Controversy over book ban spread across western New York

It’s a heated debate across the country: What kinds of books should children be exposed to?

A recent report from PEN America found that last school year saw more books banned in more states and more districts than last school year.

One place that fights that is burning books.

“All of these books are intriguing,” said Leslie James Pickering, co-owner of Burning Books. “It aims to ignite the mind and get people to think about social change, and how they can participate in making this world a better place.”

This has been the store’s mission for more than a decade so seeing some books being removed from schools and libraries worries Pickering.

“This is the list that the Texas legislature uses,” he said, pointing to a set of featured pages featuring the books on display.

It was enough for Burning Books to put together an entire collection dedicated to these titles.

“These are important issues that are happening in our world right now,” Pickering said. “Anytime there is any kind of book outlawing, it’s really an attack on education, freedom, and consciousness.”

According to PEN America, during the 2021-2022 school year, there were more than 2,500 cases of banned books nationwide.

Of the approximately 1,600 unique titles, about 40% had LGBTQ+ themes or color main characters.

About 20% addressed issues of race/racism or sexual content, whether it was descriptions of sexual assault, a teenage pregnancy, or media material.

Jackie Best started the Erie County chapter of Mothers for Liberty last July. This chapter is one of 11 across New York State.

It is a national group, with over 100,000 members, that advocates for parental rights.

In many cases, this means advocating the restriction or removal of books they deem inappropriate.

“These are books rated R. And whether you agree with that or not, you have to agree that there are fundamental rights that parents should make decisions about what their children read,” Best said.

The best post is when her 9th grader son got a suggested reading list for the summer, some of which she said might contain adult content. Never seen the list.

“My mom brought me these and said, ‘Hey, I’m actually researching these books, and they’re very explicit about sex,'” Best remembers.

For her, the problem is not with LGBTQ+ themes or people of color, but with graphic content, be it text or illustrations.

“Boy fucks boy,” she said, “that’s oral sex,” referring to excerpts from the books in which she disputes.

She says she would like parental advice stickers on these parent books or opt-in forms.

At its most extreme, she said, “Ideally, some of the more obvious books we’d like to remove from school libraries.”

“That doesn’t stop the books,” Best insisted. “These books are available in public libraries. They are available in local libraries. They are not necessary for school libraries.”

Best says she has a spreadsheet full of books they find problematic, but they don’t want to share that with them Spectrum News 1. The ones they posted online mirror some of the 13 bans that were imposed in New York state last school year.

It’s better to say while restrictions are hard to put in here, they won’t stop trying.

She explained, “We fight in all different aspects, not just for books, to say our values ​​matter. Our religious opinions matter and our children should not be exposed to subjects in school that we wouldn’t allow them to have at home.”

“Just because something contains some material that is sexually explicit doesn’t mean it’s not educational or valuable to people, does it,” Pickering asked.

For Pickering, these books, many of which are only found in high schools, are a way to support students with questions about sexuality or expose them to issues that others have encountered. way to increase understanding.

He said, “You can put blinders on people and make them look the other way, but you can’t prevent the sun from showing. There are a lot of other ways to learn more about these things. So would you take the best option? It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.”

None of the books raised by Erie County Moms for Liberty were required to be read, so for him, no problem.

“No one is forcing you to go to that school. Nobody is forcing you to read this book,” he said. Your rights will not be taken away.”

Burning Books will continue to support and make room for banned books, whether or not they are available in schools.

“Just reading something in a book won’t hurt you. And if you don’t want to read it, you don’t have to read it. But for people who want to read it, they should have access to it,” he said. This is a free country … they say”

According to PEN America, there are about 50 groups across the country lobbying for book bans, either nationally, locally, or statewide.

They say 73% of these groups, including chapters, appear to have formed since 2021 and have been involved in more than half of the book bans enacted in the past school year.

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