to help ensure proper classification and defend frequently challenged comics.
In a blog post last week, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom shared a statement from the Tamakis outlining their intentions in writing the book and their reaction to its restriction even in some middle and high schools. Here is their full statement:
This One Summer is a book about two girls’ summer at a cottage in Northern Ontario. When we wrote this book our goal was to create a story that explored the experience of summer and of adults, from a young person’s perspective.
This book was not created for elementary readers, but for young readers. The publisher lists it for ages 12 to 18. There has been some controversy as to its inclusion on the Caldecott Honor list, so maybe it bears repeating that the ALA defines children as up to and including age 14. We agree the book is not for young children, nor was it intended for that audience.
We worry about what it means to define certain content, such as LGBTQ content, as being of inappropriate [sic] for young readers. Which implicitly defines readers who do relate to this content, who share these experiences, as not normal, when really they are part of the diversity of young people’s lives.
A book doesn’t stop existing by taking it off the shelf. Nor do the ideas contained within. Pulling a book from a library shelf makes it inaccessible to kids who depend on the library for books. It’s an infringement on the freedom to read, to explore, to experience things outside of your world, to see yourself and your story in the pages of the books you read.
The main character of This One Summer, Rose, is often afraid, confused, exposed to things outside of her comfort zone, things she doesn’t completely understand. We believe that is part of growing up. Life is often upsetting. But upsetting things in books are not actually happening in real life, but at a safe distance. You can read about an experience outside of your own, and gain the opportunity to better understand someone who it happens to in reality. You get to experience some of those emotions, without a personal price.
Connecting to an experience outside of your own, or inside your own, is the core of social-emotional education, of developing empathy, which is very much needed in our current climate.
For an overview of the challenges that landed This One Summer on the 2016 Top Ten list, check out our Banned Comics Case Study. We also offer a Using Graphic Novels in Education column to aid educators in integrating the book into their curricula.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.