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.


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