November 17, 2021

Christopher Noxon: Why my book has been removed from school shelves

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Author Christopher Noxon notes that his own work is among the books being challenged in a Virginia school district. Why could that be? What was his offense?

Among the six books being challenged in Virginia Beach are Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye”; “Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe; “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin; “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison; and “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines. Backers of the ban describe the books as “abhorrent” and “pornographic,” with one parent claiming at a school board meeting last week that the books “groom” young people for sexual predators.

Also in this lot is a book I wrote and illustrated: “Good Trouble: Lessons From the Civil Rights Playbook.” The inclusion of this history of the civil rights movement is both curious and confounding as it is devoid of both sex and profanity, two frequent reasons cited for banning books in schools.

I could pretend to be shocked and horrified, but the truth is, the controversy has helped “Good Trouble.” While my book has been removed from three high school libraries while under review, the ban has raised curiosity among readers about the kind of institutional oppression and racism described in its pages.

According to the school district, none of the six books had been previously flagged by parents as objectionable. Nevertheless, school board member Victoria Manning and a minority bloc of conservative members on the 11-member board succeeded in having the six titles yanked from school libraries pending review.

As far as my book goes, Manning told the Virginian-Pilot that she had not read it and didn’t have concerns with it, but other parents brought it to her attention. Curious to understand more about my offense, I reached out to her and three other board members via phone and email. No word back as yet.

The only specific objection to “Good Trouble” raised so far relates to an illustration in the opening chapter of activists at the National Policy Institute giving a Nazi salute celebrating the election of Donald Trump. Divisive? Surely — also factual.

Still, it’s not hard to guess what backers of the ban find so dangerous about a book about civil rights, one that takes its title from Congressman John Lewis’ rallying cry to take action against injustice. It’s just one more cynical effort by entrenched powers to harness fear of “otherness” to win elections and reverse the fight for racial equality.

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