No longer are book bans confined to the realm of middle and high school libraries. Instead, in their latest exercise in paternalism, Christian Nationalists are stepping up their targeting of children’s picture books in school libraries across the country.
The Washington Post analyzed 2,500 pages of book challenges across over 100 districts during the 2021-2022 school year, finding that almost 10 percent of those challenges were levied against picture books designed for emerging readers. According to The Post’s analysis, 75 percent of book challenges target books that contain LGBTQ+ stories or characters. The top motive behind these complaints was to stop kids from being exposed to LGBTQ+ lives.
Fear of social change
As mentioned in previous blog posts on the subject, these book bans are reminiscent of those perpetrated by dictatorial regimes as well as bans implemented by segregationists during the Civil Rights era. Carol Tilley, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, draws specific comparisons between the current complaints and those against The Rabbit’s Wedding, a children’s book that was targeted in the late 1950s for depicting the marriage between a black rabbit and a white rabbit. These calls, she says, “tend to mirror whatever the big social changes are at any particular time.”
In one complaint against Peanut Goes for the Gold, a book featuring a nonbinary guinea pig, a parent stated that “The story would have been fine if the author would have properly identified the hamster as a specific gender. Since the authors [sic] intention was to pervert and confuse science, this entire book should not be considered appropriate for students.”
This complaint is telling. When targeting LGBTQ+-themed books aimed at older readers, Christian Nationalists often gripe about sexual content. But Peanut Goes for the Gold contains no sexual content, and the complaint makes clear that the parent would have accepted the story had the guinea pig been “properly identified.” The issue, then, is not with the content of the book but with the very existence of nonbinary people.
Erasing LGBTQ+ people
Further complaints about Peanut Goes for the Gold (The Post does not state whether this complaint is from the same parent) claim that reading about gender identity will lead to “social isolation, violence, hypersexualization … reduced economic opportunities, anxiety, depression, lack of self identity, and so much more.” How this parent believes the inclusion of a nonbinary character – an identity that has nothing to do with sexual orientation – will result in hypersexualization and violence is unclear. What is clear is that this parent views the very existence of nonbinary people, and any discussions of gender in general, as an existential threat to the wellbeing of children.
Through these complaints, the thinly veiled cover of concern is blown open and the bigoted core is revealed. We have always known that book bans are not implemented for the protection of children. Book bans are, and always have been, a weapon used to attack already marginalized groups. They are a method of censorship and erasure through which extremists attempt to silence those against whom they wish to discriminate.