They call it book banning.

This week in Palm Beach County, two picture books about transgender children were pulled from classrooms and libraries in public schools.

There’s been an increase in challenges to books in Utah, as well. Last fall, nine titles were removed from the libraries of four high schools in the Canyons School District. School boards across the country have made similar decisions, removing books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the holocaust, “Maus,” from libraries and curriculums.

While it’s true that some classics are being challenged, most of the concern expressed recently has been about titles far more radical and graphic in nature than the Harper Lee novel that brought attention to racial prejudice and injustice.

Yet the outcry is the same: Books are being “banned.” But are they really?

On the American Library Association’s website, there’s a historical list of “banned” books by year. These are books that patrons have objected to, for one reason or another.

In 2013, the most challenged book was “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey, a title that my family owns. The most common reasons people gave for objecting were “offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence.”

Put simply, the series introduces kids to what we call potty humor. “Captain Underpants” isn’t a book I love my kids reading, but it isn’t something I’d ban from my home, either.

Several years ago, the kinds of books landing on top of the ALA list took a dark turn. No longer were the majority of library patrons objecting to “Captain Underpants” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In 2021, the most “banned” book was a graphic novel called “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. The year prior, it was “George,” a novel by Alex Gino written for middle grade children — those between the ages of eight and 12.

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The explicit depiction of a sex act in “Gender Queer” is too graphic to share here. But I’d like to offer an excerpt from “George” — again, a book written and marketed for children ages second grade and up.

George had seen an interview on television a few months ago with a beautiful woman named Tina. She had golden-brown skin, thick hair with blond highlights, and long, sparkling fingernails. The interviewer said that Tina had been born a boy, then asked her whether she’d had the surgery. The woman replied that she was a transgender woman and that what she had between her legs was nobody’s business but hers and her boyfriends.

So George knew it could be done. A boy could become a girl.

“George,” which has since been retitled “Melissa,” is labeled a “Teacher’s Pick” on Amazon and is winner of the Stonewall Award. It is part of the Scholastic Gold line, which, according to its publisher, “features award-winning and beloved novels.”

To be clear: This celebrated book promotes the idea that gender transition, including surgical and hormonal medications, can be chosen by a child too young to consent to taking a Tylenol at summer camp without parental permission.

Last Thursday, House Democrats held a subcommittee hearing on what they called “politically motivated efforts to ban books and censor free speech in schools and public libraries.”

But the desire to protect children from sexually explicit and age-inappropriate content isn’t politically motivated, no matter how much Democrats make claims to the contrary.

Speaking on background, a Republican committee staffer present at Thursday’s hearing told me that Island Trees School District v. Pico, a 1976 Supreme Court case, was repeatedly cited. This case considered the question of book removal in public schools that was based on politics or religious beliefs.

He told me that while the ruling applied to removal of books from middle and high school libraries, he did not believe that decision extended to the addition of books, especially age-inappropriate books to elementary school libraries, a contention of some House Democrats.

It’s an interesting calculation for Democrats to take in an election year, aligning themselves with the right of adults working in school systems and public libraries to expose children to inappropriate and graphic sexual content.

The same Republican staffer told me that Democratic members weren’t challenged on the content of these books, and that they portrayed any opposition to them as bigotry and racism.

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In an effort to draw awareness to the inappropriate nature of these books, many parents have begun appearing at school board meetings to read them aloud. They’re usually stopped because their testimony, where they merely read from the books, is too explicit.

By and large, the people drawing attention to radical literary offerings for children aren’t politically motivated, nor are they filled with hatred. They’re merely caring adults, often parents and grandparents, trying to protect childhood innocence against an all-out assault.

Any political party positioning themselves in opposition to that fight should brace for a rude awakening come November.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret. She is a homeschooling mother of five and a widely published writer on politics, culture and Judaism. She is an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”

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