We are living in a golden age of children’s literature. It is a wonderful time to be a reader. Some of these books provide much needed entertainment and laughs; some let your imagination soar; still others will literally give you goosebumps. I am a fan of all children’s literature, from picture books, to middle grade novels, to young adult novels, and everything in between. It is, however, the books that fearlessly tackle many of the harsh issues children face that really call to me. These are the books that stay with me long after I’ve read the last words. And these books are a necessary part of a school library’s collection.
Unfortunately, such books are often challenged in school libraries, as many parents don’t want their children reading about the horrible realities of life. They feel that not talking about a difficult topic will ensure it never touches their children. But the sad fact is, there are many children today who are living with these issues. Reading a book about a family that is like theirs can give them strength and hope, it can make them feel less alone. Two of my favorite books from 2016 were middle grade novels that dealt with these issues. The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner addresses addiction, and Still a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles addresses eating disorders. On The Nerdy Book Club blog, these two authors had a discussion about the importance of including “issue” books in school libraries. The full post can be found here, but I want to share some of the thoughts from Jo Knowles.
Statistically speaking, death, eating disorders, homophobia, addiction, abuse, etc., are not new concepts to many young kids. So when censors argue that keeping books like ours out of kids’ hands will somehow protect them, it’s very disheartening. These books show kids they aren’t alone, and at the very least can offer some comfort and hope. For those who are more fortunate and don’t yet know these things exist, it could help them develop empathy and understanding for those going through tough times. There are gentle, hopeful ways books can introduce the realities of the world to children. These books help children navigate their way into adolescence and adulthood. Sheltering them will not.
I hope you will look at your collection and consider adding some issue books to it. There are children in your school who desperately need books like these, and they will thank you for it.