Meg Medina, a Latina author and mother, discusses the implications of book banning on Latino communities, highlighting the removal of books from stores in underrepresented areas, as only 6% of children’s books include Latino children.
As a children’s book author, a mother, and a former public school teacher, I’ve spent most of my adult life considering the needs of children and how books may aid their development.
Yet, as we celebrate National Library Week this year, I am more concerned than ever about my readers and fellow Latinx authors.
Meg Medina is the new national ambassador for children’s literature.
The Library of Congress appointed Meg Medina as the new national ambassador for young adult literature in January 2023. Medina, of Cuban heritage, is the program’s first Latinx ambassador, following in the footsteps of authors such as Jason Reynolds, Gene Luen Yang, and Jacqueline Woodson. She is also an advocate for diverse literature, and her middle-grade novel Mercy Suárez Changes Gears won the Newbery Medal in 2019.
In a statement released by the Library of Congress, Medina stated, “It is a tremendous honor to advocate for the reading and writing lives of our nation’s children and families.” “More than anything else, I wish reading and story-sharing to occur beyond the classroom and library doors. I want books and stories to be an integral part of daily life, with all of us gathering around the table to share the tales that resonate with us and deepen our understanding of one another.”
According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, the number of challenges to “offensive” works in 2021 will likely have doubled from that of 2020. And while efforts to ban books for sexual content, vulgar language, non-Christian beliefs, and other reasons are not new, the steep increase is a particularly disturbing development in a country where 62.1 million Latinos reside.
Existing call to action? Eliminating culturally contentious content. But who determines which information is debatable and which is essential?
Under the guise of parental rights, the writings of some of our community’s most celebrated authors, like Elizabeth Acevedo, Benjamin Alire, and Ashley Hope Perez, to mention a few, have been removed from school and public library shelves. My 2014 novel on school bullying, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, is currently on No Left Turn’s list of books that should be banned for allegedly “teaching critical racial theory.”
What should Latino parents conclude from this? Can references to our cultural perspective or traumatic pasts now be deemed offensive?
The banning of books is an act of fear that poses a disproportionate danger to youngsters of color. When we stigmatize books that describe the lived realities of a group, we deprive that community of its most potent resource for success: the force of its own narratives.
Books do much more than teach youngsters to read. They can facilitate in-depth discussions with their peers, instructors, and parents about the world around them and the questions they have. They provide space for introspection and insight into the lives of others. And for Latino children, whose stories accounted for less than 6 percent of children’s books in 2020, according to the University of Wisconsin, which has collected the statistics since 1985, books are essential for their healthy development. They enable our young to recognize themselves not only in the pages of a book but also, by extension, as an integral part of the American narrative as a whole.
To be clear, every parent has the right to discuss their child’s reading with them. In classes, parents should always be permitted to request an alternative assignment.
Yet, prohibiting books in a school or society is a prescription for disaster. Such responses ultimately provide no protection. By removing books from shelves, we force children into concealment or shame. We undermine the efforts of educators and librarians who construct collections utilizing their combined literary and educational abilities. Worst of all, we risk saying that only one way of living is acceptable.
“If we want to raise young people who are prepared to succeed, learn, and love in a diverse and complex world, we must give them access to challenging literature that represents a range of American experiences, not just the dominant culture,” says Ashley Hope-Perez, author of the highly-decorated and often-challenging young adult novel Out of Darkness, which won the 2016 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, the 2016 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Child Literature Award, and the 2016 “It’s 2022, not 1922, and library books should reflect that.”
These are three simple strategies to encourage your child’s inclusive reading habits.
- Discuss with your children the books they are reading and ask about their opinions.
- Study the challenged literature yourself, so you’re not frightened by out-of-context statements.
- Volunteer to participate on the book review committee at your child’s school or district so that your viewpoint will be heard in the event of a challenge.