Case Study: Drama

dramacoverRaina Telgemeier’s Drama, a graphic novel about the joys and tribulations of a middle school drama troupe, received universal critical praise upon its publication in 2012. The book received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Media, Booklist, and School Library Journal. It also made “best of the year” or Editors’ Choice lists in Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Booklist, and School Library Journal. Finally, it was nominated for a Harvey Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book.

Although most readers of all ages found Drama to be just as endearing and authentic as Telgemeier’s other books Smile and Sisters, a small but vocal minority have objected to the inclusion of two gay characters, one of whom shares a chaste on-stage kiss with another boy. Negative online reader reviews have accused Telgemeier of literally hiding an agenda inside brightly-colored, tween-friendly covers, but in an interview with TeenReads she said that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because “finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school.”

In 2014, Drama made the American Library Association’s top 10 list of frequently challenged books due to a ban at Chapel Hill Elementary School in Mount Pleasant, Texas. That information was reported in the Texas ACLU’s Annual Banned Books Report, but there has been no news coverage of the ban, so details are thin on the ground. We do know that the book was claimed to be “sexually explicit” and was removed from the elementary school’s library, while three copies remain in Chapel Hill Independent School District’s combined middle/high school library.

We did not find a formal challenge procedure in school board policies, but there does appear to be some sort of review process in place since there is a document containing a challenge form for a parent or other complainant to fill out, as well as an assessment form for a review committee. What we don’t know is whether the district actually followed that procedure in the case of Drama, but it seems unlikely that even a majority of a review committee would objectively agree that the book meets the stated criteria for removal of library materials found in Policy EFA (Legal):

Students’ First Amendment rights are implicated by the removal of books from the shelves of a school library. The District shall not remove materials from a library for the purpose of denying students access to ideas with which the District disagrees. The District may remove materials because they are pervasively vulgar or based solely upon the educational suitability of the books in question.

Drama also earned a spot on ALA’s list of the Top Ten Challenged Books for 2016The highly acclaimed bestselling book was most likely on ALA’s list because it was removed from a Texas junior high school for being “politically, racially, or socially offensive.” Once again, we learned of the removal after the fact via the Texas ACLU’s annual report on challenges and bans in the state. 

Drama fell from the number two to the number three spot on ALA’s list of Top Ten Most Challenged Books for 2017. Despite a high volume of challenges, there is still a shocking vacuum of media attention for attempts to remove Raina Telgemeir’s critically acclaimed graphic novel. All major news coverage refers back to earlier cases covered, but the persistence with which this title tops the list cements the fact that people are still objecting to its gay characters and chaste same-sex kiss.

In an interview with School Library Journal, Raina Telgemeir spoke about her reaction to appearing on ALA’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books lists.

I had a lot of people asking if I wanted to make a statement, but the statement is the book. My viewpoint is it’s better to live in a world where we love and accept each other than one where we don’t.”

Additional resources:

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Drama

Adding Drama to Your Library or Classroom Collection