Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Update on Webster's RAINBOW BOYS Challenge

A nice front page article in the local newspaper. And a pretty decent editorial.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ban This! And That? And Those? And These . . . ?

AS IF! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom

I recently received this interesting e-mail from Gregory K. aka GottaBook/.
What do you think?

(Gregory K's e-mail below)

So, I was reading blogs today and came across that lovely book-banning story from the Antelope Valley.

I know you're involved with the ASIF gang... and I'm wondering if y'all (or anyone( have ever thought of the following strategy... and wonder if it would be effective or merely a huge waste of time.

Anyway, the policy expressed in the article (and the full policy would be needed) is so laughably all encompassing AND utterly up to interpretation at the same time. So why not use the power of the blogosphere to get everyone to come up with a list of books that "should" be challenged based on their policy. I bet we could come up with 1,000 books in their school libraries, including tons of classics.

For instance, based on this lovely passage:

"Materials must not encourage students to identify with violent or amoral characters. In some cases, students don't always finish the entire book so, for example, we might choose to avoid a story that seems sympathetic to negative behavior in the beginning even when the lesson is learned in the end," the policy said.

I can say that How the Grinch Stole Christmas is totally unacceptable, as is the Lorax (that Onceler is a bad man!). I can make a case for pulling Cat in the Hat, too. ACurious George is just curious, but the truth is that he's of a young enough age that he doesn't really have a moral sense -- thus without morals, thus the true meaning of amoral. Oh, and No, David cannot possibly pass muster.

And based on this:

Under the guidelines, books now cannot depict drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, including "negative sexuality," implied or explicit nudity, cursing, violent crime or weapons, gambling, foul humor and "dark content."

Dear goodness me... it's hard to say how much would be left in MG or YA. The problem is who defines thigns like "foul humor" or "dark content"? They are subjective entirely, even with an attempt to codify.

Maybe my idea simply would end up getting everything banned or would fail to raise the right type of attention. And I suppose authors wouldn't want to recommend their own books for banning... but still. If there is support from people in the Antelope Valley who have kids in these schools, I think the power of the kidlitosphere could help create a mighty fine list with proper "cause."

Anyway, curious what you or others think....

Letter Regarding RAINBOY BOYS Challenge

My buddy in Webster, Ove Overmyer, wrote this great letter regarding the RAINBOW BOYS situation. I think it adds important context:

Dear Bennett:

I think the events that have unfolded over the past few days needs some clarity. The fact remains that a parent complained about Mr. Sanchez’s book being on the summer reading list and wanted it removed, regardless of it being described as gay-themed or having inappropriate sexual content. Ms. Agostinelli chose to remove the book without consultation, therefore restricting the use to others. This action is defined as a book challenge.

Webster School District Superintendent Adele Bovards’ comments circumvent the real issue here. I take real exception to her saying that Mr. Sanchez rushed to judgement. The American Library Association’s Bill of Rights is very clear about challenged books violating the first amendment. Once the book first appeared on the list, the action of removing it can only be described as censorship. Simply put, the administrators need to step aside in their attempt to appease conservative minded parents while throwing curve balls to the media hoping that this issue will go away. I’m here to tell you that this issue is not going away until the assault on our freedom to read is eradicated. Challenging books and denying people access to information is not about moral and ethical code, it’s one of legal precedence.


Ove Overmyer

Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County
GAGV Library & Archive Project Coordinator
NYS Appellate Law Library, 4th Division
585.428.8143 / 585.423.9862

Things are Getting CRAZY in Webster...

Well, things are really heating up in Webster, New York, over the removal of RAINBOW BOYS from a summer reading list. First, author Alex Sanchez responds. Next we have some response from the community.

AS IF! spokesman Jordan Sonnenblick recommends this action:

Please take a moment to fire off a message in defense of intellectual freedom, if the spirit moves you. The superintendent, Adele Bovard, may be reached at

I'd love to see a bunch of letters to the editor hitting the paper up there too. That address is:

Thanks for your time -

Jordan Sonnenblick

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Culture Wars Hit the "Romance" Genre

Here's an interesting/depressing article on a current debate raging in the Romance Writers of America: whether or not to try to limit the genre (and membership in the organization) to writers of books who feature only opposite-sex, not same-sex romance.

My opinion is that apparently some folks have no idea what love, and romance, is really all about. Incredibly, some of these people are actually writing romance. I suggest they check out some of the fantastic same-sex romance books written by AS IF! members Chris Tebbetts, David Levithan, Ellen Wittlinger, and Leslea Newman (among others!).

The really good news is that apparently the pro-tolerance forces (who include Nora Roberts, quoted in the article) way outnumber the pro-bigotry ones, and they're winning this fight.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Story of One Challenge: A Cautionary Tale

A friend recently emailed me the details of one recent book challenge: Rainbow Boys, a very popular gay-themed YA novel by Alex Sanchez, was on a summer reading list at the Webster Central School District in upstate New York. The book, which has won lots of important honors, was on the "high school" sub-section, on a list that was a total of some 25 pages long. The list itself was chosen by teachers, presumably with an eye for diversity, and students were required to read two books from the list; the public libraries in the area set the books aside in a special area for easy access.

While Rainbow Boys was not on the middle school list, a middle school student checked the book out and brought it home. The parent read the book and was extremely upset, calling the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and reading an "explicit" passage. The Assistant Superintendent decided to pull the book, and informed the public libraries to remove it from the summer reading collection.

Librarians in the area strongly warned the administrators that they were making a mistake: that if parents were allowed to have this one book removed from the list especially without discussion or review, then other parents would soon want other books removed.

And what do you know? Another parent has now submitted a long list of books for removal. About half are gay-themed:

Rainbow Boys- Sanchez
Breaking Boxes - Jenkins
Empress of the World - Ryan
I Was a Teenage Fairy - Block
Lucky - Sebold
Keesha's House - Frost
Looking for Alaska - Green
Bless Me, Ultima - Anaya
My Heartbeat - Freymann-Weyr
Ragtime - Doctorow
Smack - Burgess
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Garcia Marquez
When I Was Puerto Rican - Santiago
Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Garcia Marquez
Athletic Shorts - Crutcher
Kindred - Butler
Deliver Us From Evie - Kerr
Hard Love - Wittlinger
Green Lantern: Passing the Torch - Winick
The Last Chance Texaco - Hartinger

And yeah, that's my own book The Last Chance Texaco, targeted yet again! It seems that even when I write non-gay fiction, I still get challenged.

*deep and heavy sigh*

In any event, I think this is a perfect of example of what happens with administrators try to unilaterally appease angry parents by ignoring the existing book review policy, if there is no book review policy in place in the first place (which seems hard to believe in this day and age, but yes, it still happens!). If a book truly is not "age-appropriate," there are mechanisms in place to deal with the work in question.

But if the book challenge is merely a case where one parent wants to decide not just what his or her children are reading, but what everyone else's kids are reading too, usually based on a specific religious worldview, well, that parent will hopefully learn that public libraries and public schools exist to serve the entire community, and cater to lots of diverse beliefs. Basically, we all pay the taxes that support these libraries and schools, and every young person is required to attend school; resources should exist to serve all their needs. In any event, this is America, where we hopefully still err on the side of freedom, and letting parents, individuals, and, individual families decide these things for themselves.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Book Sense Names Banned Book Top Ten

Every year, the ALA and Book Sense (among others) sponsor Banned Books Week, which begins on Sunday, September 24. Book Sense, meanwhile, releases a list of their "top ten" favorite banned books. Here's this year's list:

The Fall 2006 Banned Books Book Sense Top Ten Picks

1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee (Harper Perennial, $12.95 paper, 0060935464; Deluxe Paperback Classic edition, $15.95, 0061120081) "One of my all-time favorite books is also on the list compiled by the American Library Association of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books. Do yourself a favor and read Lee's novel, which examines prejudice and racial injustice and which reminds us of the difference one person can make." --Patti McCall, Queen Anne Books, Seattle, WA

2. GEOGRAPHY CLUB, by Brent Hartinger (Harper Tempest, $6.99 paper, 0060012234) "Repeatedly challenged by school districts, and in 2005 banned in a Tacoma, Washington school, Geography Club is one of the few young adult novels dealing with gay teens in a straightforward, engaging storyline. An important book for and about a group of young readers who have few other titles that speak to them." --Cheryl McKeon, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

3. THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry (Laurel Leaf, $6.50 paper, 0440237688) "This book about a 12-year-old boy singled out by his community for a special role conveys a powerful message and should be read by all who are concerned about government going too far." --Elizabeth Taylor, Poor Richard's Books, Frankfort, KY

4. THE STORY OF LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, by Helen Bannerman, Christopher H. Bing (Illus.) (Handprint Books, $17.95, 1929766556) "This edition of Bannerman's story features illustrations from Caldecott Honor-winning artist Bing and will be welcomed by all those who read it as a child or had it read to them. It spells out why the book fell into disfavor and how the illustrator viewed the story and how his work reflects it." --Dorothy Dickerson, Books & More, Albion, MI

5. THE BLUEST EYE, by Toni Morrison (Plume, $14 paper, 0452282195) "This novel from the Nobel Laureate is an absolutely brutal depiction of a young black girl's desire to be 'pretty.'" --Donna Hawley, Howard's Bookstore, Bloomington, IN

6. BRAVE NEW WORLD, by Aldous Huxley (Harper Perennial, $13.95 paper, 0060929871; Deluxe Paperback Classic edition, $13.95, 0060850523) "Huxley's novel of a utopian World State explains the world and creates characters with whom you will empathize. Beautiful!" --Katie Redding, Top Shelf Books, Palatine, IL

7. FOREVER, by Judy Blume (Pocket, $6.99 paper, 0671695304; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.95 hardcover, 0689849737) "Blume's brilliance is that she writes frankly about teenage sexuality. But, beyond that, Forever is about teens taking responsibility for their lives and dealing with the consequences of their actions. Still controversial, this novel continues to speak to readers today." --Sweet Pea Flaherty, King's Books, Tacoma, WA

8. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, $8.99 paper, 059035342X) "God bless J.K. Rowling, who has brought millions of children and adults around the world to books and reading. Her Harry Potter books have set children's imaginations alight -- and have created an extraordinary new batch of both readers and writers of fantasy fiction." --Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, Windows A Bookshop, Monroe, LA

9. WE, by Yevgeny Zamyatin (Modern Library, $12.95 paper, 081297462X) "One of the very first dystopian novels ever written, and the only full-length novel ever completed by the Russian writer Zamyatin, who was constantly under arrest or exiled for his subversive writing. It's the story of D-503, a mathematician who falls in love and then must decide between his new love and his beloved state." --Michael Karpus, Books & Books at Bal Harbour Shops, Bal Harbour, FL

10. WHALE TALK, by Chris Crutcher (Laurel Leaf, $6.50 paper, 0440229383) "In a war between the jocks and the freaks, T.J. Jones gradually becomes a wise and fair 'Everyman,' representing all that is good in our society. This book should be required reading for every freak, geek, and jock living the American dream/ nightmare of high school." --Collette Morgan, Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis, MN

Truthfully, I had to laugh when I saw my book, GEOGRAPHY CLUB, come in on the list at #2. Right after TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? I mean, come on!

Interestingly, I did my college thesis on BRAVE NEW WORLD, coming in at #6. Incidentally, what kind of name is "Aldous" anyway? I should know that, huh?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This Just In: Sexy Music Leads to Teen Sex (Maybe. Kinda. It depends on how you define "sexy" and "teen" and "leads to.")

You might have seen the headline on CNN yesterday, "Sexy Music Triggers Teen Sex." The study bears the imprimatur of the supposedly objective Rand Corporation, and appears in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics. There must be something to it, then, right? (Will pediatricians add rap music to the household safety talk they give to new parents? The one where they ask about firearms and carseats?)

Over at Pediatrics, people with more smarts than I are pointing out the methodological flaws in the study. I slogged through the article in its entirety and laughed out loud when I came to this part:
Our results suggest that the relationship between exposure and behavior may (emphasis mine) be causal in nature, because we controlled for teens' previous sexual experience, as well as factors like parental monitoring, religiosity, and deviance; however, our correlational data do not allow us to make causal inferences with certainty. . . . It is important to point out, however, that at the time of the third survey, about half of our sample had become legal adults (18–20 years); initiation of intercourse in this group would not be considered early according to US norms and might be considered healthy.
Half the participants were 18-20 when they initiated intercourse? But it's rap music that lead them to it?

Then there's this:
We also observed an association between time spent listening to music in general and changes in sexual behavior. The more time teens spent listening to music, the more likely they were to advance in their noncoital sexual behavior and to initiate intercourse. . . It may be that listening to popular music, regardless of its content, results in heightened physiologic arousal that, through a process of excitation transfer incites sexual behavior among teens.
And to think, they laughed at Cardinal Strich when he banned the "hedonistic, tribal rhythms" of rock and roll music from all the Catholic Schools in Chicago in 1957.

Here's what they hope will come of their hard work:
[O]ur findings suggest a need for intervention. Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music, or reducing young people's exposure to music with this type of content, could delay initiation of intercourse and related activities. This, in turn, may reduce sexual risk behavior and sexual regret.
God, where were these people in the Disco era? I might have so much less to regret.