“I See Myself and the Books Give Me Hope”

Amanda Gorman, the eloquent 25-year-old Harvard graduate who was our nation’s first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, recently became one of the latest authors to have her work banned after a Florida parent petitioned to have The Hill We Climb, the book version of the poem Gorman read at President Biden’s inauguration, removed from the elementary school section of a Miami-Dade County public school library. The parent, who incorrectly attributed the book to Oprah Winfrey, said in her complaint the poem “is not educational and have indirectly [sic] hate messages.” The parent also wrote she believed its function was to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.”

In response, Gorman posted a statement saying she was “gutted” by the book’s removal:

“Book bans aren’t new. But they have been on the rise—according to the [American Library Association], 40% more books were challenged in 2022 compared to 2021. What’s more, often all it takes to remove these works from our libraries and schools is a single objection. And let’s be clear: most of the forbidden works are by authors who have struggled for generations to get on bookshelves. The majority of these censored works are by queer and non-white voices.” She continued: “I wrote The Hill We Climb so that all young people could see themselves in a historical moment. Ever since, I’ve received countless letters and videos from children inspired by The Hill We Climb to write their own poems. Robbing children of the chance to find their voices in literature is a violation of their right to free thought and free speech.”

Gorman noted that her own publisher, Penguin Random House, has already joined PEN America and others in a lawsuit in Escambia County, Florida challenging book restrictions like these, and urged her readers to visit PEN America to learn more and support their challenge. Florida has made many recent headlines for these kinds of bans, and the current climate of hostility towards diversity and inclusion under Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has just led the NAACP to warn against travel to the state. But none of us can be complacent about the growing numbers of book restrictions in school districts and states across the country, including those proposed by uninformed parents who suspect any book written by a Black author or portraying Black history or culture is likely a “hate”-filled threat to their own children’s worldview.

The Children’s Defense Fund has long championed the opposite belief. Hundreds of college-aged servant leaders are preparing right now for training to teach at CDF Freedom Schools® summer programs for children in grades K-12 at sites across the country. These programs are centered around the CDF Freedom Schools’ research-based Integrated Reading Curriculum featuring high quality books reflecting a wide variety of cultures, races, and experiences. For some children, it’s the first time they’ve seen books with characters who look like them and share some of the struggles in their lives. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, and just as children of color need to be able to see themselves in the books they read, all children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are. As one CDF Freedom Schools scholar said, “I see myself and the books give me hope.”

We believe experiences like these should be encouraged for all children. During National Reading Month the CDF Freedom Schools program created a list of “Banned Books We Love,” a five-week curriculum of excellent diverse books for every reading level from K through 12th. Now is the time to add some of them to the summer reading list in your home this year! Children everywhere deserve the chance to find and choose books that will allow them to see themselves, understand what they have in common with others, and give them hope. As Amanda Gorman also wrote, “Together, this is a hill we won’t just climb, but a hill we will conquer.”