First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays from educators, students, parents, and others who think and write about public education.
I still remember when, in elementary school, my mother and I sorted books on my library. We would choose which ones we would keep and which ones we would give away to make room for new ones.
Sometimes my mother would put the books I had put in the pile of gifts back on my shelves – books like “Mufaro’s beautiful daughters”, “Amazing Grace,” and “Lily Brown’s Paintings.” When I asked her why, she said she couldn’t remember having picture books with black characters when she was a child and wanted me to make sure my library always had books with black characters. characters that looked like me.
Since then, I sometimes find it hard to swap books with black and Asian characters because those are the books I sometimes identify with the most.
When I was 9 years old, I started Elena reads, a blog to share my love of reading with others and introduce people to various books they may not have known existed. For example, on my blog, I reviewed “Loretta Little Looks Back” by Andrea Davis Pinkney (about a black family living when slavery and segregation were legal) and “The war that saved my life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (about a disabled and abused girl). I want to make sure these books are accessible to everyone.
Ever since I was little, I have loved books. Sometimes reading gives me the feeling of escaping this world and entering another. I love playing the story scenes in my head. It’s like a movie, only better. I also like reading to teach me about people who are different from me. So it’s very confusing to hear about books that I like that are on banned books lists because they talk about racism or have gay characters, for example.
Why would parents and educators want to pull amazing books with diverse characters from schools and library shelves?
Jerry Craft’s Newberry Award Winner “New Child” a fun graphic novel about a black boy attending a predominantly white college, tackles racism and stereotypes, and shows how hurtful they can be. I don’t understand why a school district in Texas banned this book, which is based on the author’s life.
When I interviewed Craft recently, he told me he didn’t really understand why people were so unhappy with his book. He said one parent didn’t like the way white characters were portrayed and worried it would make their white child feel uncomfortable about real things happening in the world. He said that if this parent had taken the time to read the book, she would have seen that many white characters are not portrayed as bad or evil. And, when complaining parents say everyone is “equal,” they are rejecting the injustices and experiences that have happened to many people of color, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.
It’s especially upsetting to see various books banned, as it makes it harder for black and brown or gay students to see themselves in what they read. When we read about characters whose experiences correlate with our own, it makes us realize that our stories matter. And these books also help other readers open their eyes to people who are different from them.
It’s really confusing to hear about books that I like that are on banned books lists because they talk about racism or have gay characters.
For example, I think kids can find out what it’s like to be an immigrant family in this country if they read ” Reception “, by award-winning author Kelly Yang. It is the story of a Chinese family that immigrates to America. The book details their life here and how they struggle, such as when the main character is bullied for being Asian. This is another book that some school districts have banned for being “racially divisive.” When Yang heard of such a ban in a small district on Long Island, she tweeted that she was “heartbroken,” writing, “Books about the immigrant experience are valid. POC books are valid. We are valid!
A book I read in English class, “Mexican WhiteBoy” by Matt De La Pena, also appears on some schools’ banned book lists. It’s about a biracial teenager named Danny who finds his identity through baseball and family. Those who oppose the book’s teaching say it promotes “critical race theory” and that white students might feel uncomfortable reading it.
But it works both ways. Sometimes it is uncomfortable for black students to read about race. When my mother and I read the “Addy” books from the American Girl series, I first heard about slavery. Reading about it made me really uncomfortable. I was a little sad and scared, but my mom and I had conversations after each chapter, and I became more educated about racism.
This could be the answer to the book ban: open conversations with parents, teachers and others about what is being read. If we do this, we will understand what we read and each other better, even if it is difficult and uncomfortable at first.
Elena Recinto is a middle school student who reviews various children’s books on her blog, Elena reads. She would like to be an author one day. She usually has her nose in a book, but she has many other interests. She crosses country, plays the piano and fiddle, and recently played Charlie Bucket in her school musical, Willy Wonka Jr.