Kicking Off Banned Books Week

There was a time when I devoted every column in September to books that appear on the American Library Association’s annual “Ten Most Frequently Challenged List,” sometimes called “The Banned Books List.”

Not anymore.

The problem is that the same titles appear year after year. These days, I can’t find four or five “new” books to write about. Eight of the ten most frequently challenged books on the 2017 list are ones I’ve already reviewed. So I’ve decided to start and end this special week, devoted to celebrating the right to read controversial or unpopular literature, with the only two books from the list that I’d never read before.

Today’s feature is “Sex Is a Funny Word,” written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smith. Published in 2015 by Seven Stories Press, it occupies sixth place on this year’s list. A book is “challenged” if someone has officially requested that it be removed from a school or public library or from the school curriculum because it’s offensive or inappropriate. Not surprisingly, many of these books contain “objectionable”sexual content.

“Sex Is a Funny Word” is no exception.  Written and illustrated in comic book style, the book has been praised by some as “an essential resource about bodies, gender and sexuality for children ages eight to ten and their parents and caregivers.” “Funny Word” is inclusive of lesbian, gay and bisexual experience as well as gender creative and gender non-conforming children and those with transsexual and intersex bodies and experiences.

That’s precisely why some adults want it pulled from library and classroom shelves.

“This book is nonscientific propaganda that provides more confusion than clarity,” one critic opined. “It might be okay for kids struggling with gender identity and self-esteem but not for run-of-the-mill kids.” Other critics are more direct. “This book was written to promote the LGBTQ agenda,” one wrote.

Topics covered in “Sex Is a Funny Word” include What Is Sex? Learning About Our Bodies; Crushes, Love and Relationships; Boys, Girls and All of Us; and Touching. That’s the section I found most valuable because it talks about appropriate and inappropriate touching, including secret touching. Here’s what it says: “The way you can tell if touching is wrong is that the person doing it makes you keep it a secret…It’s never your fault…If this happens to you, find someone you trust and tell them.”

So who’s right—the folks who think “Sex Is a Funny Word” is an excellent resource for children or those who want it pulled from the shelves? As with most controversies, the answer is in the eye of the beholder. The good news is that the book is available at the Putnam County Library. You can read it and decide for yourself.

The same holds true for the controversial Young Adult novel I’ll write about next week. Stay tuned.

(September 23, 2018)