The Sunland-Tujunga ward council this week debated sending a proposed letter calling on the Los Angeles Public Library to restrict children’s access to a rented graphic novel depicting the experiences of a Vietnamese American family. .
In the Wednesday, July 13 debate by the ward council, the proposed letter received a split 8-8 vote, not enough to pass the letter to City of Los Angeles Library officials.
The proposed letter written by some members of the ward council – a locally elected advisory committee to the city – called “obscene” a 2017 book by Thi Bui, titled “The Best We Can Do: An Illustrated Memoir”. . The proposed letter requested that the book be placed in the “adults only section and not be distributed to minors as part of your summer reading challenge or any other books offered to underage boys/girls.”
Library documents describe the novel as an “uplifting book” that includes themes that will “resonate deeply with Angelenos and reflect the experiences of the Los Angeles area’s diverse immigrant population.” The book was chosen by the Los Angeles Public Library for this year’s Big Read, a community reading program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Sunland-Tujunga debate, which caught the eye on Reddit, was brought to the fore after a local parent who sits on the ward council expressed concern over a gift of the book to his library community, according to council chair Lydia Grant.
After a long discussion, the Sunland-Tujunga Ward Council deadlocked 8-8, and the motion failed.
Some ward council members argued that the contents of the book could be considered inappropriate for children and should not be distributed to children, while others said it was not for the council to require that the book was for adults only and that it was up to the parents to decide what their children read.
Board member Karen Perdue argued that while some might describe the book as a “good read”, it was not appropriate for “young teenagers…some see it as junk”.
Trevor Schmidt, another board member, rejected characterizations that the proposed letter called for the book to be banned.
“What we’re saying is this book with nudity and language that wouldn’t be allowed in school or on public television…we don’t want to give it to children, uncensored,” Schmidt said. . “He can be in an age-appropriate section, but he shouldn’t be given away for free… he should be in the adult section.”
Ward council member KT Travers disagreed, saying that putting the book in “the adults-only section – that’s basically banning it from the adults-only section”.
“I don’t think it deserves to be relegated to an adult-only section, and I don’t think it’s something we should get involved in,” she said.
Another ward council member, Claire Gordon, said the proposed letter “would set a dangerous precedent by appointing members of this body to censor materials that may be made available to Los Angeles teenagers based on their personal preferences. and values of a privileged few”.
The ward council amended the letter to remove language that challenged the depiction of a pagan deity associated with the Satanic religion, with some saying the council may be infringing on religious freedoms. The letter also cited pages containing profanity, sexually offensive language, nudity and “talk about pimps and prostitutes”.
Parents United for Happy & Healthy Kids, the group that raised the issue with the ward council, released a statement, saying they “hope our expressed concerns will encourage the library to exercise proper judgment in the future when the development of children’s programming and the preservation of children’s library materials. To be clear, we are not advocating the banning of books. Our intent is to protect children and is for the good, not the ends sinister.”
City library officials released a statement in response to the ward council’s vote, saying the library “has been delivering and having great success in distributing copies of the book to teens and adults and in holding a variety of programs centered on this book”.
“Best We Can Do: An Illustrated Memoir,” the library statement said, is recommended for ages 13 and older, and that “parents and legal guardians are responsible for children’s reading and viewing choices.” “.
In introductions prepared for a Big Read guide to the graphic novel, library officials encouraged Angelenos to read the book. Los Angeles Board of Library Commissioners President Bich Ngoc Cao wrote that having grown up in her family’s “Vietnamese refugee bubble” she was interested in their history, but there were few stories in English on Vietnamese refugees by boat.
“There was no language for me to process the post-war trauma and pain that flowed through my parents’ veins into mine,” Cao wrote. Bui’s book “was the first time I read a story similar to my family’s, written in English.”
According to an April report from the American Library Association, which tracks book banning efforts and challenges, 2021 saw nearly 1,600 book challenges or removals. According to the report, the subject matter of most of these books deals with or focuses on race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ topics.