Alma Rutgers (opinion): A new chapter in book banning – Greenwich Time

Books that are frequently listed on banned book lists.
Who is Malala Yousafzai … Barack Obama … Sonia Sotomayor … Michelle Obama? Who was Rachel Carson … Maria Tallchief … Maya Angelou … Aretha Franklin … Marie Curie … Eleanor Roosevelt … Sojourner Truth? What was Stonewall?
Most of us can answer these questions, but did we know that what these names have in common is that their stories are banned in American classrooms and school libraries?
Pen America, a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect freedom of expression, has published an index of all the books that were banned in American schools between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. During this period, books were banned in 1,587 school districts in 25 states.
Prompted by the unfortunate reaction to Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” that I wrote about in my July 7 column and wanting to learn more about the disturbing movement to ban books, I was led to the Pen America index and was shocked to discover the far-reaching scope of this frightening effort to deprive young people of knowledge and violate their freedom to learn.
The Penguin Random House “Who Is? Who Was?” non-fiction series for middle grade children consists of more than 250 titles. These are stories about people who have made important contributions to society in a variety of ways. The “What Is? What Was?” series, also for middle grade children, consists of 64 titles with content that informs students about significant historical events.
It is alarming to learn that the books in these series about Malala Yousafzai, Sonia Sotomayor, Barack and Michelle Obama, Rachel Carson, Maria Tallchief, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sojourner Truth were singled out for banning. Is it because many are people of color? Or trailblazing women? And Stonewall? Is it because middle grade children should not know about anything gay, not even a 1969 milestone in LGBTQ history?
Some of the other startling titles among the banned books: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Lord of the Flies,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Brave New World,” “The Cider House Rules,” “The Bell Jar,” “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Highly acclaimed books by Black authors Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Ta-Nehisi Coates seem subject to bans simply by virtue of their authorship. Any books written by, or about, Malala Yousafzai and Justice Sonia Sotomayor are also banned.
Republican candidates in what is now the Party of Trump typically take a Pledge to American Families in which they pledge to support efforts, including legislation and litigation, that would protect children from “dangerous and divisive propaganda being taught in schools, such as critical race theory and gender ideology,” and from “exposure to pornography, obscenity, and indecency.”
This is a dangerous pledge that leads down a slippery slope that ultimately descends into fascism. The many titles on the Pen America index of banned books should serve as a grim warning. Those who take pledges in support of banning books are choosing autocratic repression over freedom of expression.
Alarm bells are sounding, alerting us that we need to stand up against the Party of Trump to protect our constitutional republic, our democratic institutions, and our first amendment rights. The Party of Trump poses an existential threat to our country.
While Connecticut is not among states with banned books, and while Connecticut and Greenwich Republicans have historically tried to distance themselves from Trump, the takeover of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee by self-described Greenwich Patriots, and the primary victory by Trump-endorsed senate candidate Leora Levy signify that the party is now fully Trumpian. Levy has signed the pledge, which also includes anti-transgender components and an anti-choice position on women’s reproductive rights.
In Nazi Germany, lists of books were distributed to be banned as anti-German and anti-family, including any work considered to be Jewish. On the evening of May 10, 1933, this book banning initiative culminated in a massive book burning celebration at Berlin’s Bebelplatz. A memorial known as “The Empty Library” by Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman is now in that spot.
Nearby is a bronze plaque with prophetic words written in 1820 by German poet Heinrich Heine: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.”
That’s something to remember on Nov. 8 as we face a stark election choice.
Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 30 years.


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