Tell Missouri School Boards and Districts to Reverse Overzealous Book Bans
To Missouri School Boards and Districts,
We, the undersigned, join authors, illustrators, and the literary and free expression organization PEN America, to protest the alarming book bans that have been enacted in Missouri schools this fall. These bans represent a grave threat to the freedom to read, much to the detriment of students across the state.
These bans have been enacted largely in reaction to a provision in Senate Bill 775, which makes the distribution of material deemed “harmful to minors” to students in Missouri by any school official (educators, librarians, student teachers, coaches) or by any visitor to a school, a misdemeanor punishable by fines or jail time.
What is the definition of "harmful"? Who decides? The new law focuses on “visual depictions” and “sexual material,” and some school boards and officials have interpreted it broadly, removing an astonishing range of material: dozens of graphic novels and comics, books with photography, memoirs, and books about art history. In the ten weeks since the provision went into effect, at least 11 school districts have banned over 300 books. Several districts banned books from their libraries permanently. In one district, over 200 books came off library shelves for an indeterminate period of “review.”
Provisions in the law that exempt materials of artistic or anthropological significance are clearly being ignored. Students have been barred from checking out works on Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, graphic novel adaptations of classics by Shakespeare and Mark Twain as well as The Gettysburg Address, the Pulitzer-prize winning Maus, and other books about the Holocaust. Districts have banned comics about Batman, X-Men, and Watchmen; The Complete Guide to Drawing & Painting by Reader’s Digest; Women (a book of photographs by Annie Leibovitz); and The Children’s Bible.
Such overzealous book banning is going to do more harm than good. Book bans limit opportunities for students to see themselves in literature and to build empathy for experiences different from their own. They deprive students of the freedom to read--to think, to imagine, to grow. And photographs and illustrations can be vital to storytelling: a window into the past, a means of reflecting the human condition, a tool for helping reluctant readers engage with literature.
Students in Missouri are having these educational opportunities denied. They are bearing the brunt of a hasty and poorly considered reaction to a broadly worded provision that has spurred censorious acts across the state. They are having their right to access a diversity of ideas, information, art, and literature in school libraries diminished.
We urge school district officials in these 11 districts to reverse these dangerous bans, and to put materials back on shelves where students can regain access to them.
Laurie Halse Anderson
Carmen Maria Machado
Colleen AF Venable