Book bans: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding sequel to be released by Sarah Brannen

Book bans: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding sequel to be released by Sarah Brannen

A conversation with the award-winning author about LGBTQ+ representation in children's literature amid book bans.

by Suswati Basu

Award-winning author and illustrator Sarah Brannen has been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ book ban discussion due to her groundbreaking children’s book, “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding.” Originally published in 2008, this heartwarming picture book featuring a same-sex wedding has faced numerous challenges and bans across the United States. Amid the ongoing backlash against such books, Brannen revealed that despite the uproar, she is releasing a sequel in an exclusive interview with How To Be Books on Banned Books Week (October 1st to October 7th).

Exclusive: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding author Sarah Brannen talks about new sequel despite book bans on Banned Books Week

What is Uncle Bobby’s Wedding about?

"Uncle Bobby's Wedding" narrates the tale of Chloe, a young girl whose cherished uncle, Bobby, is preparing to marry his boyfriend, Jamie. Chloe's initial apprehensions about the wedding and its implications for her relationship with Uncle Bobby give way to a wonderful realisation. Through a special day spent with Uncle Bobby and Jamie, Chloe discovers that she isn't losing an uncle but gaining another, forging stronger bonds in the process.

This book serves as a touching tribute to love and family in all their diverse forms. It imparts a valuable lesson to children that change can be a positive experience and underscores the enduring significance of love in our lives.

Upon its initial release, "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" blazed a trail in children's literature by featuring a same-sex wedding, marking a groundbreaking moment. It has since become a classic, and has been praised for its positive and inclusive message.

Sarah Brannen: a pioneer in LGBTQ+ children’s literature amid book bans

The original book, published by Little Bee Books and in partnership with LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation GLAAD, introduced readers to a loving same-sex couple, Bobby and Jamie, who decide to get married. It was later re-published with illustrations from London-based artist Lucia Soto. It is thought to be the first book published by a US publisher to depict a same-sex wedding, a milestone that stirred both praise and controversy. Brannen reflects on the book’s journey, stating, “I wrote Uncle Bobby’s Wedding over 15 years ago and it was published in 2008. So, 15 years ago. It was the first book I wrote, and I definitely knew that it would be controversial.”

The book faced numerous challenges, with some parents and patrons requesting it to be removed from library shelves or reshelved in a special area. Brannen explains the distinction between a book challenge and a book ban, emphasising the extensive effort librarians put into evaluating each challenge. “As far as I know, Uncle Bobby’s Wedding wasn’t banned at first, and it was challenged a lot. Since then, the book banning started around that time,” she says.

Read: Florida school board: toss Penguin Random House book ban lawsuit

Brannen is currently part of a lawsuit with Penguin Random House and PEN America against a Florida school district that has reshelved “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” in a special room, requiring parental permission for children to access it. She points out the negative impact on children, especially those with LGBTQ+ parents, saying, “It’s a pretty horrible thing to be saying about those children’s parents.”

“Books need to be on the shelves, that reflect the experiences of all people and of all children and of the families of all children. And so that is yet a third horn of this beast, is, the racism that seems to have been given the freedom to express itself in this country, and I believe in freedom of expression.”

Sarah Brannen, ‘Uncle Bobby’s Wedding’ Author

The recent surge in book bans, targeting not only LGBTQ+ content but also books addressing racism and featuring characters of colour, deeply concerns Brannen. She shares, “The banning has gone from trying to remove books about racism from the shelves to basically trying to remove books about black and brown people from the shelves. At that point, I can’t go along with a parent feeling that they don’t want their children to read about these human beings.”

Read: Florida school district ‘bans books with LGBTQ characters entirely’

Addressing the motives behind these bans, Brannen speculates that it’s often political, driven by a few individuals filling out numerous forms and organised groups with political funding. She acknowledges parents’ rights but stresses the importance of keeping books available for all children and families, even if one parent disagrees with their content.

When asked about her response to book banning, Brannen firmly states, “I don’t agree with book banning. There may well be books on the shelves that espouse viewpoints I disagree with, but they need to be on the shelves.” She acknowledges that there are limits to free speech but believes that books should not be removed unless they pose a genuine danger to the community.

Fighting for access to diverse children’s books

Brannen’s hope is that her books, including the upcoming sequel, “Uncle Bobby’s Family,” also published by Little Bee Books and illustrated by Forrest Burdett, will serve as a reminder of the humanity of LGBTQ+ individuals. She says, “I just hope my book will be one more voice in a big chorus just saying that gay people are human beings. I definitely expand that to say all LGBTQ+ people. But very specifically, this is a book about two gay people who love each other and get married, and that’s it.”

Reflecting on the broader implications of the book ban movement, Brannen suggests reaching out to organisations like PEN America and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom for support. She also encourages community involvement, urging people to attend library board and school board meetings to stay informed and engaged in the fight against book bans.

Thus, authors like Sarah Brannen shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by writers and illustrators who strive to promote diversity and inclusivity in children’s literature and face book bans. The battle to keep books on library shelves remains a vital endeavour, ensuring that all children have access to stories that reflect the world around them.

Want to watch special bonus material from this interview with Laura Gao? Join the How To Be Books membership for only £4 per month!

Resources to check out to fight against Messy Roots book ban:

Like Brannen, Messy Roots author Laura Gao is facing a book challenge in Virginia. I had the pleasure of also exclusively interviewing the writer as well.

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Karalee October 4, 2023 - 11:03 am

I think it’s horrible that book banning is even a thing, and it’s even worse that the book bans focus on LGBTQ+ books and books that address racism. I applaud Sarah Brannen for publishing a book that she knew would be controversial, and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding should definitely not be banned because there are many children who do have LGBTQ+ parents or relatives.

Suswati Basu October 4, 2023 - 11:10 am

I totally agree, we’re living through some scary times at this moment. I’m really hoping it passes quickly and doesn’t escalate, but I might be kidding myself.

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