Annabelle Jenkins shows the audience an illustrated adaptation of “The...

Annabelle Jenkins shows the audience an illustrated adaptation of “The Handmaid's Tale” before placing it at Superintendent Derek Bub's feet in Meridian, Idaho, on May 23.  Credit: Julian Jenkins

Decked out in a maroon graduation gown and cap, Annabelle Jenkins crossed the stage, taking her diploma and shaking hands with multiple officials. An announcer noted she had completed the Idaho Fine Arts Academy's visual arts major, graduating with high honors, and would be attending Portland State University.

When she reached West Ada School District Superintendent Derek Bub, Jenkins reached into her gown and took out a graphic novel version of “The Handmaid's Tale” — a dystopian story about a totalitarian society in which censorship is commonplace.

She showed it to the crowd and attempted to hand it to Bub. When he didn't take it, she dropped it in front of him. 

It was a brave moment, a broad rejection of school district efforts to remove the book, among others, from its libraries. And it came as too many states are moving in a similar direction to Idaho, where Gov. Brad Little signed the Children's School and Library Protection Act in April. The act states it would “prohibit certain materials from being promoted, given, or made available to a minor by a school or public library.”

That vague language apparently included the graphic novel Jenkins brought to graduation. Jenkins, who hopes to become a librarian, told The Washington Post that libraries are “magical and important,” adding that she's committed to “bettering them and protecting them.”

Thankfully, she's not the only one.

Even as states like Idaho disturbingly legalize the banning of books, other states have taken a different tack, adding laws that ban the banning of books.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation last month that prevents libraries from removing books or other materials “based on the viewpoint, content, message, idea, or opinion conveyed.”

Closer to home, Assemb. Chuck Lavine (D-Glen Cove) last year introduced a bill that says any library receiving public funds cannot remove books “because of a partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” 

“Banning books and burning books is part and parcel of authoritarianism,” Lavine said. “The dangers are just blatantly obvious.”

Long Island has had its share of school and library board candidates who've supported the removal of controversial material. And local school districts and libraries have taken books off their shelves or removed them from displays. Two years ago, Smithtown Library trustees voted to remove a children's room Pride display, only to later rescind the decision. This year, the Smithtown library system advertised an LGBTQ Pride Month “create and celebrate” event for children, scheduled to take place Friday in its Smithtown building. That's welcome progress.

Lavine said his interest in the issue came in part from his own upbringing in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

“I attended schools where the administrations and boards of education were enlightened and really wanted to do everything they could to make sure the students were critical thinkers, but I've also lived in communities where that wasn’t the case,” Lavine said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure our kids are critical thinkers.”

Lavine's bill unfortunately stalled in committee during the session that just ended, which he attributed to lack of time and public pressure one way or the other. But with no real opposition, getting the bill passed “may just take us coming back for a new session,” he said.

That would put New York on the right side of the battle of the bans — alongside future librarians like Jenkins.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.


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