Aida Salazar shares her own experience with school visits for her new book The Moon Within and the struggles she faces with teachers.
Last month, at an educational conference, about twenty-five different teachers told me they wouldn’t teach my book because of the gender fluid character and because menstruation isn’t for everyone, but they knew the exact child who needed it. Those that bought the book asked me not to sign it to their classrooms but to their child or niece or friend. One person was the head of bilingual education of an entire school district. She said her school board was too conservative and would never let it pass because of the word “genderfluid” in the description. When I argued about the need to teach empathy and self discovery, she responded, “Teachers are too busy teaching to take on fighting for a controversial book.”
Another book seller once told me she would not recommend my book to her mother-daughter book club because she didn’t want to impose ideas on them. In a school setting? In a book club? Where new ideas are meant to be discussed? Imagine!
Fact: I have spoken to hundreds of teachers and librarians but I’ve yet to do one middle grade or elementary school visit. At every opportunity in front of adults, I’ve asked them to be brave for their students, about the importance of providing mirrors where there haven’t ever been any. Especially in communities of color where gender expansiveness and menstruation are among the worst taboos. The Moon Within is the first such discussion in middle grade fiction for us.
Do you know where they are teaching my book? At the university level. Scholars and critics who’ve given The Moon Within four starred reviews and an International Latino Book Award are discussing the groundbreaking work in queer and feminist theory and fiction and tie it to works by Judy Blume, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Morrison. I pump my fist in the air with each accolade, but I am quickly deflated when I hear the honest responses by educators of my intended audience that this book will not be shared by them.
Transphobia, misogyny and racism are more real and palpable than ever. They’re part of not just our cultural and religious practices, but are sanctioned and inflicted by our governmental institutions with horrific intensity. These are huge hurdles to overcome for those of us who don’t benefit from the privilege of being straight or cis gender or white or male or adults. LGBTQIA+, menstruating, children of color shouldn’t have to fight to be seen and understood for the breadth of their humanity. Especially in the school setting where growth is the point and where teachers can make a change.
The onus is on us – those with the privileges, the keys to the gates – to unhinge our own fears and limitations and confront our bigoted thinking to bring our students officially and unofficially banned books. These books will not only provide desperately needed, beautiful and dignified mirrors for children, but will pull back the heavy drapes of hate, open windows wide, let in the fresh air of empathy, let in the sunlight of liberation to nourish our children with their magnificent touch.
Our children deserve that we summon the courage to fight against censorship. They are worth the effort. Our children deserve the opportunity to learn and grow with power, self love and understanding because we all stand to win in the end.
Aida Salazar is an award-winning author and arts activist whose writings for adults and children explore issues of identity and social justice. She is the author of the middle grade verse novels, THE MOON WITHIN (International Latino Book Award Winner 2019), THE LAND OF THE CRANES (Fall 2020), and the bio-picture book JOVITA WORE PANTS: THE STORY OF A REVOLUTIONARY FIGHTER (Spring 2021). All by Scholastic. She is a founding member of Las Musas – the first debut Latinx kidlit author collective. Her story, BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON, was adapted into a ballet production by the Sonoma Conservatory of Dance and is the first Xicana-themed ballet in history. She lives with her family of artists in a teal house in Oakland, CA.