Editorial: And Then They Came for Kidlit

Publishing has seen an explosion of diverse voices and titles over the past decade, and while there’s still a long way to go toward true equity in publishing—as outlined by the PEN America report Reading Between the Lines: Race, Equity, and Book Publishing released in October 2022—the progress has been slow moving but undeniable. Kidlit and YA in particular have been in the vanguard of this charge, and we should be proud of the gains made even as we keep fighting for better representation across all areas. But with this success has come an inevitable backlash against the progress that has been made.

Last year, the American Library Association (ALA) released a preliminary report on book challenges across the US. Their data showed that in 2021, a total of 729 attempts to ban library resources were made, targeting a total of 1,597 individual titles—the highest number of attempted challenges on record since the ALA began collecting these statistics over twenty years ago. By 2022, those numbers were poised to rise even higher, with 681 attempts at banning a total of 1,651 unique titles by just August, with one quarter of the year still remaining.

Painted mural of person with an X over their mouth.

Even more disturbing, perhaps, is how the titles are being challenged or banned—in the past, most challenges were in response to individual titles (i.e., one title per challenge, with each challenge addressing a specific concern in a specific book). However in 2022 over 70% of the challenges represented an effort to restrict access to multiple titles at once. 

“The unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience,” ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada said in the report. 

When looking at the titles in question, it’s clear that Pelayo-Lozada is correct: the bans are a blatant attempt to silence the voices of non-white and LGBTQIA+ authors and to prevent children and young adults from having access to these materials.
A stack of burning books labeled "censored" , "objectionable" , and "banned".

“Efforts to censor entire categories of books reflecting certain voices and views shows that the moral panic isn’t about kids: it’s about politics,” Pelayo-Lozada concluded. “Organizations with a political agenda are spreading lists of books they don’t like.”

We only need to look as far as Florida to see that, once again, Pelayo-Lozada is correct. Last year, Florida’s House Bill 1467 placed nebulous restrictions on the types of reading materials schools could provide for their students, along with a mandate that collection curators undergo a “state retraining” program—one that was not made available until this year, meaning that librarians and other purchasers could not buy additional titles for nearly a year, for fear that their selections would place them in violation of the new law—a violation that would be considered a third-degree felony and would mean that a librarian or teacher could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Let me say that again: librarians and teachers in Florida could face felony charges, up to five years in jail, and as much as $5,000 in fines for making certain titles available to their students.

With such heavy consequences on the line, librarians and teachers are forced to comply despite the widespread outrage the bill has provoked. Hannah Natanson of the Washington Post reported in late January that teachers in Manatee and Duval counties were directed to remove books from their classrooms or else to cover their bookshelves with paper wrapping to conceal the titles. And this issue is not isolated to Florida. Across the United States, librarians in particular have been under fire for the contents of their collections. In December 2022, a library director made waves on TikTok when she confronted her community at a town meeting over the harassment and threats endured by librarians in Ottawa County, Michigan.

So what does all this mean for us, as kidlit writers, industry professionals, and the teachers and librarians who are so often on the front lines of defending these titles? That depends largely on our response.
Person shown from the knees down walking next to a burning book.

We don’t often talk about writing and publishing as an inherently political act, however we’re fast approaching a reality where certain voices may soon be unpublishable—not because publishers fear that their books won’t be widely read, but because somebody else fears they will. Fears it so much, in fact, that they are willing to go so far as to make the distribution of such books illegal and punish those responsible to an outrageous degree in an effort to silence them. It’s likely those pushing this agenda won’t stop with books—but in the kidlit community, books are our battleground, and this is our fight.

In the wake of WWII, Martin Niemöller penned his iconic poem, “First they came…”, a reflective response to the way in which the Nazi movement was allowed to systemically undermine and attack segments of the population until no one is left to defend those remaining. Now the battlelines are being drawn again, and this time “They” are coming for us.

So what are we going to do?


  1. I got chills reading this post, images of Nazi-led book burnings rolling around my head. I can’t believe that librarians and teachers TODAY are being threatened – I agree that this is all because of politics. Your post should be spread far and wide: many are simply not aware this is going on. Rebecca, I love this line: “in the kidlit community, books are our battleground, and this is our fight.” Sign me up!


    1. Laura, I feel exactly the same. I hope news of events like these can be spread far and wide. The kidlit and publishing communities (and those who are closest to us–teachers, librarians) deserve so much better and–even more importantly–the kids deserve better.


  2. A lot of lazy parenting and caregiving. Discussing hard topics and being able to talk with young people is so important for growth and communication with all ages as someone responsible for a child or young person’s life, not broadening their horizons is just plain lazy. Reading and discussing your view of the topic will solve most problems. Not to mention learning acceptance and diversity! Everyone deserves to be accepted for who they are as they are.


    1. I agree–it’s incredibly important we be able to discuss difficult topics with kids! Otherwise, we’re basically leaving them to deal with these issues on their own–because the hard things don’t go away just because we refuse to talk about them.


  3. Well said, Rebecca. I believe that everyone’s story deserves to be heard, and that everyone deserves to see themselves in a book. It is important.


    1. Thank you Hilary! I remember when I was young, I read a back-of-the-book author interview with my favorite childhood author, Robin McKinley. She talked about how, when she was young, there weren’t a lot of fantasy stories about women, and how she loved the form so much but had always wanted to see herself in the pages. And I remember feeling so grateful that I had her books, because she allowed me to do just that. It was so special to me and EVERYONE deserves to feel that way.


  4. It is a sad state of affairs when the wrongs of history are ignored and twisted to gain perverse power that is poorly disguised as leadership.
    We carry on.


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