Last week I was asked to comment on a recent book banning that occurred in an elementary school. Part of my reflection included:
"... Yes, at 14, my life was different. No longer was I anxious about settling a drunk mother to sleep or watching her slowly (then suddenly) kill herself. Instead I was worried about taking a t-shirt without asking my new stepsister, aware that little belonged to me in this new house with this new family. The problems weren't equal, but they were still teen worries, anxieties, things that consumed my mind and spread like cancer, eating all other thoughts.
At school, where people tried to make me memorize the Latin names for chemical elements, or saw me smiling and joining every after school club; people couldn't know how hard I was fighting. Fighting to keep the worries away. Fighting to understand who I was, who I wanted to be, and even if I wanted the gift of life. That fight is not unique. All kids are fighting. They need to know that someone out there understands. Someone like them. Books are the bridge to get those stories into the hands of those fighters..."
The response went on. It had to. I was writing about the importance of mental health and addiction finding ways into children's books and then into classrooms. I sent the comments off on Friday, but if I had to do it again today, after what took place this weekend, it might read differently.
Saturday I attended the 21st Century Nonfiction Conference. I listened to many sessions about trends in YA Nonfiction. One presentation by librarian and YALSA award chair, Angela Carstensen, as well as ZEST publisher, Hallie Warshaw added books to my TBR pile.
Both speakers shared nonfiction titles for teens. The room buzzed with contributions from other librarians and teachers. I purchased the following titles based on those recommendations:
Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle
Laughing at my Nightmare by Shane Burcaw
Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings
Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen
Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir by Colleen Frakes
Angela and Hallie shared many other titles: YALSA winners, Printz winners, ALEX winners, and more. The librarians around me kept returning to the list of memoirs though. They wanted to hear about more memoirs because their teens were hungry to read more. More stories from real voices writing about real life.
I woke on Sunday thinking about that list of books and how many, many memoirs are still needed. Books about gender and race and identity and sexuality and religion and mental health and disability and love. Real books by real people about real love. Kids need those books. Those stories are out there, waiting to be told.
Then I opened the news.
There were young adults in Pulse. Young adults who had stories to tell. Young adults who needed to hear stories. Young adults that were taken too soon.
There were brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, moms, dads, friends, and lovers who had stories to tell too. They will never write them. Our kids will never get to hear those voices.
Sunday gutted me. I am certain you felt it too. What we do next matters.
Find real stories. Help real voices find publishers.
Share memoirs with teens.
Be good to all communities. The world is filled with caring, hopeful, loving people.