Chicago,,Il,,Usa, ,May,10,2023:,A,Stack,Of

In Conversation: Censorship and Book Bans

A West Sydney council has come under fire for controversially banning a book on same sex parenting from the council’s public libraries. Holly Duhig’s “A Focus On… Same Sex Parents” is aimed at children between five and seven, particularly those whose parents are in a same sex relationship. The book is part of a wider series discussing topics in an age appropriate way for young children.

This month Cumberland council voted to ban the book, citing ‘distraught’ parents. This decision caused a significant amount of backlash with a petition garnering 40 thousand signatures in protest. Though the ban has since been rescinded, book bans are on the rise, particularly targeting works of literature that concern LGBTQ+ issues.

In the United States, there has been a 92% increase in titles targeted for censorship across 2023. 47% of those titles represented the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQ+ and non-white people.

Dr Jennifer Hamilton, a senior lecturer in English at the University of New England, says that there’s a historic precedent set for banning books like this.

“The books that actually trigger some sort of political push to censorship are usually pushing against some kind of social norm of the day, or some sort of sense of what morality is, or what decorum is.”

But banning books doesn’t stop them from being read. Dr Lili Paquêt, senior lecturer in Writing at UNE, says that there’s a 30% increase in circulation for banned books.

Although the ban was short-lived, with some Councillors previously in favour of the ban voting to rescind it, the fact that it was passed initially raises a number of concerns about censorship. Earlier this year, the same council voted to ban Drag story time events, where Drag Queens read childrens books to gathered kids.

While Dr Hamilton thinks it’s great that the ban was overturned so quickly, she does express concerns about how it reflects the current socio-political landscape, particularly as trends from the U.S. carry over into Australian politics.

“What I find particularly insidious and troubling about this is that the target was parenting. There is nothing in  that other than deep homophobia and [a] fear of alternative sexualities because it doesn’t line up with the marriage equality debate.”

Dr Paquêt, who teaches publishing at UNE in addition to writing, believes there might be an increase in censorship now that Australian publishers are printing offshore, usually in China.

“We used to have printing in Australia, and there was actually a government program that subsidised onshore printing of books, but that ended. More and more, we’re sending books to China to be printed, and the do undergo a little bit of censorship in that printing process.”

“I think a lot of [censorship] could be fixed by allowing printing to happen in Australia and supporting it, and making sure that individual councils can’t ban books.”

In response to the news that the title had been banned in Cumberland council libraries, the book’s publisher, BookLife Publishing, has made the text available as a .pdf download on their website, along with the following:

As a children’s educational publisher, it is our duty to provide information about the real world children are learning to navigate. Our aim is always to provide children with the information, support, understanding, and context to help them make sense of the world around them.

Same-sex parents are a very real part of our social world, and it is our responsibility to represent them in our books as we would any other group. The series ‘A Focus On’ attempts to foster understanding and compassion. Books in this series provide important information on key topics children often seek to understand during their formative years, including wellbeing and family life.

We are extremely proud of the books we publish and we are proud to present material in those books that support, with compassion people who often feel underrepresented.

All children deserve to feel seen, understood and loved.

The decision to ban the book may have resulted in funding implications for the council, and following a letter from NSW Arts Minister John Graham, Cumberland council ultimately voted 13-2 to rescind the banning of the book.