Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Earth, My Butt...banned redux!

More news about the banning of Carolyn Mackler's book The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round things.

Read all about the banning on MSNBC . There's also a special article about the book itself. To learn more about Carolyn visit her website.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Letter From Chris Crutcher

Hi Folks,

Chris Crutcher was kind enough to send along a recent letter of his about censorship.

Here it is:

Dear Superintendent Plugge,

I am the author of the short story "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune" which, I understand, has come into the cross-hairs of the censors in your district. I thought you might find it helpful to have the author's point of view. You probably know I have been in this position before, with this book and with others; some for the same reasons, others for different reasons. I say that only to let you know I have no personal investment in the outcome. From a financial point of view these challenges don't affect me. They usually increase sales in the area where the book is challenged because of increased curiosity, and may dampen them in surrounding areas where teachers or administrators are afraid of getting into conflict with the loud minority who think we can best protect our children by keeping realities from them.

I'm also not interested in entering into the free speech/intellectual freedom argument wherein one side says we have to keep our kids safe by censoring what they see and the other says it's fine for any parent to censor what his/her own kids read, but not fine for them to make those decisions for all parents. We either believe in basic intellectual freedom or we don't. We either believe in our own abilities as adults to help our kids process tough information or we don't, and not many minds are going to change regurgitating those arguments.

But when it comes to the question of removing material that addresses homosexuality, maybe there should be some considerations that land closer to home. It makes no more sense to say that stories like "Angus" or "Am I Blue" or any of Brent Hartinger's or Alex Sanchez's stories 'promote' homosexuality than it does to say that Sophocles' Oedipus Rex promotes sexual fantasies about one's mother, or that The Bible promotes crucifying our heroes. Those are simply things that happen in the stories that are up for discussion.

When one of your teachers looks out over any given junior high or high school classroom, he/she sees one in ten children who are gay. Contrary to what the far right Christian community thinks, they didn't choose to be gay. I've worked as a child and family counselor for more than twenty years and with the exception of a few female clients who had been horribly sexually mistreated throughout their lives, not one gay client has ever said she or he had a choice. You might ask your censors if they can remember back to the day they "decided" to become heterosexual.

Because they are forced to lead repressed lives, gay kids have a three times greater suicide rate than heterosexual kids. We cannot, as educators, pretend not to know those statistics, and when we know them and still choose to bow to the censors, we become accomplices in the results of that depression, because when we censor those stories, we censor those kids. We tell them loud and clear that they have good reason for that depression, and for thoughts of looking for a way out. We can't pretend to not know what we know.

Educators, particularly social studies teachers, are fond of repeating the old saying, "Those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat it." I couldn't agree more. Overwhelmingly, modern censors are made up of conservative Christians. You might want to visit some Ku Klux Klan history and listen to them evoke the name of God to back their bigotry. And make no mistake about it; if you engage in policy that diminishes a tenth (or even a hundredth) of a population that is born into their circumstances, you are a bigot. I don't care how many houses you build in Latin America or how many days you volunteer to work at the local Food Bank or how much money you tithe or give to charity. We believe in equality or we don't; we believe in justice or we don't, and hiding the truths of people's lives is unjust.

A thirteen year old gay boy that I worked with recently (who has given me permission to air his views) told me the thing that hurts him most is that for the next four years he will be unable to let anyone know who he really is. He can't allow the most powerful forces of his adolescence to be made evident even in harmless flirtation because of the possible consequences. Nobody wants to be Matthew Shepherd. But he also told me the kids these days aren't as bigoted as the adults. That gives me hope for our kids, but shames me as an adult. It should shame us all.

I believe there will be a time, hopefully before I die, when we look back on the way we have treated gays and the issue of homosexuality at the opening of the twenty first century, in the same way we now look back at the beginning of the civil rights era and wonder how such large portions of our population could have pandered to such bigotry. And we will look back at ourselves and be forced to say, in the privacy of our own thoughts, whether we were part of the problem or part of the solution. If you're an educator, there will be no in-between.

You have teachers in your schools willing to take on these subjects and work with kids on the qualities of understanding and acceptance. Where that is done well, instances of bullying always decrease. Bullying is a top-ten hot button item in schools these days.

I should also say that in my travels to districts where my books are challenged and in my dealings with the teachers and parents who are affected, I have found, even in the most conservative areas, fewer people who advocate censoring books than don't. And I have many letters from lifetime Christians who are embarrassed by the vocal fringe of their religion.

I don't speak from outside the world of education. I was a high school social studies teacher, director of a K-12 alternative school for troubled kids in my earlier career, and currently give more than a hundred presentations per year to middle and high school classes, and another fifty or so to teachers and librarians.


Chris Crutcher

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Victory! GEOGRAPHY CLUB Ban is Overturned!

The school board in University Place, Washington, has decided to overturn the ban on my book, GEOGRAPHY CLUB. For the whole story, visit my blog.

On a personal note, this reversal never would have happened without the outcry against the ban from opponents of censorship. It really does make a difference!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The AS IF! Mission Statement

At long last, here it is:

AS IF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom) champions those who stand against censorship, especially of books for and about teens.

Cathy Atkin's WHEN JEFF COMES HOME under attack

Catherine Atkins, author of ALT ED and WHEN JEFF COMES HOME, writes in her blog:

"I was interviewed Wednesday by a reporter for the Dallas Morning News about the challenge to When Jeff Comes Home in the Irving School District. The superintendent is requiring middle school parents to write permission letters if they want their students to be able to read the book. Librarians at the school have appealed the decision, so the matter has gone to the school board, which is reading the book now and will cast a vote in January. Stay tuned."

AS IF!'s own E. Lockhart has this take on the situation:

WHEN JEFF COMES HOME is the story of a teenage boy who returns home two years after his abduction at the hands of a psychopath. Booklist said, of what is presumably the controversial material: "the scars on his back are but surface hints of the guilt, fear, and self-loathing he feels because of what Ray forced him to do. Leaving those details to a few horrifying but not explicit flashbacks, Atkins paints a compelling picture of a crime victim desperate for help but trained to reject it."

I've read it, and I agree. The material is handled with zero sensationalism and great subtlety and sensitivity.

It won the following honors: ALA Best Book for Young Adults, ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Booklist Top Ten First Novel, IRA Young Adults Choice, Nominated for the Garden State Book Award, Nominated for the Eliot Rosewater Book Award.

I believe that supppressing what children and teenagers read at an institutional level (libraries and schools) is wrong and inhibits the freedoms our country is based on.

E. Lockhart

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Another Book Ban (*sigh*)

This time, it's the wonderful THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER ROUND THINGS, by Carolyn Mackler, and it's happened in Baltimore.

The article is behind a subscription firewall, but the key paragraph is this one:

"After reading the book and discussing it, the committee decided in October that the book should continue to be available at middle and high schools, said Hildebrandt, who oversees the reconsideration committee but does not vote.

"Parents were unhappy with the committee's decision and appealed to Ecker [the superintendent], Hildebrandt said.

"After skimming passages of the book, Ecker ordered it removed from all of the county's school libraries in mid-October."

In other words, parents complained, a committee reviewed the book (by, um, actually READING it!) and said, no, this deserves to be in our libraries. So the parents went to superintendent who "skimmed some passages" and pulled the book.

*deep heavy sigh*

Monday, December 05, 2005

AS IF! Makes Publishers Weekly!

AS IF! made Publishers Weekly! We couldn't be happier.

Here's an excerpt:


How much is intellectual freedom worth? For one Texas school, it's priceless

by Shannon Maughan -- 12/5/2005

When St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Tex., was faced with an ultimatum--pull Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain" from its reading list or lose a $3-million donation to its building fund--school officials chose to give up the money. That decision is reverberating far beyond Austin. Writers from around the country have been so inspired by the school's actions that they've formed a group of young adult authors called AS IF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom).

The issue began in December 2004, when Cary McNair, the film producer son of businessman and Houston Texans owner Robert McNair, pledged $3 million to the St. Andrew's capital campaign. The school is home to 750 students in grades 1-12, including the children of many of the city's most prominent citizens. The McNair gift took the school a long way toward its goal of raising $14.5 million for building and expansion. But in May 2005, McNair told St. Andrew's head of school Lucy Nazro that he objected to the inclusion of "Brokeback Mountain," a story about the secret love affair between two cowboys, as an optional selection on a 12th-grade reading list and asked that it be removed, Nazro told PW. [A feature film based on the story opens December 9.]

McNair, who sends two of his children to St. Andrew's, could not be reached for comment. But in an e-mail sent to a school trustee and later quoted extensively on, a Web site billed as "the Voice of Global Orthodox Anglicanism," McNair asked, "Why would St. Andrew's School promote classroom discussion on pornographic material concerning deviant behavior?" He continued, "Support from parents and donors are given on the premise that SAS will deliver what it promises. If SAS, in its final decision and continued conduct, chooses to not follow its declared 'Mission and Values' then SAS, by its own action, has removed the McNair funds from the campaign effort, and accepted the potential risk for other support departures."

But the decision did not end up derailing building plans. "Three million dollars is a lot of money," said Nazro. "But we've managed to raise more than $3 million just since we lost the money in August. Some of it has been donations that probably would have come in anyway, but some people did step up as a show of support." Nazro said additions to the Upper School have been completed and that they hope to dedicate the new middle school in January.

Meanwhile, something else has been building. When author Lisa Yee (Millicent Min, Girl Genius) read about the St. Andrew's incident in a Texas newspaper, she posted the article on a young adult listserv. Author Jordan Sonnenblick (Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie) wrote back, offering to send signed books to St. Andrew's as a show of support. "I was thrilled to see this school standing up," he said. Within a couple of weeks, authors Brent Hartinger (Geography Club), Mark Williams (the Danger Boy series) and Sonnenblick announced the formation of AS IF! and launched its Web site at A roster of more than 40 YA authors--Chris Crutcher, David Levithan and Cynthia Kadohata among them--joined and also sent books to the school. To date, Nazro said, St. Andrew's has received more than 80 autographed titles. "They are still coming," she confirmed. "Right now we are collecting them at the Upper School and hopefully by the first of the year we will have a special display for them and will include a note about why they are there."