A teacher’s secret shelf brings banned books to the students who need them most

Author: John Russell

A courageous teacher at a public school near Houston, Texas, is bringing banned books to her students via a secret bookshelf in her classroom.

“The books that make you uncomfortable are the books that make you think,” the Texas teacher told NPR. “Isn’t that what school is supposed to do? It’s supposed to make you think?”

She set out to create a bookshelf that would include all of the books on Krause’s list, enlisting the help of friends and a student to purchase many of the titles using her own credit card.

The collection now includes around 600 titles, and students said the teacher tells only certain students “who she feels might need a book to get them into reading” about the secret bookshelf.

NPR notes that the school where the teacher works has a high number of students who receive free or reduced lunch, and many of their parents have neither the ability nor the resources to buy them banned books. Students said the secret bookshelf is the one place they can find books about people like them.

“Just to see Latinos, like LGBTQ,” one student said. “That’s not something you really see in our community, or it’s not very well represented at all.”

“I am a young Black lesbian and I don’t meet people like myself in my day-to-day life either,” another explained, “so reading these characters and these books, it really gives me hope.”

“Having these books, having these stories out there meant a lot to me, because I felt seen,” the transgender student who helped set up the bookshelf said. But, he added, he worries the teacher could get in trouble. “Because of the way the laws [in Texas] are going for trans people especially,” he said, “it could be assumed that she’s grooming kids. And that would be terrible because that’s not what she’s doing at all.”

Across the country, teachers have been fired in recent years under laws like Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education Act,” which restrict how and when topics related to gender and sexuality can be discussed in classrooms, and for reading banned books to their students. As NPR notes, one Texas teacher was fired for sharing a graphic novel about Anne Frank with her students last year, while another was pressured to leave her job after making trans-affirming literature available to her students.

Last June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law the “Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources” (READER) Act, which banned “sexually explicit” books from schools. Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals blocked part of the law that would have required booksellers to rate all books sold to schools as either “sexually explicit” (“patently offensive” by vague and undefined community standards) or “sexually relevant” (with depictions of any sexual conduct). But the ban on “explicit” material, as well as what opponents describe as dangerously vague language defining such material, remains in place.

The school where the Texas teacher maintains her secret bookshelf declined to comment on how it implements policies around banned and challenged books.

“It does make me nervous,” the teacher said. “I mean, this is absolutely silly that I am not free to talk about books without giving my name and worrying about repercussions.”

Still, she says she intends to continue to add books to her secret bookshelf and looks forward to the day when it will no longer have to be secret. “I do believe that book banning is gonna go away,” she said. “I think it’s kind of the last grasp of people trying to maintain control because they know it’s slipping.”

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Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: John Russell

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