It’s Library Lovers Month — borrow a book


I read “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” my first banned book, when I was 12. My friend lent me the book, and I found the good parts by the dog-eared pages. The experience did not compromise my moral compass or corrupt me in any way I can discern. I am not recommending the book for today’s 12-year-olds, because it’s a pretty boring read, but I am advocating that a broad spectrum of books be available to students who choose to read them.

This month, Library Lovers Month, I want to push back hard against the self-appointed literature vigilantes across our country, who are removing books from school library shelves and banning them from classrooms under the guise of protecting children from inappropriate subject matter.

It’s called censorship, and the problem, of course, is who gets to decide what is appropriate or not. In the past, librarians have had full discretion in selecting books. They are trained for the job and trusted in their choices. In the best libraries, the books reflect all the ways that children and teenagers can be in the world, including gay or trans or identified with any race or religion or socio-economic group.

For some young people, the school library is the only place they can read about kids just like themselves. They can learn that others share their confusion or anxiety or fear of being different.

I don’t believe that a teenager can “catch” being gay or trans from reading about it, the underlying prejudice being that there is something wrong with that identity. We can’t scrub young adult literature for references to slavery or minority struggles or even violence, because the best writing reflects real life.

A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times told the story of a librarian in Idaho who organized a “Rainbow Squad,” welcoming children of different backgrounds to read and talk about books. A local church group protested, and the community is battling over whether the Rainbow Squad should be banned, along with the books they’re reading.

I wonder how this group threatens anyone, even as it creates a support network for vulnerable kids.I don’t know if a book has ever saved someone’s life, but I know for sure that battles over books are endangering lives by keeping young people from information and stories that might validate their choices in important ways.

In The Washington Post last week, columnist Kate Cohen wrote about the school board in her hometown, Rockingham, Virginia, deciding to ban 57 books in the school library. One-third of the books feature gay or trans characters. Cohen wrote, “Freedom to read is the closest thing we have to freedom to think.”

This month, there can be no more pressing public business than to guarantee age-appropriate, open access to all kinds of books by all kinds of writers, for students across the land.

What can we do? Each of us can become familiar with our school and community libraries, stay informed about the books available to teens and oppose efforts by any groups of book police to decide what teenagers should read. In some communities in Florida, a single parent’s complaint about a book in a school library can get it banned.
As Cohen wrote, “The books on any book-ban list, by definition, express feelings, experiences and political views that the prevailing culture prefers to pretend do not exist.”

I think how lonely and desperate teenagers trying to figure out their lives without access to books must feel. Well-written books on racism or sexuality or addiction are a far better source for our kids than TikTok.
We read books for many reasons beyond wanting to be entertained — to solve the mysteries in our lives, to be dazzled or outraged by the way others live. Sometimes we can find our beliefs and lives affirmed in the pages of a new book.

The reason authoritarian entities, be they runaway school boards or governments, ban books is to limit access to ideas that might challenge their power.

We resist by reading and sharing.

The New York Public Library is offering free access to banned books for teenagers anywhere in the country through SimplyE, its e-reader app. The latest banned book pick is “All American Boys,” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. It is available to all readers ages 13 and older.

There are worlds out there to be explored. I have had this joy in my life, and I want the same for every reader.

Copyright 2024 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at