Drama, a popular graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, was recently ordered removed from Catholic elementary schools in Ottawa. The decision was swiftly reversed amidst much criticism.
The removal of Drama came after complaints from parents about LGBT content; Drama, which centers around a middle-school theatre production, features a panel where two boys kiss onstage.
The School Board had asserted that the choice was made to remove the book not necessarily because of LGBT content, but because of relationship content:
“It is not a book we really need younger kids reading without guidance.”– Robert Long, Ottawa Catholic School Board
I’ve read Drama, and I feel confident that if the LGBT characters were instead presented as a boy-girl coupling there would have been no perceived “issue” and no censorship of this title by the School Board.
Drama features young students, some of which have crushes on other students (shocking, I know), but the book isn’t heavily focused on romantic relationships- it’s also an intensely readable comic featuring diverse characters who are excited and passionate about theatre. The students are busy addressing all of the intricacies of designing a set, planning the lighting, creating the costumes, rehearsing and getting ready for their big performance.
Scholastic recommends Drama for ages 10-14, which covers about grade 4-9. Age recommendations aren’t set in stone though, and I take them with a grain of salt- readers often enjoy titles above and below their “reading level”, especially if the content is relatable to them. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was involved in several school plays, and this is just the kind of comic I would probably have enjoyed.
While the decision to ban Drama was thankfully reversed due to the pushback, we can still learn a lot from this act of censorship.
What does it say when we remove a book like Drama? The School Board had claimed that the book’s relationship content was age inappropriate, but the book was originally contested because of LGBT content (a gay character, a kiss). If the school was truly concerned about relationship content and kisses they would have a lot more titles to ban, including heaps of classic fairy tales, bestselling kids’ novels, and tons of picture books.
Take a look at the cute picture books up there created for young readers- why does society readily accept the love and affection of entire menageries of animals and creatures in a children’s picture book, but as soon as a boy kisses another boy in a comic people become uneasy?
Sadly, comics and graphic novels are subject to hyper-vigilant scrutiny on a regular basis. There’s something about the visual nature of comics that gets people all riled up, and this controversy over Drama is one more story showing that censorship is alive in Canada.
By purposefully removing Drama from a school library collection, the school board was effectively removing representation of LGBTQ+ characters. This removal insinuated that board members had concluded gay crushes are problematic and can only be handled by more mature readers. It implied that it’s unnatural for boys to like boys, it’s unmentionable for a boy to kiss a boy, that kids shouldn’t see LGBT relationships as normal, and that school libraries shouldn’t contain these types of content.
Representation isn’t trivial- it’s vital. Statistics show that in Canada, as in many other parts of the world, LGBTQ+ people are targeted at disproportionately high levels when it comes to violence, sexual assault, and discrimination.
We need stories with LGBTQ+ content to normalize LGBTQ+ people and relationships if we are to stop the violence that is directed toward them.
This book wasn’t being used for a class- it was available in the library, where students had the choice to read it or not read it as they liked. Parents can control what their own kids read, but when a book is banned and removed from a school library it eliminates EVERYONE’S chance to read it.
Drama could be the book that sparks a love of reading for a child. It could be the book that makes them feel less alone in the world, the book that they see themselves reflected in. It could inspire them, comfort them, entertain them, educate them, and more. It could do all of these things or none of these things, because every person is different and every reader brings their own ways of knowing into what they are reading. When the book is available, at least they have the chance to read it- if they don’t want to read it, nobody is forcing them to.
I’m glad that Drama is back in the elementary school libraries. Telgemeier’s graphic novels are popular for a reason, and kids read them voraciously. Drama could be just the book that a student needs.