On April 21, a group of authors released an official response on the PEN American website to the banning of their books by the Leander Independent School District in Texas. On March 8, KVUE-ABC reported that Leander ISD had removed six books from its book club lists in response to parent complaints about the content of In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. One parent brought a sex toy to a board meeting and indicated that looking at the sex toy in question was the same as reading Machado’s award-winning book. Leander ISD oversees schools in Leander, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Jonestown, Round Rock in Williamson County and northwest Austin in Travis County.
LISD leadership stated that the Community Curriculum Advisory Committee is in the process of vetting all book club titles across all grade levels, which led to the six books being banned from classrooms. The six books currently banned are: The Lottery, Kiss Number 8, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, The Handmaid’s Tale, Y: The Last Man, and V for Vendetta.
As of March 9, the CCAC had completed reviewing 30 books and plans to continue with all 140 titles marked for LISD book clubs.
In response, the authors, illustrators, and members of the literary community partnered with PEN America on an Open Letter strongly condemning the actions of the Leander ISD leadership. They state that the continued review process of CCAC in Leander ISD will lead to further bans. Three more books have been “paused” in their inclusion in LISD book clubs, and 13 more have been “challenged for review and reconsideration.”
The Open Letter also notes that the bans and reconsideration reviews target books that feature women, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and people of color. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the titles that has been “paused,” while I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, and the collection How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation have been challenged.
The letter goes on to argue that exposure to different people from different communities through literature is “morally necessary and educationally beneficial.” They leave it up to teachers and librarians to determine how to teach the books in age-appropriate ways, saying that the book banning would snowball into many more book bannings. The Open Letter ends with a call for free expression and encouraging readers to challenge themselves with new books: “We are sending this letter to you today not simply to stand up for our own books, but to stand against censorship in our schools.” Signers include Margaret Atwood, Erika Sánchez, Jacqueline Woodson, Miles Hyman, and many of the contributors to How I Resist.
As the letter notes, some of the books reviewed and reconsidered appeared on the top 10 most challenged books of 2020 list. Parents who argue for book banning have a lot of fears that they want addressed, as we’ve discussed her on Book Riot before, but it’s a slippery slope that can lead to expanded censorship of stories written by authors from marginalized communities.