Banned books and how to talk to your kids about them : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders Guest host Ayesha Rascoe is joined by NPR senior editor Barrie Hardymon and Traci Thomas, host of The Stacks podcast, to talk about banned books. They talk about why it's important for kids to discover books freely, even if that means starting a hard conversation with them. They also discuss their favorite — and least favorite — books that often show up on banned book lists.

What people miss in the conversation about banned books

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

What's your favorite book?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My Eevee - "All About Eevee" book. Eevee is a Pokemon.

RASCOE: Oh, yeah, so the "All About Eevee" book. Gabrielle (ph), what's your favorite book?

GABRIELLE: My favorite book - it's the dinosaur one.

RASCOE: Now, Annalise (ph), what is your favorite book?

ANNALISE: "Wacky Wednesday."

RASCOE: What do you like about "Wacky Wednesday"?

ANNALISE: (Unintelligible).

RASCOE: Everything was wacky.

Three, two, one.

GABRIELLE: Wait.

ANNALISE: Let's start the show.

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RASCOE: Hey, everybody. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Ayesha Rascoe, filling in for Sam Sanders. And today we're talking about books and the recent battles over some of them. Now, what a society teaches its children really says something about what it values. So it's no surprise that schools have been ideological battlegrounds over and over again. This year we've seen the backlash against so-called critical race theory and also a push for state laws targeting trans kids. These fights have trickled down to school libraries and classrooms and which books you should or shouldn't find there. Calls to ban books are popping up all over the place.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Texas Republicans are launching an investigation into what types of books school districts have, specifically ones that pertain to race and sexuality.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: In a letter...

RASCOE: A Texas state lawmaker recently put together a list of roughly 850 books that, quote, "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish and any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex."

TRACI THOMAS: One of the things I loved about school was being in a space where I could feel guilty, anguished and all of these things in sort of a controlled environment.

RASCOE: That's Traci Thomas. She's the host of "The Stacks" podcast.

THOMAS: Like, in the classroom, not in the locker room - right? - but, like, in the classroom, where we get to talk about these things - I mean, that was my favorite part of school.

BARRIE HARDYMON, BYLINE: I, too, loved school.

RASCOE: And that's NPR's senior editor Barrie Hardymon.

HARDYMON: And I sort of loved it for maybe a different reason than you did, Traci. I loved being in the school library because it was a place that maybe I could read transgressive things without somebody looking over my shoulder.

RASCOE: And, no surprise, but I loved school, too, and all the books that I could read there. So I asked Traci and Barrie, my fellow book nerds, to take a closer look at some of these recent banned books lists to see what themes come up most, what the parents should have a say, and also to offer some reading recommendations. They brought some good ones.

OK, let's get back to Traci.

THOMAS: But as far as the banning of the books, 850 books is a lot of books. And, also, there's a lot of students. So if we're trying to control what makes students feel things, I think we're not going to be able to do any books, you know, 'cause...

HARDYMON: Mmm hmm.

RASCOE: Yeah, because "The Cat In The Hat" could make you upset, right? Like...

THOMAS: Right. Right.

HARDYMON: Actually, that book does make me upset.

RASCOE: It could make you...

HARDYMON: It's really upsetting.

RASCOE: It's really...

HARDYMON: I'm not kidding. Like, yeah.

RASCOE: Really? What about "The Cat In Hat" makes you upset?

HARDYMON: Well, 'cause the mom, like, would - they have to clean up - the cat won't listen to them. The mom is gone. You're so stressed out. I couldn't read that as a child. Anyway, I'm sorry to have digressed, but...

RASCOE: No, no, no. Exactly. And that cat is so bad, and it's very stressful. And where is the supervision?

HARDYMON: Yeah, that cat is of a jerk.

RASCOE: Yes.

HARDYMON: Yes, I ask you.

THOMAS: I'm with you. I'm with you.

HARDYMON: I'm sorry. I'm so sorry (laughter).

THOMAS: I am not a fan of "The Cat In The Hat," to be honest. I'm happy to remove it from the schools - the Barrie rule.

HARDYMON: (Laughter).

THOMAS: But I think also, like, we have to define what students are we talking about...

RASCOE: Yes.

THOMAS: ...You know, and what parents are we talking about because we're using that word - not we as in the three of us, but we as in, like, the greater cultural conversation. And it really means white students and white parents.

RASCOE: Yes.

THOMAS: And I think that if that's the conversation, I can understand how there might be books that might make you feel guilty or uncomfortable. But also, white parents and white students aren't the only people who are in schools. So I think that that's also, like, the much bigger issue of this conversation.

RASCOE: And, Barrie, I mean, what are you feeling about this push and this focus on books in particular? And at first, it seemed like, you know, we're trying to get rid of pornography; we're trying to get rid of this or that. And then it's like, you see the books that they're getting rid of, and it's like civil rights, like, Ruby Bridges, like...

HARDYMON: Oh, my God, yeah.

RASCOE: ...Integrating schools.

HARDYMON: That one knocked me out.

RASCOE: It's like, oh, it makes the parents who were opposing integration look bad. And it's like, well (laughter).

HARDYMON: I mean - like, yeah, let's have a conversation about that.

RASCOE: Yeah.

HARDYMON: This is where, you know, when you talk about banned books - like, I definitely come from the premise of, like, no book should be banned, or almost no book. Like, I know it's hard to argue this because of "Camp Of The Saints" and "Mein Kampf." But within reason, in a school library, a university library, no book should be banned. And now that I've said that, I feel really strongly about "Cat In The Hat" and "Magic Tree House."

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

HARDYMON: But that said - but so where is it banned? If you are talking about banning it from a library, that's just so absurd, because for me, the pleasure of the library was kind of transgressive. It was sneaking around to read "Flowers In The Attic" and "Wifey," like, and it's - you know, "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret." Like, I don't know that that's a very helpful book anymore. But at the time, I was like, oh, surprise.

So, you know, first of all, library reading is supposed to be expansive. But now, here is where everything meets, and especially when you're talking about this push with critical race theory, is that teaching books - right? - curriculum books, which often sort of, you know, crossover with the canon. And this is where I really think a certain kind of lawmaker goes crazy, which is that they're in a special category. And I would agree that we need to be intentional about the books we use and how we teach them, you know?

There are wonderful books out there that I think can be taught very badly. And so these are books in which we use to show the world at large to children. These are sort of two different kinds of banning. And they're both bad, but I don't want anyone reading "Flowers In The Attic" in their 10th grade class, but I certainly want it to be available to kids as an outlet for their puberty, aggression, like, all the stuff that's going to happen to them, you know? So that is - I guess that's how I sort of view it. And as a parent, I very much want my children to be taught things that make them uncomfortable and to be able to find things that make me uncomfortable.

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RASCOE: Coming up, how parents can deal with that discomfort. I mean, we're talking about books here. What's the worst that can happen?

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RASCOE: I think we're all parents on this call. Like, as this topic came up, I was trying to think like, OK, I got three kids. My oldest is just 8. Like, if they're going around and finding a book, like, is there something that would be super upsetting to me? And my thing was - especially, like, when you talk about being in the library and reading transgressive things, I mean, I'm just like, if a kid is in a library and they're reading a book...

HARDYMON: Yeah. You won.

RASCOE: ...That just seems like a win.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: Yeah. That's right.

RASCOE: I mean, how can you even read pornography, I mean, especially in this day and age? Like, how's that even possible, right?

HARDYMON: Right.

RASCOE: Like, I mean, they're reading.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: And also, let's not pretend that children now are going to books for pornography.

RASCOE: Yes. Exactly (laughter).

THOMAS: Like, they have the internet. They have OnlyFans.

HARDYMON: I know. I wish they were.

RASCOE: That's my thing (laughter).

HARDYMON: Wouldn't life be better? Like, I learned about sex from reading "The Godfather." You know what I mean?

RASCOE: Yes. Yes.

HARDYMON: Like, now you could go other places.

RASCOE: And now you're going to other places. And you're seeing things. I'm like, a book would probably be - I mean, a book is going to be tame compared to what you can even see on Twitter. Like, people...

THOMAS: Right. Right.

HARDYMON: That's right.

RASCOE: People share porn on Twitter. It's very shocking, but they do. So (laughter) have you guys seen any of these issues play out in your children's school? I don't know if everybody's in school. I'm sure it's probably not playing out in nursery school. But...

THOMAS: No. I can tap out of this. My kids are almost 2.

RASCOE: OK.

THOMAS: And they are really big on "Goodnight Moon." So...

RASCOE: "Goodnight Moon." It's a little controversial (laughter).

THOMAS: And you know what, I'm going to ban it from my house because I'm tired of it.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

THOMAS: I'm tired of the quiet, old lady who keeps whispering hush. Like...

HARDYMON: Oh, my God. Hush, hush. Hush yourself.

RASCOE: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

HARDYMON: Yeah. Yeah.

RASCOE: So, Barrie, have you seen any of this at your kid's school? Or...

HARDYMON: So not at our school. But I definitely - I think that I am maybe one of the more permissive reading moms out there. And so - you know, I have a 10-year-old who does actually, you know, wants to sort of find books on his own, which I'm grateful for. And, you know, he came back, I guess, a year and a half ago with "The Hunger Games." And it caused this little scandal on my text chain because...

RASCOE: They felt like it was too old for him?

HARDYMON: Well, because he was, like, singing the praises of it. And their kids were like, I want to read "The Hunger Games." And they were like - and I think they were sort of at a moment where they didn't feel like they wanted to have a conversation about this sort of gladiatorial stuff with kids, like that it was too violent. And that - you know, I respectfully do disagree. I mean, the thing that is a pain when your child brings home something that is either too old for them or you don't think they understand properly - I mean, a lot of times, if your kid brings home something that you think is problematic, which they're going to do, like, then you're like, oh, crap. Now I got to engage with them on this.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yeah.

HARDYMON: You know, with "Hunger Games," I had to say, you know, that's kind of crazy. Those are kids killing kids. Like, you know, I had to have a conversation.

RASCOE: Yeah.

HARDYMON: So the problem with being more permissive in that is that you have to, you know, engage more. And, like, my little one, who's 8, is really into what he calls horror. And I don't know what that is, really, to him. But he's, like, into zombies and ghouls. And I hate that stuff. And, you know...

RASCOE: Oh, I love that stuff. I got recommendations (laughter).

HARDYMON: Oh, my God. Great - especially that are age-appropriate, because I'm like - because he was like, can you tell me the whole plot of "It"?

RASCOE: (Laughter).

HARDYMON: And I was like, well, surely, I can do that. And I did. I was like...

RASCOE: Yes.

HARDYMON: ...I'm going to spoil this book for you. That's fine. And I'm going to cut out that terrible business with the sex.

RASCOE: Oh, yeah. There are bad things that happen in "It." It's not for kids.

HARDYMON: Yeah. I mean, it's - but so I told him the whole plot of it. And then, he said, is there something that I can read that's for me? And I thought, OK, well, now I have to do the work of finding an 8-year-old horror series. So I will appreciate whatever you have to give me.

RASCOE: And he's already read "Scary Stories To Read In The Dark"?

HARDYMON: Yes.

RASCOE: He's already read that. OK. I'll try to think of some more.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: Anthologies are good, like, kids' ghost stories, anthologies. That's what I did. I used to read a lot of ghost short stories. And my mother did not like it. You know, she's very religious.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: My babysitter at the time told her that she should not have been allowing me to read all of these demonic books.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: That's amazing.

RASCOE: But she let me keep reading them.

HARDYMON: Because you might end up working in public radio.

RASCOE: I might end up working in public radio talking about demons all the time. It's...

HARDYMON: That's amazing.

RASCOE: I mean, you know, I do think there's something about this, like, parental involvement. At, like, my kid's school, this hasn't come up. It's - you know, most of the kids are lower income. Like, 92% qualify for free and reduced lunch. And I don't see this sort of movement here, not because I don't even think the parents may - there may be certain they don't want their kids to read. I just don't feel like they have the time or the resources to do this. I feel like this is a movement for people who have a lot of time.

HARDYMON: Time and...

RASCOE: And a lot of money.

HARDYMON: Yes, money.

RASCOE: And money and resources to really take this on.

THOMAS: And a lot of ego...

RASCOE: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Oh, I know.

THOMAS: ...Like, that they really think that they know what's best for all the other students. Because I think - even, Ayesha, hearing you say that your mom didn't want you reading demonic books because of her own personal religious beliefs, I don't know that she necessarily needed all of the books that had demons in it taken from all of the other students in the school...

RASCOE: No. No.

HARDYMON: Right. That's such a good point.

THOMAS: ...You know? Like, there's a difference between what makes you uncomfortable as a parent and then what you think all other students in your school district should be allowed to read, you know? There's, like, a distinction there.

HARDYMON: That's right.

RASCOE: And that's the thing, because if you start letting parents make the decisions, it sounds good, but when the parents disagree, then who wins, right? Like...

HARDYMON: Does it sound good? It sounds like a lot of work to me.

THOMAS: (Laughter).

RASCOE: It sounds like a lot of work, but it's - for some parents, they're like, yeah, I want to have a say. But then it's like, OK, well, what about when this parent disagrees with you? And what about that parent over there who you don't like and she - you know what I'm saying? It's - it gets complicated.

HARDYMON: That's right.

RASCOE: So we had you guys look at some of these lists of banned books. And did you see some common threads? Like, what does it seem like people are trying to ban? Like, are there some themes that keep popping up?

THOMAS: Yeah. I saw a lot of books by Black authors, authors of color talking about race. I saw a lot of books about and by queer authors, particularly the more recent lists targeting trans and genderfluid authors.

HARDYMON: Mmm hmm.

THOMAS: I saw a lot of books, weirdly, about, like, history, just like, general - like, Rosa Parks' book, you know, like, books about, like, things that I sort of thought were settled history, which was a little shocking to me.

RASCOE: Well, a lot of bad things happened in history. We don't want to go there (laughter).

THOMAS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Right.

THOMAS: But it's weird to be like, OK, let's relitigate Ruby Bridges. Like, I feel like we did this.

HARDYMON: Yes.

THOMAS: I feel like we've come to a consensus on what that story is, even if it's not the full, true story, that, like, this is a generally OK civil rights moment that white people are now OK with talking about publicly. So seeing things like that on there was definitely shocking to me - and then things that had sex in them.

HARDYMON: I was going to add, like, another thing that I saw, you know, some of was the science stuff, like what's happening to my body stuff.

THOMAS: Oh, right.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

HARDYMON: Like, for God's sake, don't tell them. Don't tell them. Just quietly wash the sheets.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

HARDYMON: Like, what a - like, that, to me, is like, come on.

RASCOE: You know, this is - and this is a good example. You know, I'm just sharing a lot today. My - when I got my first period as a very young girl, my mother's way of dealing with it was - and I was also the kid who loved books and very good in school and a nerd. She just gave me two books, and she said, here you go (laughter).

HARDYMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: She just sent me on my - it was just like a - it was like a picture book, but it was like, this is what happens when you get your period. This is where babies come from. And she just sent me on my way. She didn't talk to me about them. She just said, here you go.

HARDYMON: I have a lot of respect for that, you know? Like, I'm a - here's some sources.

RASCOE: Here's some sources.

HARDYMON: Yeah. I like it.

RASCOE: And there you go. You know, and I read - I did read it. And there were pictures of people, like, with developing bodies. It wasn't, like, sexual. It was just like, this is how people develop.

HARDYMON: Science.

RASCOE: It was science.

HARDYMON: Right.

RASCOE: But I always felt I was very mature. I didn't like, you know, draw any funny pictures on them because I was mature. I was like, I'm mature. I can read this. That's the way it made me feel. Like, OK, I'm very mature now. I get it now.

HARDYMON: This is one of these topics which brings up a lot of things that I think are funny, but it's so deeply sad in - at its heart, which is that I noticed one of the books on there was a book about developing bodies in Spanish. There was something so just - like, you're going to lock the door to so many - like, that just - that actually - like, I got a lump in my throat about that. Like, what an unkind thing to do. I just - that one really - that one killed me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

RASCOE: Stay with us. Coming up, we'll get into what to read and what you're good to skip on these banned books lists.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

RASCOE: Before we dive back into things, quick note - this section contains a brief discussion about sexual abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

RASCOE: I have to emphasize at this point - like, we asked you guys to look at books that were on these lists - some that you love, some that you kind of don't like so much, maybe you hate.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: But, like, you look at these lists and - so I want to emphasize, you know, this show is not about banning books. You know, that is not what this show stands for. We would never advocate banning any books. But were there some books on there that you looked and you saw and you said, ah, that's not really a great book; it might not be a huge loss for the library? Like, is there a book on this list, Barrie, that you were like, that's not a huge loss, but it shouldn't be banned? That's not a huge loss.

HARDYMON: Right. I sort of looked at this maybe a little bit more through the prism of books that were part of the curriculum.

RASCOE: OK, yeah.

HARDYMON: And again, like, my view is, like, you can leave them all in the library. That's fine.

RASCOE: You can leave them in the library. But from the curriculum that you were like...

HARDYMON: Right. And so one thing, you know, there were so many - guys, there were so many errors in this list, first of all. I just want to say that because I am an editor. So that's (laughter) topic one. But then the other thing - so I found on it was William Styron's "Confessions Of Nat Turner," which I did note that the gentleman from Texas thought that it was written in 1993. He must be talking about the reissue. It was written in 1968. He's a white Southern writer, and he imagined the journey of the enslaved Nat Turner's rebellion in Virginia. And so it's certainly interesting at a college-level class to parse a white writer's attempt at writing the story of enslavement. And in a class where you are maybe talking about, like, who gets to write what stories, fine. But if you're going to introduce to your students - and let's say we're in high school - you know, a narrative of enslaved life, you wouldn't want to give them a narrative that was written, I don't believe, by a white Southern writer. And then it's just like, the field of other choices is just so wide and has so many different kinds of books on it, which have all been banned at one time or another. I mean, for me, Toni Morrison's "Beloved," when I read it in high school - absolutely it is certainly on this list. And what I think is so - it just makes me so crazy - is that it's on the list usually because of sex.

RASCOE: Yes.

HARDYMON: There's consensual sex. There's not-consensual sex. Anyway - but that book was the book that made me realize what fiction could do. Like, you are entering into the cathedral of someone's mind, and she is going to take you back in time. And you are going to feel anguish. You are going to come out of that experience feeling like maybe - like as though you have been off the earth for a little bit. And once I realized the written word could do that, it unlocked so many doors for me.

So, you know, if we're talking about, like, what I think we call now, like, a postmodern narrative of what it was like to be enslaved, like, I would certainly say "Beloved." But there's also Charles Johnson's "Middle Passage," Sherley Anne Williams' "Dessa Rose," "The Known World" by Edward P. Jones. So, like, there's so many choices here that I don't need to read William Styron's version.

RASCOE: Yeah. And the thing about Toni Morrison is - and she's my favorite author; and I started reading her in high school - is that the way she used language, it did blow my mind.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: Like, it was incredible. I had never seen anything like that. I had also never seen someone capture things and people that I felt like I knew like that...

HARDYMON: Yes.

RASCOE: ...And in a way that I was like, oh, yes. Like, I'd never gotten that before. And so, Traci, what's the book that - who you think, maybe we can leave that out of the curriculum, but, you know, it's an OK book - or maybe it's a bad book.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Leave it out the curriculum, but don't ban it.

THOMAS: So look; I am going to do something very dangerous here, and I am going to get it canceled by everyone on the face of the Earth.

RASCOE: Oh, no.

THOMAS: But you know what? I actually don't care because I feel strongly about this.

HARDYMON: Good.

THOMAS: And it's not necessarily in the curriculum now, but I feel strongly that we don't need to be pushing "Harry Potter" on children. I recognize that the books are maybe enjoyable. They're maybe good. But for me, and I kind of mentioned this earlier, when we talk about students, I think that that term is being co-opted to mean white, straight, cis students.

HARDYMON: That's right.

THOMAS: And I don't know that if, in a bigger sense, if we're professing to loving and seeing and supporting all students that the work of someone who doesn't see, respect and love all humans and people who have different gender identities should be the thing that we think and talk about as the greatest thing that ever existed. And I think that folks have to get the idea of separating the art from the artist, especially contemporary artists, out of their mind. And so I just don't know that you can tell me that we're trying to protect young people when we're talking about J.K. Rowling as this sort of fantastic, incredible, amazing author who is, you know, the queen of fantasy, especially when there are people like Akwaeke Emezi who exists, Rivers Solomon who exists, George M. Johnson who exists, Kacen Callender who exists - who write to and do actually see and love and embrace all students.

So to me, it's less about the content of the book. And I know a lot of people love Harry and his friends and their wands, and I get that. But I don't know that that's the sort of thing that we should be saying is the gold standard to young people and that the people who create that kind of art should be held up as the gold standard of artists when I know we can do better.

HARDYMON: I agree. That was very well said. I'm not going to cancel you.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: Well, you know, no, we're not canceling anybody over here.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: I just know the "Harry Potter" stans and the Taylor Swift stans are hot and heavy. And I just - I know it's real.

HARDYMON: It's real. It's real. It's real. I mean, if you start talking about Taylor, maybe we have a problem. But otherwise, we're good. I'm just teasing. I'm teasing. I'm teasing.

RASCOE: But so is "Harry Potter" on the recent banned books? Or is he part of - because I know people didn't like him because of that witchcraft.

THOMAS: So "Harry" wasn't on the 850 Texas list but was on the lists of the most challenged books in the...

RASCOE: Books, yeah, yeah.

THOMAS: Yeah, in the - I think in 2000 to 2009. So yeah.

HARDYMON: Yeah. And, like, what a quaint thing to cancel something for...

RASCOE: Witchcraft.

HARDYMON: ...For witchcraft.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: And for me, I mean, I'm fine with the witchcraft. Go off on the witchcraft.

HARDYMON: Yeah, exactly. Make her into a nicer person (laughter).

THOMAS: Please - Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.

RASCOE: Yeah. And, you know, Barrie, I know you mentioned that book about getting to know your body in Spanish or what's happening with my body in Spanish that made you really sad. What are the books on here that you are like really - and we mentioned "Beloved" and all of Toni Morrison's stuff. But are there other books that you think kids are going to really miss out if these lists are allowed to stand?

HARDYMON: Yeah. I mean, frankly, most of them, I would say. But for me - so there are a couple of things that I thought were sort of interesting on the list, is there are a lot - there were a lot of graphic novels. And graphic novels, like - again, this is like, I'm going to shut the door to you guys. There's such an entry for - like, this is how most kids, I feel like, this is how they learn to love reading, you know? They get their head stuck in Raina Telgemeier - you know, Raina Telgemeier's "Drama" is on that list - "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel, which is also, by the way, a graphic novel, but her prose is amazing. You know, not only are we going to take that away from you, but we're also going to take away this method of you learning to love reading.

It's funny, those things made me sadder than the sort of ones that I always see on there that are the sort of the "Beloved's" of the world. And, you know, like, "Perks Of Being A Wallflower" is always on there. But it was - it's sort of the ones that are also such good entry points. And I think, actually, one of the things that Traci is saying that rings so true to me is that when we think about "Harry Potter" as an entry point for children - and I heartily concur that it does not need to be that anymore and that there are better, more inclusive - like, why would you do that? If you could read Nnedi Okorafor, like, you don't actually need to read "Harry Potter," you know? But I - this idea of taking away the things that might really open up reading to kids, that just seems like a real, like, spit in the eye kind of situation.

RASCOE: Yeah.

THOMAS: Yeah.

RASCOE: And kids are reading less for fun these days.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: There's a Pew review that just came out that found that kids - young kids are reading a lot less for fun than they have in the past, which is sad, especially for a books conversation.

Traci, were there any particular books that really stood out to you that kind of, you know, broke your heart? Like, this is what you're going to try to take out of the curriculum? I can't say that word, but...

THOMAS: That's a hard one. It's fine.

RASCOE: Yeah, they're going to take it out the classroom.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: Yeah. They're going to take it out. It's out. So for me - and I know I've spoke about this before on my own show and talking about my reading tastes, but I love nonfiction. That was really my favorite. And as a young person, I almost always read adult books a lot because there wasn't and still isn't a huge focus on nonfiction for young people. So that being said, a book that I know that I probably would have found in my school's library or found somehow that maybe wasn't curriculum but was certainly I know would have spoken to me is "Heavy" by Kiese Laymon. It's an adult book. It's one of the great memoirs of - that I've ever read. And that's probably my favorite genre. So, like, you know, it's an incredible book. But I think what is really upsetting to me about the book - they call it pornography or whatever because there is sexual abuse. There is physical abuse. There's harassment. There's body weight issues that come up in the book.

And I think that the other part of, you know, taking out these books that make people uncomfortable is that a lot of young people are actually going through these things. And we talked about it a little bit with the puberty stuff. But it's like, look; you don't have to tell a kid what puberty is, but eventually they're going to have pubic hair. Eventually they're going to have a wet dream. Eventually they're going to start smelling. And if we are not talking to them about it and we're removing all of the stuff, then we're not even giving them a chance. Like, just leave it in the library and hope that the kids find it. But taking it out and getting rid of it, it's like, yeah, they might be too young to read about sexual abuse, but some of them actually have been experiencing it since they were 2 or 3, you know? Like, so if they're old enough to experience it, they should be old enough to read about it.

RASCOE: And I feel like reading about those things - because like you said, I was reading a whole lot. I don't know whether it was all age-appropriate or whatever. But part of how I learned about things, I learned about sexual abuse, I learned what signs to look out for and things like that, was I was reading stuff. And then I was like, oh, I know what that leads to. Like, I know what this - this person is - like, let me look out for this person because I know that this person might not be trustworthy. You know, I mean, I think that there are things that you can learn that your parent may not say...

HARDYMON: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...And that - or feelings that you can have that you're not allowed to express at home, that you can learn in a book about all of these things. I know that you mentioned "Heavy," and you mentioned "Fun Home." Why do you recommend those books? I know you said "Heavy" is, like, the best memoir. What was it about, like, "Fun Home"? Why should someone maybe who's listening who hasn't read that go out and read it?

HARDYMON: It is, like, a whole package in terms of, like, an amazing piece of art, because the illustrations are so evocative. Like - I don't know how to describe it. It's like there are illustrations inside of illustrations on the page. So, like, you can see what's on the TV, and that speaks to the environment of whatever the scene is. And then yet again - and I know like there are always people that are like, graphic novels aren't - well, I'm sorry. This book has, like, some of the most gorgeous prose. And the story, which I now realize I have neglected to say (laughter) it's a memoir. Oh, that's the other thing. It's a memoir. Like, kids need to know they can write about themselves. Like, this is like - Traci is all about the nonfiction. Yes, like, we need to show kids that they can be their story.

But so it's a memoir of Alison Bechdel. And essentially, it's about a daughter and a father. The father is closeted, and the daughter is also gay. And they sort of spend their whole lives circling around each other's sexuality but never really talking about it. And it's so painful. And I think, you know, especially because she loses - I don't think I'm giving anything away because I think it says on the first page - but she loses her father, and she won't be able to sort of make that connection. And I think it's probably most appropriate for high schoolers only because there's a lot of - a lot to take in. It's complex. But to give them that experience of what is it like when you are - feel separate from your parent, but also what is it like when you have something deeply, deeply in common with them and they are evincing shame about it?

And like you said about abuse, like, there are children that are going through this. And they need to know that at the end of that book, she is going to be herself, her own wonderful self. And she's going to have this book and a whole bunch of other books and a Tony Award-winning musical. And, you know, like, they need to see that story, too, and know that that one is a true story.

RASCOE: Thanks again to Barrie Hardymon and Traci Thomas. Barrie is a senior editor at NPR, and Traci Thomas is host of "The Stacks" podcast.

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RASCOE: This week's episode was produced by Jinae West, Anjuli Sastry Krbechek, Audrey Nguyen and Liam McBain. Our intern is Nathan Pugh. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. And our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. All right. Until next time, take it easy. I'm Ayesha Rascoe.

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