In honor of Banned Book Week 2023 celebrations (or as one article called it, a Call to Arms), I wanted to read a banned book a day. Which, of course, means my precious picture books would help me fill my goal. One of the lists I had, however, was filled with books from 2000 to a few years ago (and was Canadian, but of course, counts in my book) and I would not have easy access to some of them. Therefore, I figured my goal needed tweaking. When I noticed an author that was popping up regularly, Leslea Newman, of Heather Has Two Mommies fame, the answer came. I realized I should not limit myself to books only, but find authors. After all, when I found out Newman had been on the list for not just Heather and her moms, I knew she would have future books (unfortunately) challenged as well.
I know that Joyful Song: A Naming Story will be on it eventually. Why? Because we have an interracial couple who are two moms (double whammy). And then we have religion (the trifecta). The couple and their son Zachary are heading to the synagogue to have the naming ceremony of their new baby girl. (A big reason to challenge/ban is because it “promotes non-Christian beliefs” and well, Jewish is non-Christian right? (insert eye roll). This beautiful story of this family taking their youngest member to the synagogue to be welcomed into the community is lovely. It is also a little funny as some people wish to keep the name secret (we learn this in the author afterwards) until the presentation. It is funny as the mothers find fun ways to stop Zachary from spilling the beans. The best part (for me anyway) was how they gathered all of their community on the way to the ceremony. We see how their neighbors come to help celebrate as well as their religious family and friends. The art of Susan Gal is bright and airy. Things are real, but have a sweet romanticism to them. Everything is busy and while we do not have the usual “fighting dragons or the bad guys” action, there is a lot going on. The colors are a character in themselves (I really love Mommy’s outfit), but support the story as well with flowing everything together, but giving you the images needed. The afterwards by Newman is informative with more background to the symbolism of names and the traditions of naming. Now, I can hope in the seven months between now (October 2023) and the publication of Joyful Song (early May 2024; I had access to a reader copy online) we can have a magical turn around and it won’t be challenged, but I am a realist.
Yet, in the meantime, you can support Newman by reading their books. And we can do that with Joyful and I Can Be… Me! Maya Gonzalez is on illustrations this time, with a less realistic approach, but still with realistic images. Things are happy and less somber. Nonbinary children, or non gender conforming at least, children tell us all the wonderful things they can do. They can wear long flowing skirts, dress up as a prince, hammer, sew and do whatever they want to make themselves happy. The story is familiar, and maybe not done in a really “new way,” but it is nice and could be a good first book on the subject for slightly younger children. Good for the classroom or personal library, we see all types of people with regards to race styles (hair and dress) and some sizes. Late March 2023 the book came out, and is available now, but I did read via an online reader copy.
I preferred Joyful Song over I Can Be… Me! but both are lovely books that cover a lot of ground on showing differences, showing culture, and are written by a great author