A part of me didn’t even want to write this blog post. I haven’t wanted to write much of anything since I woke one morning and learned that 50 people had been killed in cold blood at a gay bar the night before.
When I first learned about this tragedy, so many potential root causes ran through my brain: trans bathroom law that make LGBTQ+ people seem lesser, terrorism that continues to consume parts of our world, lack of gun regulation that gives us a country filled with AR-15s…and author censorship.
I know, the last one seems initially out of place. It’s not, I promise. Here’s why.
In recent weeks, a number of authors have come forward to talk about they’ve been disinvited from speaking at schools that had previously invited them for author visits. Kate Messner was disinvited from a school in Vermont (my homeland!) because her most recent book deals with heroin addiction. And then Phil Bildner was disinvited from a school district in Texas. The reasons for that disinvitation are muddled, but it’s been suggested the whole thing occurred because he recommended George, a book about a transgender kid, to students the last time he visited.
We all know that the path to building a community of people who love, care for, and support one another—despite differences—is building empathy within children and young people. We know this. We know building empathy is how we create a generation that sees differences positively and can look at others’ perspectives when they disagree. And you know what’s key to building empathy? Exposure to new things. Different things. Different people. People who may or may not be like them. Other. Same. Every type of person in every type of place.
Only most schools and parents don’t have money to ensure that kids visit hundreds of different places and meet hundreds of different people. Luckily, they don’t need it. They have something better: books.
As many before me have noted, books are the mirrors and windows of the world. They are how we build empathy for a person a thousand miles away and how we understand someone who believes in things we’ve never believed in.
Most kids access books in three places: libraries, schools, and their parents. So at least one of those places has to deliver books that show multiple perspectives on the world…only this can we something something teachers and librarians struggle with. We struggle against school boards and parents and communities who say our kids aren’t ready to read about certain subjects, or that we’re trying to turn them into something, or that we’re imposing our beliefs on them.
It can be a rough road at times. And that’s just one of many reasons why #ReadProud month is so important. It’s a chance for those of us who have been called to act as the “gatekeepers” of books for children and teens to discuss that responsibility. A chance for us to share things like how we have difficult conversations with administrators, parents, and school boards. A chance for us to discuss and learn about wonderful books and bring them back to the people who want and need to read them.
Tough conversations like these are never easy or fun. But #ReadProud gives us the opportunity to support one another in how to have those conversations—and we must have them. Having these conversations is one of our best chances at preventing tragedies like the Orlando shooting.
We have a responsibility to build a better next generation, and we will not build that generation by censoring the lives of one another. So #ReadProud, and share that pride with all the children and teens in your life.
Johanna Parkhurst grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Vermont before relocating to the rocky mountains of Colorado. She spends her days helping teenagers learn to read and write and her evenings writing things she hopes they’ll like to read. She strives to share stories of young adults who are as determined, passionate, and complex as the ones she shares classrooms with.
Johanna holds degrees from Albertus Magnus College and Teachers College, Columbia University. She loves traveling, hiking, skiing, watching football, and spending time with her incredibly supportive husband.
To learn more about Johanna or her books click here!