Books lined up in a row on a library shelf, their spines facing away from the camera.

New Jersey Librarian Shares a Trick for Educators Fighting Book Censorship

Book bans have been rising in popularity. I feel like many who are against this have just been floating out in the world saying, “This is wrong,” or “This is control,” but don’t have the tools to combat these egregious bans. There are some ways to show support, but new tactics could certainly be helpful for the cause. One such tactic is being highlighted by a New Jersey librarian. She promotes book resumes.

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Librarian Martha Hickson recently spoke at School Library Journal‘s Censorship Town Hall and discussed the concept of book resumes because the inclusion of her own book, Fun Home, in her library’s collection was challenged back in 2019 by her superintendent. Book resumes can be helpful because they give people a better sense of what books are actually about and include reviews from different sources. As someone who has done a lot of research for my educational degrees, I find reviews helpful—a great way to get a look into a source is to see what others have been saying about it.

This isn’t the be-all and end-all solution, but it is definitely illuminating. Hickson’s book resumes also mention any awards won, as knowing that some of these works are critically acclaimed can help provide credence. This might not be the case for every book that may be banned or threatened, but could be the case for some. The book resumes can also include news articles that discuss any book ban challenges the work may have faced and how they were overcome. All of this information combined can provide important context for why these books should remain in libraries instead of just relying on the right vs. wrong argument.

School Library Journal has provided a great example of a book resume for Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. It starts with the reviews, which give a good look into what the book is about. Here’s one that I particularly like: 

“Kobabe’s path to understanding eir gender and sexuality comes into beautiful focus in this graphic memoir, expressively illustrated with retro colors and simple lines. Readers will recognize a kindred spirit in Kobabe and/or gain insight into what it’s like to identify outside of the cisgender/heterosexual ‘norm.’”

Young Adult Library Services Association

This example is useful because it tells you right off the bat that this book will explore gender and sexuality, so people can start to think of what age group this may be appropriate for. It’s also telling us that the reader will be taken into a world that is outside of the norm.

Another review the book resume features that I like, from Publishers Weekly, reads: “This entertaining memoir-as-guide holds crossover appeal for mature teens (with a note there’s some sexually explicit content) and is sure to spark valuable discussions at home and in classrooms.” I find this helpful because it is honest by saying there’s some sexually explicit content. Again, this can help those in power and parents make fair and honest decisions about which grades may be able to read it. They aren’t trying to hide anything or be devious. Other reviews give their opinion on what age it is intended for; one reviewer says for ages 13+, and another reviewer says they recommend the book for grades 11 and up. These opinions help us understand what is in the book and the content that can be expected. 

One last review included in Gender Queer‘s book resume that I will bring up is from USA Today. It gives a concise description of the book and how it’s about growing up gender nonconforming. This review, coming from such a prominent news source, helps the credibility of the book as a whole.

Hickman’s Gender Queer book resume ends by mentioning some awards it has won and some notable lists that the book was included on. One such list is the Denver Public Schools Top 100 High School Books, 2020-21. Another list is the Texas Library Association: Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List, 2020. These are important because they show the different kinds of lists the book was included on—best for teens, best overall, and more. They also prove that the work has been highlighted and read in different locations. Denver is quite different from Texas, so showing the wide range of support for this book can help with trying to explain the book’s importance and appeal to naysayers.

Overall, I think book resumes are a great idea for challenging book bans and something I had never heard or thought of. So much of right-wing strategy is rooted in fear of the unknown, and something as simple as these book resumes can hopefully help get rid of that.

(via School Library Journal, featured image: Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash)

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