Friday, February 24, 2006

California School District Bans 23 Books

My God, this reads like an Onion article!

School district trustees in Lake Los Angeles have removed 23 books from a list of 68 that were to placed on library shelves. In other words, they voted to remove a third of the books!

And what are these horribly offending books? No GLBT titles, but only because I'm sure there weren't any on the master list. But these books raised the trustees' ire: three bilingual Clifford the Big Red Dog books, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (of course!), and two books from the Artemis Fowl series.
Trustee Marlene Olivarez, a teacher who retired from the district two years ago, said the latest "Harry Potter" installment was rejected because it is fantasy.

"We want books to be things that children would be able to relate to in real life," she said.
Yes, let's reject ALL books that might be different from real life--as in, every genre book ever written! Then we can be absolutely sure that kids will never read for pleasure again! How is it possible that this woman was once a teacher?

Why do I feel like I'm living in Rome right before everything collapsed, and they started using the Forum to graze sheep?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

AS IF! Makes School Library Journal

There was a nice little piece in today's SLJ Online edition about AS IF! (The article makes it sound like the group is all my doing, which is so not the case, but I guess they thought it made a better story that way.)


Author Brent Hartinger was so moved when he heard that a school district in Texas refused to ban the short story "Brokeback Mountain" that he created the anticensorship group AS IF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom). Ironically, a school district in Washington recently banned Hartinger's Geography Club (HarperCollins, 2003). SLJ spoke to Hartinger about AS IF! and how it feels to be at the center of a censorship case in his own hometown. For more information about the author, visit

How did AS IF! come about?

AS IF! started when a group of teen-book author friends of mine read about the situation in which St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, TX, chose to return a $3 million donation rather than submit to the donor's request that the short story "Brokeback Mountain" be removed from an optional reading list for 12th graders.

This really impressed us. We loved the idea that for this one school, and the people involved, there was literally no amount of money that could get them to violate their principle of academic independence.

Jordan Sonnenblick, [who wrote] Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie (Scholastic, 2004), and Mark L. Williams, [who wrote] the "Danger Boy" [series] (Candlewick), suggested sending the school signed copies of our books in appreciation and thanks. So that's what we did.

What was the reaction?

Eventually word spread to our author friends, and the school ended up receiving something like over 80 teen books [from the authors], which they planned to display in a "Freedom Library" section of their school library.

We especially liked that we were able to do something positive, make a positive statement, since so much of the book-banning debate involves people criticizing each other for doing the "wrong" thing. In this case, we were able to support and praise someone for doing the "right" thing.

So how did all of this lead to creating AS IF!?

At the same time this was happening, we decided to make things a little more formal, and start an actual organization. When we were brainstorming names, I came up with AS IF! We all agreed that this seemed to capture our mission, but with a bit of a teen sensibility.

The founding of our group all happened last fall. Ironically, my book Geography Club was banned two weeks or so after we officially created AS IF! As I worked to reverse the banning of my own book, the other members of AS IF! were extremely supportive, writing letters to the school board, and to others involved locally. But this time, of course, I got to see the censorship fight up close, especially since the ban was in the town where I happen to live.

Have other founders of AS IF! had their books banned?

I'm the only member who has had a book banned since we founded the group, but many of us have experience with challenges and even outright bans.

Tell us about the organization's Freedom Award.

In keeping with our attitude, we thought we would create a "Freedom Award" [for extraordinary contributions to the cause]. We're currently monitoring several situations where we may bestow our award, which also involved donations of signed books from our members.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Updates and Developments

Here's an interesting interview with Susanna Kaysen, whose novel GIRL, INTERUPTED, was recently banned:
"I don't think anybody should tell anybody else what to read," she said. "Thoughts are free."

Kaysen did say she could understand her book being banned more than she could the recent banning of the performance of "Grease" at Fulton High School in Fulton, Mo.

"We've all seen civilizations that ban books, and we've seen how well they've turned out," Kaysen said. "It's not a good way to go."

She said she thought the Christian Civic League of Maine's description of "Girl, Interrupted" as "inhuman and unnatural" was a bit odd, but she added that everyone is entitled to an opinion.

"I have to tell you, I think it is an honor to have my book banned," she said. "It's an honor. I am honored."
In this day and age when everyone, including all the authors I know, are turning themselves into pretzels over the question of "age-appropriate," I thought this comment was interesting:
"I didn't write it for an audience," [Kaysen] said. "I wrote it because I'm a writer."

Asked if she thought her book was appropriate for 14- and 15-year-olds to read, the author replied: "Who is anybody to decide what is appropriate to read? It's insane."
In other news, a book by Gary Paulsen, Harris and Me, has been removed from a junior school reading list because of parental objections about "animal cruety":
Nancy Wagner, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction...explained that by seventh grade, students have seen tragedy and divorce and violence in the world and are ready for a dose of realism.

"They're tired of stories where everything turns out right," Wagner said. "They really like something that has some real life to it. It challenges kids about what's right and challenges them to make those good decisions."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

More Challenges, This Time in Minnesota

Another school district wrestles with books challenges, this time in Minnesota:

Once again, the issue that got the ball rolling was a character questioning his sexuality, and a same-sex kiss.

One potential compromise involves giving parents the option of not allowing their kids to check out certain books:
Thomas Tomporowski, Perham's library media specialist, said all books in the library are categorized by age interest, from lower grades to upper grades.

Any book labeled of interest for upper grades now have a “U” placed on them; parents can request librarians not let their children check out any books with that marking.

The downside to that approach is that classic books written by Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck and Louis L'Amour, for example, are on the “U” list.

Tomporowski said the books he's brought into the libraries have been vetted by ratings boards for quality and age appropriateness.

“I have only the money to bring in the cream of the crop,” he said.
This doesn't strike me as the worst idea in the world, and I like that it involves parents in what their kids are reading (I also like the irony of books by Dicks and Steinbeck being restricted). But I fear it could lead to librarians not buying any books rated "U," thereby allowing some parents decide for all families what they can and cannot read.

Anyone? Thoughts?

Friday, February 10, 2006

GIRL, INTERRUPTED Is, Um, Interrupted

Suzanna Kaysen's memoir, Girl, Interrupted, has been pulled from a freshman English classroom in Maine, and is being "reviewed":
The chairman of the Orono school board said the review committee does not simply look at specific excerpts from the reading, but must consider the book and subject matter as a whole.

"(The review committee) wants to look at the structure of the book, the reasons it's used in the classroom, (and) the materials behind it," he said.

Clenchy said the decision to temporarily pull the book pending the review is an issue of resources and protocol."

To leave (the book) in the classroom without fully understanding why it was there wasn't doing justice, I don't think, to the children that we serve," he said.
As someone who knows something about these things, expect interest in this book to go way, way up among freshman English students. Methinks this just might be a way to get these "children" (who are 14 and 15 years old!) to actually read the book!