USA TODAY International Edition

Patterson is now among the banned

- Marco della Cava

As the culture wars rage, books increasing­ly are on the front line.

Across the country, local, state and some national officials are moving to ban certain titles on the grounds that books tackling racism, sexuality and gender identity pose a threat to younger readers. And some librarians and teachers who push back against such bans have faced harassment and dismissal.

Many of these allegedly controvers­ial books are familiar school staples written by long- dead authors such as “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger and “Beloved” by Toni Morrison.

But last week, best- selling author James Patterson was pulled into the fray when school district officials in Martin County, Florida, removed his young adult series “Maximum Ride” from its elementary school library but kept it accessible for older students. The book follows the adventures of friends who are winged human- avian hybrids.

Patterson tweeted about the incident Monday, urging fans who found “mindless book banning troubling or confusing” to write to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been aggressive­ly waging the culture war. We caught up with Patterson, who expanded on his concerns.

Question: Martin County did not ban “Maximum Ride” but instead has removed access for elementary school students. What do you make of the distinctio­n?

Answer: It’s a distinctio­n with some merit but not a lot, because it’s not a book anyone should be taking out of elementary schools. There’s nothing in that book that should scare anyone. Kids who are into science and math love it, because I talked to scientists for it about whether you can put wings on kids, which is kind of fun.

If you are going to ban this book, then no kids under 12 should go to any Marvel movies.

Have Martin County school officials reached out to you?

No they haven’t. The troubling thing is the school district is making decisions about books. Individual­s that haven’t read the book.

If based on one person’s objection you take books off shelves, then we’re going in the wrong direction.

The only time I was banned was for “The Jericho Commandmen­t” ( a 1979 novel about terrorists at the 1980 Moscow Olympics), and that was banned in Russia. So that’s ironic.

You’ve mentioned this is personal for you. How so?

A lot of people talk the talk, but I do ( stuff). I’ve spent 40 years funding teacher libraries.

My mother was a teacher in Catholic schools. She paid for her own class

room library. But I’ve been funding independen­t libraries, hundreds of teacher scholarshi­ps, and I have an imprint for children.

But I also happen to own a house in Martin County. I bought it for one of my sisters there.

And my niece has kids going to school in Martin County. So yes, that makes it a little personal.

You live nearby in Palm Beach County. Would you consider speaking directly to Martin County school board officials?

I almost went up there, and if the book had been totally banned, I would have.

But if I did speak to them, I’d say look, absolutely it’s important for you to keep your kids safe, and you should do a better job at that. If a book comes into your home with your child, ask them: ‘ What’s it about? Are you enjoying it? Oh, you’re having nightmares, let’s talk about it.’

But there are far scarier things on the internet than there are in libraries.

Can authors targeted by bans make a difference in this heated debate?

There certainly needs to be teeth in the response to this.

If this continues, school boards will face lawsuits from publishers, from authors. And we’ll go right after the people on the school boards.

Because you just can’t go out there and make irresponsi­ble decisions. These folks need to read the books, find out about the books, and in the rare case that there is something so incredibly objectiona­ble, I suppose maybe then you react.

What’s your worst- case scenario for a nation that continues to ban books?

You’ll have a country of people with no sense of history or ideas. None, zero.

One of the wonderful things about books is it allows us to find out about different ways of thinking, of living, different problems people have, different ways of finding joy.

You can explain a world through a library and that’s a good thing. To cut that down is not useful.

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