By Maggie Stern
Texas is once again making national headlines, as our politicians strive to erase Black, queer, and other marginalized children from school libraries and history books.
A current state investigation targets a list of 850 books—though it has no authority to take action against school districts or libraries that house those books. As I took a closer look at the 850 books on the list, review after review showed a similar refrain: these books encourage kids to practice empathy and love. These books enable students to learn from the mistakes of our past to help create a better future. These books will save lives.
It’s no wonder that these books became the target of politicians who have spent the past year fearmongering against civic education, racial justice, and the foundations of our democracy. Over 60 books on the list tackle topics of race and racism, while another 100 merely include characters of color—most of them Black children—as protagonists or supporting characters. Around 80 discuss student rights, youth advocacy, and activism. Some highlights:
- Not My Idea, a children’s picture book about a white student who visits a library to learn about the history of white supremacy and recognizes their pivotal role in advancing racial justice;
- The Year They Burned the Books, a story of students advocating to keep adults from burning books in their school libraries;
- We March, which illustrates the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke the words that have been bastardized by politicians to pass censorship laws;
- This is Your Time, part-memoir, part-call-to-action book by Ruby Bridges about her role in integrating public schools as a child; and
- Wide Awake, (presciently published in 2008) tells the story of a presidential election where a governor declares that the vote is invalid and therefore the losing candidate should win.
The books also cover other marginalized communities and essential rights currently under attack by state leaders. Of the nearly 850 books on the list, well over half feature queer characters or discuss sexual orientation and gender identity. Seventy-three books discuss abortion, including 56 nonfiction books and 17 fiction books where characters consider or have abortions. (Ironically, for a list inspired by a law that purportedly encourages teachers to discuss “both sides” of contemporary issues, most of the nonfiction books have titles like “Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints”).
And no matter the topic, book after book on the list features teens and young adults sharing their stories of sexual orientation, pregnancy, discrimination, abortion, advocacy, and more.
It is easy to ridicule this list. It is, in a sense, ridiculous that old, white politicians think they can prevent young people from accessing information in a digital age. But libraries remain vital intersections where young Texans can explore their burgeoning curiosity and identities with the support of librarians, who are professionally trained to order and recommend appropriate books, and parents, who then discuss and contextualize the material they read with their children.
This list represents far more than a distraction from other policy failures harming Texas children and families. It is a serious escalation of a well-funded and deep-rooted political agenda that aims to attack public education, exclude marginalized children from the classroom, and stifle youth voices as young people are engaging in their communities in record numbers.
Texas youth are watching. They will see this attack for what it is, in spite of these lawmakers’ best efforts to prevent that.
In the coming weeks, CDF-Texas will be sharing what these books mean to our staff and our young advocates. We hope state lawmakers will take note and consider adding these books to their own reading lists.