A specialist in contemporary realism, Jacqueline Wilson is perhaps best known for her creation of Tracy Beaker, a feisty foster child whose story was adapted into a hit CBBC show. Her extensive bibliography covers often troubling subject matter and how these issues might affect children, from friend group exclusion to domestic abuse. In a recent interview for The Guardian, Wilson discussed her worries over the current reading habits of young children and weighed in on the subject of book bans and censorship.
The author called book bans in the United States a “huge worry”, noting that the UK has been known to follow American trends. A report by non-profit group PEN America showed a 28% increase in book bans and restrictions in the 2022 – 2023 school year, compared to the prior six months of January – June 2022. While recent studies by the American Library Association show the majority of voters oppose book bans, a vocal minority is seemingly supported by state legislature, thus allowing the bans to go ahead. The bans have been noted as supporting anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric in addition to banning books on history, race, and sex. Recent bans even include restrictions on works by William Shakespeare.
Wilson expanded to say that censorship is a “complex issue” and voiced her concerns over intolerance and black-and-white attitudes. She also discussed the recent editing of books by authors such as Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton to remove outdated and harmful language, believing that the original pieces should still be made available for those who wish to read them.
In the interview, Wilson expressed regret over one of her books, Love Lessons, in which a fourteen year old girl becomes infatuated with her art teacher who inappropriately reciprocates. The author noted that while she had doubts at the time of writing, she feels attitudes have changed further and she would not have written the book today. Wilson has also shown herself to be interested in updating her writing to better represent contemporary society as she promoted her upcoming book The Best Sleepover in the World. A sequel to Wilson’s popular Sleepovers, the new book aims to give voice to lead character Daisy’s previously non-verbal sister Lily, thus allowing her a more active role in the story.
In the UK, mass book bans have yet to manifest, though there have been controversies over decolonising libraries and removing some harmful language from books. While censorship is indeed a complex issue, the targeting of stories which center minority figures is a concern. In the meantime, it is comforting to know that some beloved authors remain interested in inspiring children as opposed to inhibiting them by restricting access to diverse materials.
Words by Camille Murray