In November 2022, the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) organization notified me that my children’s novel, Gaby, Lost and Found, was removed from school library bookshelves throughout Florida’s Duval County Public Schools (DCPS). I was shocked by the news. At the beginning of 2022 Gaby, Lost and Found had been on school library shelves for over TEN YEARS without a single challenge. Why now? Why Gaby’s story?
My children’s book wasn’t the only one removed. There were hundreds of brilliant and diverse children’s books pulled from the bookshelves without any reason provided.
Other challenged children’s books in Duval County include:
- Lucky, Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
- Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa by Veronica Chambers
- Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
- It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
- Amina’s Voice by Hena Kahn
Why Gaby, Lost and Found?
Gaby, Lost and Found was published by Scholastic in 2012. It’s my children’s novel about a 6th grader named Gaby Ramirez, whose mom is deported to her home country of Honduras. Gaby is left to pick up the pieces. Despite it all, she thrives and contributes to her community as a volunteer at an animal shelter, using her voice to find forever homes for shelter pets because her mom had taught her to always take care of strays.
Before this challenge ever existed, Gaby, Lost and Found was an award-winning children’s book, chosen by the Anti-Defamation League as a Recommended Book. It won an International Latino Book Award. Gaby, Lost and Found was named one of Best Children’s Books of the Year by The Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature. Ten years after publication, I still reap royalties from the sales of this book.
I’m proud of Gaby, Lost and Found. It’s the type of book that I wanted to see on my school bookshelf when I was a child. No number of book bans or challenges can ever take that away from me. Still, the book challenge hurts.
Angela Cervantes the “challenged children’s author”
I feel no pride in being a challenged author despite everyone telling me that I’m among “good company” and that being the author of a challenged book means that I’ve “made it” and “arrived”
I get it. Some of the greats in children literature have been banned: Madeleine L’Engle; Shel Silverstein; E.B. White; Katherine Paterson…I’m in good company. I guess it’s romantic. Still, I’d prefer that my book was on school library shelves so that the kids I wrote it for could read it.
When I learned of the challenge back in November 2022, I hesitated to share it with family and friends because I knew it would upset people. As a self-diagnosed chronic people pleaser, I didn’t want to upset anyone. I only decided to share the news when a courageous outspoken librarian from Indiana made an Instagram reel about it this past February. Her support was brave and I couldn’t let her speak out while I stood back and watched. I shared the news on my Facebook and Instagram account. It triggered immediate responses:
So sorry Angela. Florida fascism taking root. The lessons from Nazi Germany quickly forgotten.
Que mal!! Lo lamento mucho Ángela. So much for freedom of speech in this country.
I can’t even fathom why!! This makes me so mad.
Will this book challenge change the way I write?
I never expected my children’s book to be challenged. And I certainly don’t want people to be upset for me. Instead, I want them to be upset for all the young readers who stand in front of school library bookshelves and can’t find a book that reflects them.
Instead of rage, I want them to keep their eyes open to what is happening in Florida and all across the country. Taking actions means speaking up at school board meetings whenever the topic of book banning creeps up. It also means voting at every election—especially at the local level. Who are we electing onto our school boards? Who are we giving the power to decide what books children read in our schools?
Recently, someone asked me if the book challenge would alter the way I write in the future.
No way, José.
Having my book, Gaby, Lost and Found, challenged in Duval County Public Schools will not change my writing one bit, but it has put a dent in my heart. I feel it even now as I write these words. As a Latinx children’s author, I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to write children’s books that not only represent my Latinx community with dignity, but to also create stories that all children will love and that will hopefully inspire them to become lifelong readers. Book bans and challenges are bred from fear and ignorance. We can’t let fear win. Children need these books.
To date, I’ve learned that Gaby, Lost and Found, has been returned to the bookshelves in Duval County Public Schools. I’m relieved, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that my novel shouldn’t have been removed from school library bookshelves in the first place. And there are still so many diverse children’s books that have not been returned. We must continue to push for these books to be returned to the library bookshelves.
So, for now, I’ve decided to re-strengthen my commitment to writing honest stories about Latinx children who, despite the challenges, stand up for themselves and their communities. And just like Gaby, my weapons of choice are my voice, my writing, and my heart.
Educate Yourself. Speak Out.
For more information about challenged and banned children’s books in the US, see helpful links below: