Here's What Book Banning Means For Latinx Communities

With only 6% of children's books representing Latinx kids, Latina author and mother, Meg Medina, explains how pulling books off of shelves effects marginalized communities.

book banning for latinx kids

As a children's book author, a mom, and a former public-school teacher, I've spent most of my adult life thinking about the needs of kids and how to use books to help them as they grow up.

But as we celebrate National Library Week this year I worry as never before about my readers and my fellow Latinx book creators.

Meg Medina Named National Ambassador For Young People's Literature

In January 2023, the Library of Congress named Meg Medina the new national ambassador for young people's literature. Medina, who is of Cuban descent, is the first Latinx ambassador in the history of the program, following in the footsteps of authors like Jason Reynolds, Gene Luen Yang, and Jacqueline Woodson. She is also a champion of diverse books and won the Newbery Medal in 2019 for her middle grade novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears.

“It’s an enormous honor to advocate for the reading and writing lives of our nation’s children and families,” Medina said in a statement issued by the Library of Congress. “More than anything, I want to make reading and story-sharing something that happens beyond classroom and library walls. I want to tap into books and stories as part of everyday life, with all of us coming to the table to share the tales that speak to us and that broaden our understanding of one another.”

Calls to challenge "offensive" books in 2021 will likely have doubled the number of reports from 2020, according to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. And while efforts to ban books for sexual content, vulgar language, non-Christian teachings, and other reasons are nothing new, the precipitous uptick is an especially chilling twist in a country that 62.1 million Latinxs call home.

The current call to action? Removing culturally divisive materials. But who decides what is divisive and what is essential information?

Couched under the umbrella of parental rights, some of our community's most highly-decorated authors, such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Benjamin Alire, and Ashley Hope Perez, to name just a few, have had their works removed from book shelves in school and public libraries. My own 2014 novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, a story about school bullying, is now included on No Left Turn's list of books that should be banned for purportedly "teaching critical race theory."

So, what are we as Latinx parents to make of this? Can any mention of our cultural point of view or difficult histories now be declared offensive?

Book banning is an act of fear and one with disproportionate risk to Black and brown children. When we allow the stigmatization of books that name the lived experiences of a community, we're cutting that community off from its most powerful resource for success: the power of its own stories.

Books do so much more than help children learn to read. They can open the doors for deep conversations with their friends, teachers, and parents about the world around them and the questions they have about it. They offer a place for self-reflection and a window into the lives of others. And for Latinx kids whose stories only represented about 6 percent of children's books in 2020 according to the University of Wisconsin–which has tracked the data since since 1985 –books are critical to their healthy growth. They allow our youth to see themselves not only in the pages of a book but also, by extension, as part of the American story as a whole.

To be clear: Every parent is entitled to engage with their child about what they read. Parents should always be at liberty to ask for an alternative assignment in classrooms, too.

But banning books for an entire school or community is a recipe for disaster. Such reactions ultimately protect no one. When we pull books from shelves, we push kids to secrecy or shame. We undermine the work of teachers and librarians who build collections using their shared literary and educational expertise. And worst of all, we run the risk of implying that one version of life is acceptable.

Ashley Hope Perez

If we want to raise young people who are ready to succeed, learn, and love in a diverse and complex world, we need to give them access to challenging literature that represents a range of American experiences, not just the dominant culture.

—Ashley Hope Perez

"If we want to raise young people who are ready to succeed, learn, and love in a diverse and complex world, we need to give them access to challenging literature that represents a range of American experiences, not just the dominant culture," says Ashley Hope-Perez, author of the highly-decorated and often-challenged young adult novel, Out of Darkness which won the 2016 Américas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, the 2016 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, and numerous other distinctions. "It's 2022, not 1922, and the books in libraries need to reflect that."

Here's 3 easy ways to support your child's inclusive reading life.

  • Talk to your kids about the books they're reading and ask what they think of them.
  • Read challenged books yourself so you don't get rattled by quotes taken out of context.
  • Volunteer to serve on the book review committee at your child's school or district so that, if a challenge is made, your voice will be heard.

Meg Medina is the 2019 Newbery medalist for Merci Suárez Changes Gears and is the author of numerous other award-winning works for children.

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