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Texas kids read prohibited books at 'Banned Camp'

A summer library program in Austin is shining a spotlight on books that have been banned or challenged in the state, most of which deal with LGBTQ and race issues.

A large independent bookstore in Texas and the Austin Public Library have teamed up to provide a unique summer opportunity for the capital city’s youths this summer: “Banned Camp.” 

Amid an unprecedented effort by conservatives across the state to prohibit books dealing with sexuality, gender identity and race, the camp’s organizers planned over a dozen in-person and remote events throughout the summer to shine a spotlight on these banned and challenged titles.

Image: Drag queen Miss Kitty reads "The Return of Thelma the Unicorn," to children and families at the first "Banned Camp," at Pease Park on June 26, 2022 in Jun 26, 2022 in Austin. Banned Camp is a series of free events put on by the Austin Public Library and BookPeople to allow the community to engage with books that have been banned or challenged.
Drag queen Miss Kitty reads "The Return of Thelma the Unicorn" to children and families at the first "Banned Camp" at Pease Park in Austin on June 26. Aaron E. Martinez / Austin American-Statesman via USA Today-Network

“Our local community members reached out to us to see what we could do, what voice that we had in preventing this from happening in our local schools?” Charley Rejsek, CEO of the store, BookPeople, told NBC News. 

One of the first events in the series, held June 16 at one of the city’s public libraries, was a conversation with George M. Johnson, author of “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” This award-winning memoir consists of a series of coming-of-age essays from the LGBTQ activist. It was also No. 3 on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021

Other titles featured among the “Banned Camp” series include “Heartstopper,” a young adult LGBTQ graphic novel, and “1984,” George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a controversial bill into law last year that limits how race-related subjects are taught in the state’s public schools. The measure was then expanded to the topic of human sexuality.

In February, NBC News reported that books on race and sexuality were disappearing from Texas schools in record numbers. 

Texas high school student Cate Marshburn said she thinks the banning of these books is “very much fear-driven, and being afraid and uncomfortable having conversations with their children about the subjects in these books.”

For a list of the remaining Banned Camp events this summer, visit the Austin Public Library’s website.

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