Monday, October 30, 2006

Borders Turns Away Author's Debut Novel

I was at a LAYA (Los Angeles Young Adult Authors) event last night and had the good fortune to meet up-and-coming YA novelist Aury Wallington. Aury, who has penned scripts for SEX AND THE CITY and other shows, has a first book coming out called POP! (Razorbill) It covers issues like virginity and teen sex, and Planned Parenthood has given it kudos.

The buzz is good, the reviews are great, yet Borders is refusing to carry the book. This seems odd since Barnes and Noble will have it on their shelves, and I am sure the independents will be snapping it up. So why not Borders? We're not sure.

Here's an article from THE BOOK STANDARD which is raising a lot of questions.

We'd love to know what you think about this. And in the meantime, hang in there Aury!

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I admit I'm finding this controversy in Puyallup, Washington, to be an interesting one: junior high teachers are challenging The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (part of the school's multi-cultural curriculum, a response to a discrimination lawsuit that the school lost), with these teachers saying they believe the book is too mature for their students.

I believe teachers should have some say in the books they teach because, after all, they know their own students better than anyone. But the superintendant, bless his soul, is defending the book.
The head of the Puyallup School District appears prepared to stand behind a novel being questioned by a group of teachers, according to internal documents.

In an e-mail to the School Board president, Superintendent Tony Apostle said he expects teachers to follow the district’s multicultural curriculum, which includes “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” by Ernest J. Gaines.

“This novel is a significant masterpiece of American literature and it belongs in the eighth grade,” Apostle wrote to School Board President Diana Seeley in a Sept. 24 e-mail.

“We also need teachers who (are) confident, capable and competent in teaching this literature to students,” Apostle wrote in the e-mail, requested by The News Tribune through state open records laws.

Apostle sent the message two days after a teacher was disciplined for voicing concerns to parents about the book’s use of racial slurs and violence.

Apostle’s e-mail and other records give more details on the district’s decision to discipline Aylen Junior High School teacher Donna Helgesen. She was put on paid leave for two days after telling parents at a back-to-school meeting that “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” is inappropriate for eighth-graders, records show.

Last week, nine educators, including Helgesen, filed a formal challenge of the novel’s place in the eighth-grade curriculum. The teachers are from five of the six junior high schools in the district. The challenge will be reviewed by a district curriculum committee and could later be appealed to the Puyallup School Board.
The rest of the article might be behind a firewall, but it does sound like the matter is being discussed in an appropriate way through the appropriate channels (after one teacher apparently inappropriately disparaged the book, without authorization, at a Back-to-School Night).

Real Life Avi: Captain Underpants Costume Banned

As most readers of this blog know, I'm all for, like, free speech and everything, but why does this story strike me as a real-life version of Avi's Nothing But The Truth?
Three 17-year-old girls were told to leave Long Beach High School on Wednesday after they showed up on Superhero Day costumed as the subject of the best-selling children's books.

"I didn't know which superhero it was, not that it mattered," said Principal Nicholas Restivo.

The girls depicted this superhero — who has battled, among other things, talking toilets and the infamous Professor Poopypants — by wearing beige leotards and nude stockings under white briefs and red capes.

"Yes, I know they weren't naked," Restivo said. "But the appearance was that they were naked."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Censorship or Removal of a Book with "Factual Flaws"?

This is an interesting article that gets right to the heart of some censorship battles: what if someone wants a book banned not because of differing of opinions, but because the factual content of the book is (supposedly) wrong?
WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which specializes in constitutional law, today filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of a school district’s decision in Florida to remove a factually-flawed book about Cuba from the school library – a decision that triggered a lawsuit by the ACLU. A federal district court held that the decision to replace the book violated the First Amendment rights of students. The ACLJ brief urges the appeals court to overturn that decision arguing that the school board has the authority to provide accurate and factual information to students.

“This case is about ensuring that students receive accurate and factual information – not about the suppression of ideas,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, which filed the amicus brief in support of the school district. “Once again, the ACLU is using the courts to bully a school board that did what any school board should do – look out for the best interest of its students. The local school board is supposed to be the microcosm of the democratic process. Parents exercise their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children by electing school board members and entrusting them with their children’s education. The Miami-Dade County School Board acted in a sound and proper manner. We’re hopeful that the appeals court will reject the ACLU’s flawed argument and respect the authority and judgment of the community-based school board that knows what’s best for its students.”

This case involves a dispute in Miami-Dade County, Florida over a book, A Visit To Cuba, that was placed in public school libraries. The book was intended for 4-to-8 year old children and made claims that life in Cuba is no different than life in the United States. Many in the community who suffered greatly under the Communist regime in Cuba were outraged at the book’s inaccuracies and misstatements. The school board decided to replace the Cuba book, and the series it is a part of, with a more accurate set of books.
This line in particular stuck out at me:
“The Board’s concern was the accuracy of facts and the need to prepare students to be well-informed citizens, not the suppression of ideas,” the brief argues. “This determination poses no constitutional crisis. Rather, it falls within the category of routine, discretionary decisions made by thousands of school boards across the country on a daily basis.”
But there's the rub. What if some people say the facts aren't wrong? And sure enough, two review committees and the school's own superintendent (as well as the first judge who heard the case) all came to the conclusion that the book should stay; Publishers Weekly reviewed the book favorably, saying the book (which is part of a series) is "informative and colorful," offering information "in simple statements without commentary." Among the book's supposedly "misleading" information are such controversial statements as "People in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do."

I know this is a hot button issue for some immigrants from Cuba, but it looks to me like banning this book definitely does pose a constitutional crisis.

Newspapers in School? Like "a Loaded Gun"

I confess, I'm getting very tired of these people:
Following a parent's complaint, an Eagan elementary school principal has placed a step between students and free newspapers, including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in the school's media center — saying school officials should be mindful of what young children are reading.

Principal Miles Haugen of Deerwood Elementary School received an e-mail from a woman whose second-grade daughter attends the school. The parent complained about the "sex, death and general mayhem that have become the standard fodder for newspapers and TV news," said one teacher who saw the e-mail and asked not to be identified.

Roughly 30 copies of the Pioneer Press are provided to the school, primarily for teachers to use in classroom exercises. Leftovers are accessible to students in the school's media center.

School officials originally said they would restrict the papers for the woman's child alone — but the woman e-mailed back that it wasn't good enough, saying the act would make the papers a "fascinating forbidden fruit" and giving students open access to the papers would be "like leaving a loaded gun on the table."
A newspaper in school is "like leaving a loaded gun on the table."

You know, I don't care that this is elementary school: this is just plain nuts. Fine, make that decision for your own children; just don't make it for those of us who want our children to be, you know, educated.

Laura Ruby on Teen Reads Week!

Okay, so I missed Teen Reads Week. Hey, it's been crazy on this end--sue me!

Anyway, AS IF!'s own Laura Ruby, author of the brand new, much buzzed Good Girls, presents a hilarious podcast on the week that just passed, and perfect logic behind banning books.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What to do with "Challenged" Books?

What should happen to books that have been challenged and are under review? Should they be pulled from the shelves in the meantime?

Chuck Mason, observing a Marshall, Missouri, controversy over graphic novels, says emphatically "No!":
Happily, a solution has been reached in the book controversy at the Marshall Public Library.

Unhappily, the solution, in part, sets a dangerous precedent.

This past week, the library board of trustees on a majority vote decided to remove "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel and "Blankets" by Craig Thompson from the shelves while a "material selection policy" is developed.


It sets the precedent that I can, just as Louise Mills, go into the library and file the necessary paperwork to have the paintings on the walls of the library removed while the material selection policy is developed.

It allows me, or anyone else, to get that dry, boring history magazine that no one reads anyway yanked from the racks while the policy is developed.

It sets the precedent that allows me to make sure that all those 10 Internet stations are removed from the library while the policy is developed because, heck, who needs to look at the world outside of Marshall?

And it sets the precedent that I can ask -- while the policy is being developed -- that the trustees take off all those public notices from that bulletin board at the library's entrance because they are an eyesore.

As Marshall's Chuck Hird suggested in a letter to the editor on Thursday, let's close the library while this policy is developed. Closing the library would put everything on the same level playing field -- the two objectionable books and all the other wonders that are inside the public library.

Here at AS IF!, we agree. Libraries are about access and freedom. That is the default mode. The burden of proof rests not on the book itself or the author, but on those who would censor that book.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why Controversial Books? Joni Bodart Speaks

Here's an interesting lecture that Joni Bodart did recently at SJSU. It's on "The Value of Controversial Materials for Teens." To view:

1. Go here

2. To the top right, click the SLIS Audio and Video button

3. Under "General Media", go to "Tuesday Seminars"

4. Click the "Uncaptioned" link to Joni Richards Bodart's presentation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Here in Washington State (where I live), a group of teachers is challenging THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JANE PITTMAN because it uses the "n"-word:
A group of Puyallup teachers is preparing to challenge whether a novel that starts in the slavery era is appropriate for eighth-grade students.

The objection follows the school district’s disciplining of a teacher who expressed concerns about the use of racial slurs and sexual situations in the book.

“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” by Ernest J. Gaines, will be required reading for the first time this spring for all eighth-grade students. It will be used in a district-wide reading assessment.

The novel depicts the lives of blacks in the decades between the Civil War and the civil rights movement through the eyes of a fictional 110-year old woman, Jane Pittman. It was published in 1971.

Eighth-grade honors English teacher Donna Helgesen was placed on administrative leave for two days last month after voicing concerns about the book at a meeting with parents, Carole Stratford, a close friend and fellow Aylen Junior High teacher, said Friday.

Helgesen, a 32-year veteran of the district, is restricted by the district from talking about the situation while the personnel department looks into the disciplinary action, Stratford said.

At a Sept. 14 back-to-school meeting with parents, Helgesen told parents that she wasn’t comfortable teaching the novel, Stratford said.

A parent asked why she was disturbed by it. Helgesen said that racial slurs and stereotyping are used throughout the book, as well as scenes of sex, rape and implied incest, Stratford said.

The next day, Helgesen was called to meet with the school principal and Gerald Denman, the district’s director of diversity affairs. Denmen said Helgesen was to be put on two days’ administrative leave for using her classroom as a public forum to express personal opinions on district material, Stratford said.

Jay Reifel, a district assistant superintendent, declined to comment on the situation because it involved personnel matters.

“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” is one of 27 books adopted in 2003 by the School Board for the 21st-Century Novels curriculum.

A district committee reviewed 70 “multicultural” novels, defined by its members as books written by people who are members of the culture they seek to represent, said Leska Wetterauer, Puyallup’s executive director of secondary student learning.

The committee was convened in 1999 and reviewed the books over four years and 30 meetings. The review was initiated before a 2002 legal settlement that required the district to make extensive changes to create a better environment for minorities.

“We knew that this was an area that we knew we needed to do a better job in,” Wetterauer said.

The settlement required that the district adopt a set of multicultural literary works “that are age appropriate and relevant.” ...

Wetterauer is aware of some teachers’ discomfort with the book but had not received any formal complaints as of Friday. There is a process for any community member, parent or employee to challenge adopted educational materials.

Stratford and eight other teachers plan to challenge whether the novel is appropriate for the eighth grade. The book went previously unquestioned because it was optional, and most teachers avoided it, Stratford said.

She doesn’t dispute that it is an educational portrayal of the treatment of blacks. But it will be difficult for many 13-year-olds to fully appreciate the context of the book through its graphic language and situations, she said.

A 13 year-old can't handle the "n"-word and a few swear words read in the context of American slavery? If that's really true of this teacher's students, she has more problems than she knows.

Incidentally, since this school is just a few miles from where I live, I know something about the history behind the inclusion of this book in the curriculum: the school district was sued several years ago for discriminating against its African American students, and it lost, big-time. Which is why I find it sad that the district is now being challenged again for almost the opposite reason.

Recently, the school also had a big, big controversy over a gay student event called the Day of Silence; over one-third of the student body chose to stay home in a counter-protest, most with the support or encouragement of their parents.

Nut-shell? I'd really hate to be in that school's administration.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More on Graphic Novels

An anonymous post on my own post on graphic novels (below) made what I thought were some pretty interesting comments/suggestions, so I thought I'd highlight them here for more people ot see:
As a selector for Graphic Novels for youth in a public library, I encounter many different kinds of issues when I order a new item. Unfortunately, the pictorial nature of this genre lends itself to censorship and complaint. I have found that reliable reviews are few and far between, even though this is clearly a burgeoning collection for libraries in most locations. The problem with the age/level labeling you mentioned, if I understood correctly, is that it is self-imposed by the publisher. I wish I could say that these can be good guidelines, but I have found that publishers (understandably, coming from a different angle) tend to have broad and fluctuating definitions of what constitutes material for one age group or another. In short, I would just like to provide a caveat to librarians out there: please do not rely solely on the publishers or unknown review sources to give an adequate picture of what the content may be in a given graphic novel. Please do your homework and look through books when they arrive from your vendor before they go out to the floor for patrons to check out...and, better still, befriend local persons in the know (unless that's already you!) such as comic shop owners and enthusiasts, and (as always) try to get a feel for what the patrons are reading and interested in.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Message From Laurie Halse Anderson on SPEAK

Author Laurie Halse Anderson (and all-around nice person!) has asked me to post this message regarding some recent challenges to her terrific novel Speak.
Here's some background on SPEAK challenges, and update on the most recent event.

SPEAK is taught in many, many schools. This is both flattering and humbling.The letters I get from kids exposed to the book have profoundly changed my life. I am honored that my book helps contribute to the literacy and themoral development of a generation of Americans. It also makes me really, really happy that I wrote a good story.

It is interesting to see where different communities are comfortable putting the book. Most frequently it is taught in 9th grade, often as a summer read that is then the first book discussed as the school year starts for incoming freshmen. Some communities feel 9th grade is too young, so the kids study it later in high school. In a couple of places, it is the last text studied senior year. And then there are schools that know they have kids who aregrowing up too fast (thanks largely to absent parents) and they introducethe book in 8th or 7th grade.

One of the favorite teachers I met was a priest who teaches it in his Catholic boys' school - 10th grade English - because of the opportunities he feels it gives him to discuss sexual assault with his students. He is such agreat man.When the book comes under attack, it is usually from parents who hear that the book is "about rape" and get freaked out. In almost all of the challenges I have heard of, the book remained in curriculum - after the objecting parents read the book, after there was a community discussion,after a lot of very hard and very draining work done by a teacher. In two districts, it was taken out of the curriculum, but remained an option for independent reading.

If - after a community discussion, after all the adults concerned have read and discussed the book - they decide to remove my book, I don't have aproblem with it. I know this sets me apart from many other authors in this group. I fight long and hard to ensure that there is an informed, rational community decision. Because the truth is that I have no business insisting that my book is taught anywhere. It is up to the professional educators and the community in which they work to make those decisions. I think the most important thing we can do is to encourage all school districts to develop written policies to handle book challenges. NCTE and ALA both offer excellent guidance in this. I am shocked by how many districts do NOT have these guidelines. It makes it very easy for a small group of hotheads with an agenda to derail their school's English curriculum.

I also think we should do whatever possible to get new English teachers to join NCTE. It is a fabulous organization that offers a world of support with challenges, as well as opportunities for the continued growth anddevelopment of teachers. As I have traveled around the country the last fiveyears, I have been STUNNED and discouraged by how many high schools do not have one single faculty member who belongs to NCTE.

The most recent challenge has spurred me to start assembling a list of all the schools where SPEAK is taught: .

I will be updating it regularly. If you know of a school that is not on the list, please let me know.

I wish I had started this list years ago. I suggest that all of you start yours today. It is very helpful to teachers to know that they are not alone. As time permits (ha!), I'm going to develop a page on my website with specific resources for book challenges. I respond personally to the teacher involved whenever I hear about a challenge. I send them a list of resources, contacts, statistics, and the reaction I've had to the book. Putting all of that on one page would make it easier for everyone.

There is a bright side to these challenges. They are a reaction to change, much-needed, overdue change in the standard canon of secondary English lit courses. These brilliant teachers who have the courage to use contemporarybooks in their classroom are teaching kids to love reading. Kids who love to read learn more and learn better. It breaks my heart that some of these teachers have to run the gauntlet of the ignorant, misinformed, or politically malicious. But if we can support them through these battles, we all benefit.

Back to work now. Scribble, scribble.

Laurie Halse Anderson--
Thanks, Laurie! And good luck with this great project! (But for the record, I don't think many AS IF! members would disagree with your stand on book challenges.)

The Graphic Novel Censorship Storm

I've had a lot of interesting conversations lately with librarians who are catching some heat for stocking graphic novels, some of which deal with sexually-themed material. Here's an article on a recent controversy:
In a separate incident, the Marshall, Mo., library board of trustees will meet this week to decide whether two autobiographical comics works—Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Craig Thompson's Blankets—should be removed from the public library because of sexually explicit graphics. Amy Crump, director of the Marshall Public Library, said a public hearing was held last week and the board will decide this week. Crump said this is the first time books have been challenged at her library.

Svetlana Mintcheva, arts advocacy coordinator at the National Coalition Against Censorship, compared Bechdel's Fun Home, the story of growing up lesbian with a closeted gay father, to the novels of Dorothy Allison. "The challenge is to educate the public that comics are a valid means of artistic expression," said Mintcheva.
I think there are two reasons why graphic novels are controversial: (1) they are comics, which, even today, some people mistakenly think are only for kids and can't ever be serious or "legitimate" literature, (2) they are occasionally sexually graphic--scenes that are even easier to find in a comic book than in a novel.

One form of graphic novel is Manga, or anime, a highly stylized form from Japan. I agree that stocking such titles in high school libraries or in the "teen" sections of public libraries can be complicated; while students love them, many are quite graphic and clearly not appropriate for younger teens. Fortunately, they're always clearly labeled for "adult," "teen," or "all" audiences.

But to ban all graphic novels, even explicit ones, from a public library? This is just pure prejudice against a new, and important, art form. And it's not only not okay, it's absolutely outrageous.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Banned Books Display...Banned

This is a new one. A banned books display...has been banned. Why? Because it might encourage kids to read controversial books.

A display at Harrisonburg High School of books that have, at some point in history, either been banned or challenged was ordered removed last month by Harrisonburg Schools Superintendent Donald Ford.

The display, which Ford ordered removed Sept. 27, was part of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, the last week of September.

Ford said he was concerned the school division would encourage students to read banned books because they are on a controversial list and not because of their content.

The high school library has participated in at least the past two Banned Books Week, said librarian Elsie Garber, who is in her third year at the library.

Garber would not comment on the display, other than to say it included several books. School administrators would not release a complete list of the books in the display.

However, High School Principal Irene Reynolds recalled that the titles included "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain; "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury; "The Diary of Ann Frank," and "The Bible."

The American Library Association has held Banned Book Week since 1982.

According to its Web site, the ALA’s banned book week celebrates freedom to choose or to express an opinion that otherwise might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.

"After all," the site said, "intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met."

The high school library display, Ford said, seemed to entice students into reading the books because they are on a list.

"We are not going to send a message to kids encouraging them to read ‘banned’ books. Our message should be to read books, a wide variety of books.
Okay, this one makes my head hurt. Educating students about book-related controversies, including efforts to ban books, is a bad thing? In whose educational universe?

These are the sorts of stories that totally make me think that the United States is the Roman Empire about three years before the start of the fall. Please let us wake up in time.

Harry Potter Under Attack...AGAIN

Another day, another effort to ban Harry Potter from school:

ATLANTA - A suburban county that sparked a public outcry when its libraries temporarily eliminated funding for Spanish-language fiction is now being asked to ban Harry Potter books from its schools.

Laura Mallory, a mother of four, told a hearing officer for the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Tuesday that the popular fiction series is an "evil" attempt to indoctrinate children in the Wicca religion.

Board of Education attorney Victoria Sweeny said that if schools were to remove all books containing reference to witches, they would have to ban "Macbeth" and "Cinderella."
A personal note. In my experience, the debate over banned books is often ignored by a lot of people, because they haven't read the book or books in question. But I've found that things get a whole lot more interesting when the book in question is, say, a person's favorite book of all time, the one that changed his or her life.

For a lot of people, the Harry Potter series are just such books. Expect fireworks.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Irony Alert: Censor a Book About Censorship?

From the "you can't make this up" file, here's a story about some parents that want to ban a book about...censorship. Irony is lost on some people.
A Caney Creek High School dad is fired up because the Conroe Independent School District uses the book "Fahrenheit 451" as classroom reading material.Alton Verm, of Conroe, objects to the language and content in the book.

His 15-year-old daughter Diana, a CCHS sophomore, came to him Sept. 21 with her reservations about reading the book because of its language."The book had a bunch of very bad language in it," Diana Verm said. "It shouldn't be in there because it's offending people. ... If they can't find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn't have a book at all."

Alton Verm filed a "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" Thursday with the district regarding "Fahrenheit 451," written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953. He wants the district to remove the book from the curriculum."

It's just all kinds of filth," said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read "Fahrenheit 451." "The words don't need to be brought out in class. I want to get the book taken out of the class."He looked through the book and found the following things wrong with the book: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, "dirty talk," references to the Bible and using God's name in vain. He said the book's material goes against their religions beliefs.

The Verms go to Grand Parkway Church in Porter."We went them to go after God," said Glen Jalowy Jr., Grand Parkway Church youth minister. "We encourage them that what you put in your mind and heart is what comes out."Alton Verm said he doesn't understand how the district can punish students for using bad language, yet require them to read a book with bad language as part of a class.
I don't want to pile on, but whose idea was it to have the smiling student and the parent pose for a picture with the book they want to ban? That just seems weird.

Oh, and I appreciate the writer of the article pointing out (later on) that the request to ban this particular book came during Banned Books Week. The journalist was clearly aware of the irony!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Naked Art

Naked Art - Harmful to Kids?

Posted by Lisa Yee

This is from THE NEW YORK TIMES. It's not about books, but it is about censorship in schools . . .

September 30, 2006
Museum Field Trip Deemed Too Revealing

FRISCO, Tex., Sept. 28 .. ..Keep the ..Art.. in ..Smart.. and ..Heart,.. .. Sydney McGee had posted on her Web site at Wilma Fisher Elementary School in this moneyed boomtown that is gobbling up the farm fields north of Dallas.

But Ms. McGee, 51, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, is out of a job after leading her fifth-grade classes last April through the Dallas Museum of Art. One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child..s parent complained, the teacher was suspended.

Although the tour had been approved by the principal, and the 89 students were accompanied by 4 other teachers, at least 12 parents and a museum docent, Ms. McGee said, she was called to the principal the next day and ..bashed...

She later received a memorandum in which the principal, Nancy Lawson, wrote: ..During a study trip that you planned for fifth graders, students were exposed to nude statues and other nude art representations... It cited additional complaints, which Ms. McGee has challenged.

The school board suspended her with pay on Sept. 22.

In a newsletter e-mailed to parents this week, the principal and Rick Reedy, superintendent of the Frisco Independent School District, said that Ms. McGee had been denied transfer to another school in the district, that her annual contract would not be renewed and that a replacement had been interviewed.

The episode has dumbfounded and exasperated many in and out of this mushrooming exurb, where nearly two dozen new schools have been built in the last decade and computers outnumber students three to one.

A representative of the Texas State Teachers Association, which has sprung to Ms. McGee..s defense, calls it ..the first ..nudity-in-a-museum case.. we have seen...

..Teachers get in trouble for a variety of reasons,.. said the association..s general counsel, Kevin Lungwitz, ..but never heard of a teacher getting in trouble for taking her kiddoes on an approved trip to an art museum...

John R. Lane, director of the museum, said he had no information on why Ms. McGee had been disciplined.

..I think you can walk into the Dallas Museum of Art and see nothing that would cause concern,.. Mr. Lane said.

Over the past decade, more than half a million students, including about a thousand from other Frisco schools, have toured the museum..s collection of 26,000 works spanning 5,000 years, he said, ..without a single complaint... One school recently did cancel a scheduled visit, he said. He did not have its name.

The uproar has swamped Frisco school switchboards and prompted some Dallas-area television stations to broadcast images of statues from the museum with areas of the anatomy blacked out.

Ms. Lawson and Mr. Reedy did not return calls. A spokeswoman for the school district referred questions to the school board..s lawyer, Randy Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs said, ..there was a parent who complained, relating the complaint of a child,.. but he said he did not know details.

In the May 18 memorandum to Ms. McGee, Ms. Lawson faulted her for not displaying enough student art and for ..wearing flip-flops.. to work; Ms. McGee said she was wearing Via Spiga brand sandals. In citing the students.. exposure to nude art, Ms. Lawson also said ..time was not used wisely for learning during the trip,.. adding that parents and teachers had complained and that Ms. McGee should have toured the route by herself first. But Ms. McGee said she did exactly that.

In the latest of several statements, the district contended that the trip had been poorly planned. But Mr. Gibbs, the district..s lawyer, acknowledged that Ms. Lawson had approved it.

..This is not about a field trip to a museum,.. the principal and superintendent told parents in their e-mail message Wednesday, citing ..performance concerns.. and other criticisms of Ms. McGee..s work, which she disputes. ..The timing of circumstances has allowed the teacher to wave that banner and it has played well in the media,.. they wrote.

They took issue with Ms. McGee..s planning of the outing. ..No teacher..s job status, however, would be jeopardized based on students.. incidental viewing of nude art,.. they wrote.

Ms. McGee and her lawyer, Rogge Dunn, who are exploring legal action, say that her past job evaluations had been consistently superior until the museum trip and only turned negative afterward. They have copies of evaluations that bear out the assertion.

Retracing her route this week through the museum..s European and contemporary galleries, Ms. McGee passed the marble torso of a Greek youth from a funerary relief, circa 330 B.C.; its label reads, ..his nude body has the radiant purity of an athlete in his prime... She passed sculptor Auguste Rodin..s tormented ..Shade;.. Aristide Maillol..s ..Flora,.. with her clingy sheer garment; and Jean Arp..s ..Star in a Dream...

None, Ms. McGee said, seemed offensive.

..This is very painful and getting more so,.. she said, her eyes moistening. ..I..m so into art. I look at it for its value, what each civilization has left behind...

School officials have not named the child who complained or any particular artwork at issue, although Ms. McGee said her puzzlement was compounded when Ms. Lawson referred at times to abstract nude sculpture...

Ms. McGee, a fifth-generation Texan who has a grown daughter, won a monthly teacher award in 2004 from a local newspaper. She said the loss of her $57,600-a-year job could jeopardize her mortgage and compound her health problems, including a heart ailment.

Some parents have come to Ms. McGee..s defense. Joan Grande said her 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, attended the museum tour.

..She enjoyed the day very much,.. Ms. Grande said. ..She did mention some nude art but she didn..t make a big deal of it and neither did I... She said that if Ms. McGee..s job ratings were high before the incident, ..something isn..t right.. about the suspension.

Another parent, Maijken Kozcara, said Ms. McGee had taught her children effectively.

..I thought she was the greatest,.. Ms. Kozcara said. But ..knowing Texas, the way things work here.. she said of the teacher..s suspension, ..I wasn..t really amazed. I was like, ..Yeah, right...

Cool Banned Book Week Display!

A friend sent me this display in honor of Banned Books Week. Those books (including, um, my book Geography Club) are suspended in the air over the fire flames.

Cool, huh?

It's the work of Mrs. Meyers, an assistant at Darlington Elementary/Middle School in Darlington, Wisconsin.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kathi Appelt: Fear Drives Censorship

Banned Books Week may be over, but the fight against censorship and intellectual suppression continues. Here's a great essay by my friend and colleague Kathi Appelt, who speculates (accurately, I think) that much of what drives these efforts to suppress books is fear.

It's a terrific essay (and I'd think that even if she didn't mention one of my own books!):

I can honestly say that I never truly appreciated the overwhelming power of fear until I became a mother. The fierce urge to protect our children is what leads us to make choices on their behalf. This can and should be extended to the books, games, movies, and music that our children are exposed to, especially when it comes to age-appropriateness.

It's our jobs as parents to decide what is acceptable for our own families. But I also think that it's important to be honest about it and recognize that fear is at work here.

In my book Kissing Tennessee and Other Stories from the Star Dust Dance, there is a story called Star Bears that features Cub, a skate-boarding eighth-grader. The story opens with Cub on the roof of his junior high school, the stars over his head, a Moon Pie in one hand, his father's old Army shirt in the other, and a huge question sitting on his shoulder. The question has to do with his attraction for the new boy in town, Trent.

Having raised teenagers, and having been one myself, I know that most questions during our adolescent years are, in fact, ambiguous. Readers are left to wonder: Is Cub gay? Or not? I'm letting them decide.

In another story, Rachel's Sister, 16-year-old Rachel is beaten by her fundamentalist father for wearing lipstick. Her sister Mary Sarah is forced to answer her own question, this one of devotion.

As an author of books for children and young adults, I believe that it's my responsibility to give my young audience characters who look like they do, feel like they do and struggle with the same questions they struggle with.

Read on for the rest of the essay. And check out Kissing Tennessee, the terrific book of short stories she mentions! She's a real pro.