Eliot Fowler – New York Public Library Teen Voices Magazine Essay Contest Winner

“ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” they said. Countless court cases have protected these rights to speech, to belief, to debate. We’ve all been told time and time again, “You’re in America. You have a right to free speech, to free expression.” And yet, here we are now, watching books be snatched out of our hands right before our eyes, while said snatchers scream “INDOCTRINATION!”, and “THE BOOK IS HURTING YOU!”


The book, in fact, is not hurting me. The book is expanding my mind, opening my views up to the wider world. The book is giving me knowledge about people who are different from me- making me a more well-rounded, empathetic human being with a deeper understanding of the world beyond my cozy bedroom reading nook. All studies taken on the subject show: reading makes kids more empathetic, emotionally intelligent people. These are skills that are essential in this world. Taking that away from kids is taking away an essential freedom- the freedom to read, the freedom to express yourself, the freedom to learn of other cultures and ways of life, the freedom to see yourself represented in the characters the people you read about, and the freedom to understand that you are not as alone in this world as you thought. 


Books with diverse characters make kids more empathetic. Kids understand more about people different from them- whether they are different in race, religion, traditions, gender, beliefs, sexuality, income, body type, home situation, and more. Without these books, kids may not know much about people different from them- and give in to the pattern that seems increasingly common in our society- seeing people different from them and fearing them, hurting them, discriminating against them. Our society really needs books like this, for they show kids just how diverse the world is, and how this diversity is something to be honored and celebrated rather than attacked, feared and exterminated. Kids need empathy to grow up and be kind, helpful and compassionate members of society, and anything that builds this sort of empathy, I believe, is truly important and essential. 


Not only that, but kids need to be able to see themselves in the characters they read about. Countless books with diverse main characters have made kids feel less alone in who they are, and have helped them understand that they are not horrid oddballs who must conform to the standards. 

These books show kids that, no matter what other people may say, they still deserve love, acceptance and compassion. This, too, is essential to kids’ coming of age. Especially in the teen years when many people feel like outcasts, it’s really important for kids to have things like this that show them- they belong, too, and they deserve love and acceptance just as much as anyone else. 


Attacks like this show a hateful and unwelcoming message to people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other diverse people represented in these books that are so often banned. It sends the message: “You aren’t welcome here!” “You are sinful!” “No kids should even know about you!” and “Your diversity is scary and unwelcome here!”. This is not the message we should be sending to these people. In my opinion, people with diverse identities should be welcomed with open arms- they, after all, are humans! We are all humans and we all deserve the same acceptance, love, joy, and welcomeness in communities around the country and the world. 


I have been reading since age 4. I always drew an interest in books and words. Even before I could actually read, I would pretend to read, babbling and looking at the pictures of books by authors like Robert McCloskey, Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. I still read today- the library is basically my second home and I walk there every day after school. Books have opened my mind to the wider world. In the books I’ve read, I’ve been to all seven continents. I’ve gone on adventures in Japan with a boy from San Francisco. I’ve been around Africa with a local man. I’ve even traveled to Germany and read in horror as the characters were persecuted. Many of these adventures, I’ve come to realize, would not be possible if the message of these “Book Banners” was spread to the extent they want it to be. This lifelong passion for books and reading is part of why, when I hear about attempts to ban books, it angers me. It frustrates me that hateful people with a limited view of others different from them are able to so easily demand a book be removed, and have it removed. The freedom to read is one of the most important freedoms held by Americans, in my view, because not only is it the freedom to do the act of reading itself, but also the freedom to express yourself, the freedom to learn, the freedom to be understood and the freedom to understand others. Attacks on this are not only hateful and small-minded, but they attack one of the most basic yet important American freedoms. 


To combat this attack on our freedom of expression, it’s important that people show how important reading is to them, and how these infringements hurt that. Reading has been a quintessential part of my life, and has been a very important part of many other people’s lives. To infringe on this right to read is taking away a point of joy for many, many people, and that should be condemned. The books that I read, I think, should have nothing to do with politics. Adults I don’t even know shouldn’t have the right to regulate what I read. I should be able to choose what I read and choose with confidence.That right should not be up for grabs. 


We, the young people of the world, the people who will be inheriting this Earth, must continue to practice our rights and freedoms. We must show the people trying to infringe on our rights: it’s not up to you. You have no say in what I read or don’t. No matter what you say, we will keep reading. We’ll keep learning, keep exploring, keep opening our minds. We’ll look for representation and seek out books about people different from us to learn about where they’re coming from. We must tell future generations this chapter of history so it doesn’t repeat itself. And most importantly, we must keep reading.