By Jordan McNeil
Last week, a friend of mine shared an article on Twitter about “This One Summer,” a Young Adult graphic novel, being pulled from school libraries in Florida. He shared it with one single word of commentary: “Shame.” And I agree.
This column would probably fit best during Banned Books Week in the fall, but since this instance was recent and I’ve been stewing on it for a week, I’m going to talk for a bit about it now.
“This One Summer” by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki is a graphic novel about two young girls on summer vacation, pre-teens dealing with puberty, crushes, family tensions, friend tensions and the intense drama of the local teens — which includes some “mature” language, pregnancy and alcohol, among other things. I enjoyed reading it and did not find any of the content out of place for the age rating it was given, which is 12 and up.
Two school districts in Florida removed the book after a mother of a third-grader complained about it, asking “How do you explain to a 9-year-old the graphic things that were in this book?” I’ll come back to this question later; first, I want to say OK. I can see the reasoning behind taking the book out of elementary schools, as the rating given by the publisher and libraries is, in fact, 12 and up.
The problem is the fact that after this complaint and removal happened at the elementary level, it also started being pulled at the high school level once a local station reported about an Amazon review — which is highly inaccurate, in my opinion — that called it “practically porn for kids.”
Yes, there’s mention of sex. Yes, there are discussions about teen pregnancy. But it was all done tastefully, practically with zero visual depiction of anything of that nature. Practically porn? I don’t think so.
But the book was then recalled from high schools, and there’s been mention that the districts will now look into their book choosing policies. There are loads of reasons why this is wrong, and you can find a lot of arguments online already. Here’s the main reason why this riles me up: books can be important to a child’s development.
Reading gives kids a safe place to explore the world and figure things out for themselves. They can try new identities, experience new cultures, learn new things about the world without fear of failure or embarrassment or danger. Reading about something that doesn’t affect them, or occur in their day-to-day life, can open up conversations — useful, helpful, healthy conversations — about the world around them.
“How do you explain to a 9-year-old the graphic things that were in this book?” You do so by sitting down with them and having an honest discussion of what they’ve read and what it means. Sure, most 9-year-olds may not be able to actually grasp everything pertaining to sex or pregnancy yet, or understand completely the crude language from the teen characters, but you never know until you sit down with them and talk about it. But I guarantee that high schoolers and middle schoolers are capable of understanding, are capable of having a legitimate conversation about it all.
By removing or banning books from schools, you are depriving the students from having these experiences and learning from them. You stop protecting them from the world and start damaging their growth and ability to live in it properly. Banning hurts more than it helps, and when it happens, no one wins.