What "They" Want

How many times recently have you had this conversation regarding a diverse book?

“Now they’re banning _______!”

“______? But that’s such a beautiful book! How could anyone ban it?”

“Yeah, it makes no sense.”

But that’s not true. It does make sense. And we have to admit it and understand it if we have any chance of fighting it.

Simply put, it makes sense to ban diverse books if the goal is avoiding a diverse reality. And, yes, that is their goal, and that is the reason they target diverse books.

Who are “they”? Well, we all know. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that they were a sort of shadowy, anonymous ghost of America’s puritanical past. Often hiding under a white sheet.

But now the anonymity is gone, replaced by a twisted kind of celebrity. People scrambling to out-shout one another, and some of them doing so all the way to a governor’s office. I won’t give them free publicity by naming them here, but you know where to find them. In fact, you can’t avoid them.

They shriek about protecting children, while banning books that celebrate children, because when they say “children,” they only mean their children, and only as they see them.

You may think people of different races, religions, body types, gender expressions, sexual orientations, and abilities are beautiful, but they do not. They want to turn away and cover their kids’ eyes.

So in fact it is perfectly logical, for them, to ban a beautiful book, because to them it’s ugly. The more beautiful to you, the uglier and more in need of banning to them.

Maybe you’ve also had a conversation like this:

“Banning ______? But I’ve seen how much that book can help kids who really need it!”

Again, it makes perfect sense. They don’t want those kids to get help. They literally want those kids to give up.

Or like this:

“How are kids supposed to find out about _______ history without these books?”

Exactly! They don’t want kids to find out about _______, so it makes sense to get those books off the shelves.

And they themselves don’t want to find out, either, which is why it’s safest just to download a list of dangerous books and ban them in bulk. Or even better, only allow a “whitelist” of approved books; that way no one ever need see even the titles of the so-called ugly ones.

* * *

And what makes these beautiful books so ugly to them?  It’s the windows. They prefer only mirrors.

The terms that Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop so famously and so brilliantly gave us for diverse books also make it clear why these books are considered dangerous by book banners.

The mirrors are okay. As long as the mirror reflects themselves in the most favorable light. And for way too long, the publishing industry gave them mostly that.

The concept that other people’s kids might like to see themselves in a book is alien to them. And even if they understood, they wouldn’t like it.

Anything that’s not their own mirror is a window. And they’re not about to let a kid look out a window and see things for themselves. Or read about a different kind of person and start to empathize with them, because a little empathy could wreck everything they’ve created.

And, of course, they especially hate the sliding glass doors. It’s harder to keep others “in their place” when there are too many doors around.

Abhorrent? Yes.

But it does make sense. All the reasons we need diverse books are all the same reasons they want to ban them. Every window, every door is a crack in their castle, a hole in their bubble, a truth in their fiction. Every diverse book is a threat.

So, it all makes perfect sense: they have to ban these books. They know it, and we have to know it too.

And we have to fight to keep those books on the shelves. To keep those books in kids’ hands. And to keep those books coming.

From the May/June 2023 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Diverse Books: Past, Present, and Future.

Tom Angleberger

Tom Angleberger is the author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Amulet/Abrams) and other semi-autobiographical books about growing up with autism. He got some good advice from a friend whose books have been targeted: donate diverse books to libraries and Little Free Libraries.

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