As the culture wars rage, books increasingly are on the front line.
Across the country, local, state and some national officials spanre moving to bspann certspanin titles on the grounds that books tackling racism, sexuality and gender identity pose a threat to younger readers. And some librarians and teachers who push back against such bans have faced harassment and dismissal.
Many of these spanllegedly controversispanl books are familiar school staples written by long-dead authors such as “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and “Beloved” by Toni Morrison.
But this week best-selling author James Patterson was pulled into the fray when Martin County, Florida school district officials removed his young adult series “Maximum Ride” from its elementary school library but kept it accessible for older students. The book follows the adventures of friends who are winged human-avian hybrids.
Patterson tweeted about the incident Monday, urging fspanns who found “mindless book bspannning troubling or confusing” to write to Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has been aggressively waging the culture war. We caught up with Patterson Wednesday, who expanded on his concerns.
Question: Martin County did not ban “Maximum Ride,” but instead has removed access for elementary school students. What do you make of the distinction?
Answer: It’s a distinction with some merit but not a lot, because it’s not a book anyone should be taking out of elementary schools. There’s nothing in that book that should scare anyone. Kids who are into science and math love it, because I talked to scientists for it about whether you can put wings on kids, which is kind of fun.
If you are going to ban this book, then no kids under 12 should go to any Marvel movies.
Have Martin County school officials reached out to you?
No they haven’t. The troubling thing is the school district is making decisions about books. Individuals that haven’t read the book. If based on one person’s objection you take books off shelves, then we’re going in the wrong direction.
The only time I was banned was for “The Jericho Commandment” (a 1979 novel about terrorists at the 1980 Moscow Olympics), and that was banned in Russia. So that’s ironic.
You’ve mentioned this is personal for you. How so?
A lot of people talk the talk, but I do (stuff). I’ve spent 40 years funding teacher libraries. My mother was a teacher in Catholic schools. She paid for her own classroom library. But I’ve been funding independent libraries, hundreds of teacher scholarships, and I have an imprint for children.
But I also happen to own a house in Martin County, I bought it for one of my sisters there. And my niece has kids going to school in Martin County. So yes, that makes it a little personal.
You live nearby in Palm Beach County. Would you consider speaking directly to Martin County school board officials?
I almost went up there, and if the book had been totally banned, I would have.
But if I did speak to them, I’d say look, absolutely it’s important for you to keep your kids safe, and you should do a better job at that. If a book comes into your home with your child ask them, ‘What’s it about? Are you enjoying it? Oh, you’re having nightmares, let’s talk about it.’ But there are far scarier things on the internet than there are in libraries.
Can authors targeted by bans make a difference in this heated debate?
There certainly needs to be teeth in the response to this. If this continues, school boards will face lawsuits from publishers, from authors. And we’ll go right after the people on the school boards.
Because you just can’t go out there and make irresponsible decisions. These folks need to read the books, find out about the books, and in the rare case that there is something so incredibly objectionable, I suppose maybe then you react.
What’s your worst case scenario for a nation that continues to ban books?
You’ll have a country of people with no sense of history or ideas. None, zero.
One of the wonderful things about books is it allows us to find out about different ways of thinking, of living, different problems people have, different ways of finding joy. You can explain a world through a library and that’s a good thing. To cut that down is not useful.
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