Kincart & Soter: Canyons School District Must Reconsider Their Book Ban


Xiangyao "Axe" Tang

The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Sat. Dec 4, 2021. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sydney Kincart and Theadora Soter


As students, literature has always been a great influence on our lives. Our K-12 education gave us the foundation for this love of reading. Reading challenged the ideas our child brains had of what life was and what it would become.

Recently, Canyons School District decided to temporarily pull nine books from library shelves, and plans on reviewing the books and their policies. The threat of book bans looms close to home. They prevent younger children from reading content that aids their personal development and mindset. Canyons School District must reconsider their stance as it limits the potential growth of students.

After complaints about books in Canyons School District high school libraries, their school board worked towards an updated policy on reviewing library books. Current policy requires that a book challenged at the school level remains on the shelves. If the parent or legal guardian is unhappy with the school level verdict, they can appeal it at the district level. The material will still be used as determined by the school-level decision until the district comes to a verdict.

But the removal of these nine books stemmed from an informal email complaint. The current challenge isn’t “official,” so Canyons feels justified in ignoring their own protocol. However, the woman requesting the review never asked for the books to be pulled from the shelves.

In an interview with Rebekah Cummings, the co-chair of the Utah Library Association’s Advocacy Committee, she said that librarians are concerned for a few reasons. “[Canyons] didn’t follow their own process and their own policy,” she said. “They took those books off the shelves immediately before allowing it to go through the process of saying, ‘Is this a valuable book in our collection? Is it appropriate for the age group that it’s serving?’” Canyons’ failure to utilize their standing policy comes at the expense of students seeking out valuable literature.

“Lolita,” “The Bluest Eye” and “Gender Queer” are three of the nine books that Canyons School District has pulled off of their shelves. Ironically, “Lolita” was a National Book Award finalist, “The Bluest Eye” remains on university reading lists and “Gender Queer” won the Stonewall Book Award. As Cummings pointed out, “The problem is [parents] are looking at one section or one passage of that book and not taking the book holistically.” These books of clear literary merit remain under review in Utah because of the challenging content they cover.

Pornography is a major concern for the parents opposed to their children reading the nine removed books. But Cummings said, “In some ways, pornography and literature are polar opposites because pornography devalues the human experience. It appeals to a prurient interest; literature illuminates and makes us think more deeply about the human experience, which again often includes things that are hard to read.” Cummings also pointed out that “none of the books on that list rose to the level of pornography as defined by law.”

Currently, “Gender Queer” sits as the most banned book in the nation. Yet, its inclusion in schools will help further representation in libraries. Cummings explained that librarians select works that appeal to their readers. “They know that they’re serving diverse populations of children,” she said. In 2019, eight out of the ten most challenged books nationwide were challenged because of LGBTQ content. Book bans directly target LGBTQ representation in libraries.

Furthermore, as internet culture grows, books provide more tangible and safer spaces for students than smartphones. Cummings guesses that some parents want to ban books because it’s much easier than controlling the internet.

As a parent herself, Cummings understands this anxiety, but she also understands that parenthood isn’t only about control. “It’s not just our job to protect our kids. It’s our job to teach them how to navigate this diverse, complicated, sometimes messy world that we live in. I don’t see any better tool for that than books.” 

If Canyons successfully bans these books, they will not only limit the content their students have access to, but they will limit their students’ imagination for a better world. While the books that Canyons is currently reviewing do cause discomfort, “discomfort is where change happens,” as Cummings said. If we remove the discomfort of one book, we also remove the potential change that the story might have evoked. Empathy empowers change, and books usually power empathy. “The experience of reading is the experience of empathy and learning,” said Cummings.

We’ve both mourned the deaths, fallen in love and longed to become best friends with our favorite characters. This connection translates into the real world. People who read novels seem to be better than average at reading other people’s emotions. Reading helps us use our imaginations, allowing us to think deeper about how characters interact with others and the world around them. Cummings said, “You put on a different identity or experience when you’re in that book. That’s what makes readers more empathetic.”

Reading, especially about marginalized identities, has too many benefits to limit it in any capacity. Canyons School District must reconsider their book ban. Doing so helps our future leaders grow into compassionate adults — and the world certainly needs more of those.


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