Controversial Literature: Endangering Innocence or Exposing Reality?

Parent group calls out schools for having controversial books in school libraries, ultimately causing several student groups to push back.

Check out all books banned by school libraries in the photo gallery above.

Photo by Richard Burns

Northland school libraries traditionally provide a quiet reserve of information, technology, resources and entertainment. Although now, they remain in the center of controversy as a Northland parent group attempted to pull the books from shelves due to their content. Many of these books deal with issues centered around sexuality, gender identity and race.

One of the books in school libraries being threatened was named as Amazon’s Best Book of the Year. The award-winning book, titled “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” contains a series of personal essays in which the author, well-known journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson, writes about his childhood. With written depictions of sexual content, Johnson attempts to share his experience through a coming of age narrative.

Not only do these books serve as a way for people to see their stories represented, but it also acts as a really good educational resource…Previous generations worked really hard to ensure a better future for us, so we shouldn’t silence their voices when that education could be used for good.”

— Sullivan

To some, this book communicates the realistic and truthful experiences of many LGBTQ individuals. According to Fox 4 News, for others, such as the President of the Northland Parent Association, James Richmond, the book depicts “something that a minor shouldn’t have access to.”

Another piece of literature, “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel, which depicts sexually explicit illustartions between two women, was removed from North Kansas City, Oak Park, Winnetonka and Staley high schools, along with “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” At LHS, the books were pulled for a requested assessment of content.

“Books are chosen for the library collection based on professional reviews from multiple sources,” said the LHS library in a statement. “LPS considers the varied interests, abilities and maturity levels of the students served. Students are encouraged to exchange books that are not a good fit for them. Our library staff is always willing to help students find books that match their interests. There is a process in place for reviewing classroom and/or library materials… Currently, there is one book in the review process.”

Young Democrats, a high school club whose presence is at the forefront of protection for the books, started a petition to keep the books on library shelves.

Photo by Richard Burns

“Not only do these books serve as a way for people to see their stories represented, but it also acts as a really good educational resource,” Young Democrats member senior Bella Sullivan said. “He [George M. Johnson] wrote that book [All Boys Aren’t Blue] because he wished someone told him about the challenges that he would’ve faced, and potentially, how to overcome them—maybe even how to gain acceptance and find joy within life. Previous generations worked really hard to ensure a better future for us, so we shouldn’t silence their voices when that education could be used for good.”

“I understand their struggles and it’s not lost on me,” Ryan Utterback, a North Kansas City parent who stands in support of the book ban, said. “But again those conversations are to be had at home. Only I have their intimate understanding as to what is and isn’t appreciated for my children.”

I understand their struggles and it’s not lost on me. But again those conversations are to be had at home. Only I have their intimate understanding as to what is and isn’t appreciated for my children.”

— Utterback

“I think books in the library need to be school appropriate. If people want to have things in there that aren’t appropriate for children they can read them in public libraries, but they need to keep them out of our school,” said one source, who requested to be anonymous. “It doesn’t matter where they see it, they shouldn’t allow graphic content like that in the books for students and kids to see.”

With no definite widespread solution on how to handle the matter, these books, and other literature alike, have made controversy nationally. States like Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Virginia and Texas are all facing their own decision-making controversies surrounding both “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Fun Home”.