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Opinion | Book challengers risk moving dystopian story into the nonfiction section

What is a dystopian story if not a grim window into one of our worst possible futures?

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Andrew Foster was helping a patron find a misplaced library book when they came.

The door of the library flew open and no less than 15 officers, outfitted in full tactical riot gear, stormed into the library.

Andrew had no sooner turned around than two of these men were on top of him.

Somewhere to his left, Andrew could hear children screaming; he couldn’t see them, as his face was now pressed into the decades-old carpet of the library.

The children had been interrupted halfway into a reading of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.

Above him and off to his right, Andrew could hear rustling, and the thuds of books hitting the ground as officers rummaged through the section to find what they were looking for.

The rummaging noises finally stopped and the cover of a book suddenly filled Andrew’s vision: The Pronoun Book. Written by Chris Ayala-Kronos. Illustrated by Melita Tirado.

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Andrew still remembers when the book was first challenged, the book that started a movement and countless challenges to come. The challenger charged that the book could cause psychological harm to a child.

“Why is this book here?” an officer suddenly cut into Andrew’s train of thought. He recognized the voice— one of the challengers from all those years ago, although he had joined months after the challenging of The Pronoun Book.

“It’s just a book about respec—“

Andrew’s response was cut short by a billy club coming from somewhere behind him, striking him directly in his right ear.

Sounds were now all mingled together in a buzz, but Andrew could make out screams, and loud voices and—maybe some laughter, closer.

Through blurry eyes, he focused on the call number of a book on the bottom shelf just inches away from his face. He could just make out the letters: “YAF    BRADBURY”

Fahrenheit 451. 

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The book the patron had been looking for.

As more officers joined in with a volley of kicks and punches, Andrew thought of all the sweat and tears he had put into the library over the last few years.

And now, finally, his blood.

The above piece is obviously a short work of dystopian fiction. But what is a dystopian story if not a grim window into one of our worst possible futures?

Andrew Foster is not a fictional character; he’s the real librarian at the real Autauga-Prattville Public Library, where the real “The Pronoun Book” has been really challenged—really including the charge that it could cause children psychological harm. 

Just as a refresher, here’s the book’s entire story: “How do you know what someone wants to be called? Ask. He. (he he he he he) She. (she she she she she) They. (they they they they they) All together … Us.”

So far, “Clean Up Alabama,” which began right in this setting of the Autauga-Prattville Public Library, has challenged 48 books, much of it due to LGBTQ+ content; some of it due to content of a sexual nature. Some forms ask the books to be moved to the adult section, which is what leaders claim that is all they are asking.

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Others ask for the books to be removed completely.

Some make it clear: “Destroy it.”

And now we know their gameplay for state legislation: it doesn’t stop at moving sexually explicit books from the Young Adult section to the Adult section. It includes jail time for a librarian that dare have a book like The Pronoun Book on a shelf where minors can access it.

Even though that shelf is in the children’s room for children under 12, who must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Even though parents always have the right to enter the library and determine what books are suitable for their children to read. Even though parents at the Autauga-Prattville Public Library are ultimately responsible for the materials checked out on a minor’s library card.

Hopefully this column isn’t challenged; the brief flashes of violence might be scary to some young readers.

But if a child can read this short dystopian story and absorb the lessons to be found within, maybe—just maybe—we can make sure it never leaves the fiction section.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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