Tuesday, March 28, 2006

An Oldie, but Goodie: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Under Attack

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is under attack in Pasadena. The complaint is an oldie, but a goodie: racially offensive language and situations.
Despite the book’s good intentions...NAACP Pasadena Branch President Joe Brown and Chandler parent Jim Morris want it taken out of the school’s English curriculum.

Neither Brown nor Morris want to take it out of the library. But using the book and its questionable language to teach young children lessons in English runs the risk of “sending the wrong message” to children.
I admit I can't come close to getting my mind around the idea that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, one of the greatest novels of all time and stirring clarion call to fight racial injustice, sends the "wrong message" to kids, especially when presented in its historical context.

These members of the NAACP should be ashamed.

What to do About Sexually Explicit Teen Books?

A poster, plan2succeed.org, has posted some thoughts that I think get to the heart of the issue in the censorship of children's book. I thought they deserved to be highlighted in their own post:
You guys being authors, I have great respect for you. Let me ask you some questions. First, I am specifically not addressing the issue of homosexuality. To me, that is up to the people themselves, and books containing homosexual characters or themes should not be separated solely because of such characters or themes. So let's set that aside for now.

My problem is with sexually inappropriate books for children. Whether they involve homosexual or heterosexual or animal-human sexual activity to me is irrelevant -- the problem to me is the sexual content being inappropriate for children.

Look for example at "Looking For Alaska" by John Green. That book gets awarded the ALA's top honor for "young adult" books, the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award. The "academy awards" as YALSA head Pam Spencer Holley puts it. I read the entire book. It is very well written and entertaining. But on the issue of appropriateness for children, the book contains what I consider to be hard core sexuality. A boy pulls out his penis, she puts it in her mouth, and on and on.

Now "young adults" being defined by the ALA to be as young as 12, i.e., not even teenagers, let alone not even adults, are finding that the best book of 2006 for 12 year olds as recommended by the ALA is a book containing hard core sexual activity. The fact that the ALA awarded the book as its top YA book of 2006 means the book will be read widely thanks to local librarians and school librarians following the ALA's lead.

I'll set aside for now why librarians get to decide what's the best book for children instead of authors like yourselves who actually write the books.

Now let's all assume for the sake of argument that a book about detailed oral sex experiences is inappropriate for 12 year olds.

The question becomes could such a book be taken out of the children's section and placed into the adult section. That's the nut.

The ALA says no, it's not a librarian's decision. As Judith Krug said, it's real life issues so kids should read about real life issues to become an educated electorate.

I'm not sure how you authors would approach this since I narrowed down the hypothetical to winnow out extraneous issues.

But, in your responses, please discuss what you think the answer should be. Then, read US v. ALA and also Board of Education v. Pico, two US Supreme Court cases I believe to be relevant, and describe if reading those cases makes you change your answer in any significant way and why.

I thank you for your interest in this matter and I look forward to your responses
And my response:

Plan2succeed.org, I think you raise some interesting points. But do keep in mind that all "young adult literature" is not necessarily ALL for ages "12 and up." How could it? The difference between a 12 year-old and an 18 year-old is HUGE.

The genre actually divides roughly into three categories: lower YA (10-14), mid-range YA (12-16), and upper YA (14 or 15 and up). LOOKING FOR ALASKA is definitely upper YA, as are most of the Printz selections. That means they're typically "age-appropriate" for high school students. (For the record, LFA is about as sexually explicit as teen books ever get, IMHO.)

Also keep in mind: the "children's" section of a library also includes a "teen" section. So the only way LFA is going to be read or seen by anyone younger than a teen is if that kid is in the "teen" section (much the way a kid could also be in the "adult" section).

Would some parents not want their teens reading LFA? Absolutely. That's why it's essential that parents be involved in their teenager's lives, aware of the books they're reading.

I know that sounds like a cop-out, putting the responsibility on parents. It's a LIBRARY, right? The "teen" section, but still. Parents don't want to have to constantly monitor everything that their teenager is doing at every second. And they want to think that a library is a "safe" space for them, especially in terms of age-appropriate materials.

But what's the alternative? Are librarians supposed to decide for everyone what books are and are not appropriate for which kids for the whole community? To some degree, they do do this in the books they buy, but only in very broad terms. They have to leave the individual decisions to...well, individuals and individual families. That's because parents are all going to choose differently, based on their values, their interests, their kids' interests, the maturity of their kids, etc. etc. If librarians were take it upon themselves to censor certain teen books and topics from their collections, they wouldn't be doing what it is they exist to do, which is serve the ENTIRE community. (They would also be stigmatizing certain topics and members of the community, gay folks most definitely, which, as I've blogged before, I think it absolutely criminal.)

Think about how wildly different the values in any given community are. There are people who wouldn't want their children exposed to any book that criticizes the president, for example, or America, or Christianity. Should their values rule? What about the vegetarian who thinks it's immoral to shoot an animal and doesn't want his children exposed to that? Should these values by the deciding ones?

These are extreme examples, obviously, much the way LOOKING FOR ALASKA is an extreme example, in terms of sexuality.

(And we can't put the issue of homosexuality completely aside. There ARE lot of people, maybe even majorities in some communities, who think that children's and teen books with gay themes should be segregated, or not purchased at all. So should their values rule?)

There's also the fact that teens themselves are a diverse lot, and so are teen books. It would be ridiculous to restrict a "teen" collection so that the youngest teenager could read every book in the collection.

I think the only way to settle this clash of ideas and values, age groups and maturity levels is for librarians to stock the books that are sold and marketed as "teen" books in the "teen" section, and then leave it up to individuals and individual families to decide which of those books they want to read.

In the end, are some kids going to encounter books that some parents might not want them seeing? Perhaps. But that is the cost of ensuring that the library can meet the needs of as many people in the community as possible. In short, they're erring on the side of, well, freedom and liberty.

I know this is a complicated issue, with shades of grey. But I do think that these are important things to remember.

Anyway, thanks for contributing, Plan2succeed.org. I'm happy to hear others' thoughts!

Brent Hartinger

P.S. As an author, I would be perfectly happy to decide which books kids get to read. I pick mine! ;-)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Good News in San Antonio and Oklahoma!

Never let it be said that AS IF! only posts bad news! After all, a very important part of our mission is not just to protest intellectual suppression, but also to support and salute people and organizations when they do the right thing. So I am very pleased to report not one, but two pieces of very good news.

First, a San Antonio school board has reversed the ban on The Handmaid's Tale:
By a 5-2 vote, the Judson school district board Thursday overruled Superintendent Ed Lyman's ban of the novel "The Handmaid's Tale" from an advanced placement English curriculum. The vote came after nearly three hours of public comment, including from Judson High School students.

"If we do ban 'The Handmaid's Tale' because of sexual content, then why not ban 'Huckleberry Finn' for racism? Why not ban 'The Crucible' for witchcraft? Why not ban 'The Things They Carried' for violence, and why not ban the Bible and argue separation of church and state?" Judson senior Craig Gagne told trustees.
Better still, over in Oklahoma, it looks like that reprehensible bill that would segregate all gay-themed children's and teen books in public libraries (see below) may not pass after all. Amanda Kuhns, one of the many courageous librarians fighting this in Oklahoma, has this report:
I have an Oklahoma update.

HB 2158 has been assigned to the education subcommittee of the appropriations committee of the State Senate. This committee has until April 7 to take action on the bill. If the measure comes out of committee and is scheduled for Senate debate, then we’ll be doing another letter/e-mail/phone call campaign to state senators. The good news is that the Senate leadership has assured our Oklahoma Library Association lobbyist that HB 2158 will not come out of committee -- it may not even make it on an agenda for discussion. Administration tells us to remain "watchful" though, as the issue is far from over. While the bill might be dead, it is possible that another piece of legislation could be amended with the language of HB 2158.

We're keeping the heat on, and I'll keep you posted....
Sometimes the good guys (and girls) do win! Three cheers for Oklahoma!

Canadian Author Speaks out about her book

Deborah Ellis has spoken out about the controversy that has surrounded her book. She's an amazing individual, it's too bad she has to waste her time defending her own work...ah, but that is the way of things.


Author of book on Palestinian, Israeli children speaks out
Last Updated Thu, 23 Mar 2006 17:15:31 EST
CBC Arts
Canadian author Deborah Ellis says it's absurd to say children can't handle the contents of her controversial book Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak.

In February, the Canadian Jewish Congress put pressure on the Ontario Library Association and Ontario school boards to remove the book from their reading lists for Grades 4 to 6.

The Toronto and York school boards pulled the book from their reading programs. But the Ontario Library Association decided to keep the book on its Silver Birch reading program which encourages children in Grades 4 to 6 to read independently.

The CJC said the book was inappropriate for children in that age group. Ellis's book allows Palestinian and Israeli children to tell their stories in their own words.

"The people who are raising the objections are good people … I just happen to disagree with them," Ellis told CBC Radio Thursday, in her first interview since the book was restricted by the two school boards.

"There's a desire to protect children from the horrors of the world at the same time other children are being exposed to it," said Ellis. "The more information kids have about things that are going on in the world, the better decisions they will make."

Ellis interviewed Israeli and Palestinian children involved in the conflict in 2002. Among the children she met was a young girl whose older sister was a suicide bomber.

The CJC says children can be impressionable and may view suicide bombings and killing of Israelis as "acts worthy of emulating." It cites comments from the book such as this one from an 11-year-old Palestinian boy: "Killing an Israeli will make me feel glad. It will make me feel strong."

The Ontario Library Association says it picked the book because, "without taking sides, it presents an unblinking portrait of children victimized by the endless struggle around them."

Ellis says she didn't speak out about the controversy until now because she felt it would die down. She says she is disappointed by the decision made by the school boards.

"In Toronto, where we have such a wonderful mixture of people from all around the world, there are kids in every classroom whose parents have experienced this violence in some form. So to say they can't handle the truth and the things that are contained in this book strikes me as absurd."

The author says she gets emails from young readers who say they can identify with the children in the book and liked reading it.

Ellis says the controversy has only served to highlight the issue of children living in the midst of war.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

THE HANDMAID'S TALE Under Attack (What Took Them So Long?)

In a story to be filed under the category of "What Took Them So Long?", The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's chilling and surprisingly timely tale of a future world dominated by fundamentalist Christians, is under attack in San Antonio.

A book about a world of censorship and intellectual suppression being...suppressed? Oh, the layers of irony run deep on this one.

Needless to say, administrators claim it's not the books message that has it under attack, but it's swear words:
Atwood's book is about a lower class woman serving as a birthmother for the upper class.

However, a Judson parent noticed more than the story line. She came forward citing the book's more than 60 sexual innuendos and other graphic descriptions.

So the superintendent opened it up.

"The superintendent read several of the passages and decided because of graphic content the book should be pulled from our curriculum," Hoffmann said.

I'm shaking my head here, trying not to scream.

First, how can there be an educator anywhere who hasn't read this classic book, or who at least apparently has no clue what it is about? And secondly, how can anyone think that a decision can be made about the appropriateness of any book, much less an acknowledged classic, by reading "several" of the passages?

Again, the mind reels.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Oklahoma to Restrict Gay-Themed Books?

I can't think of a better example of the cultural divide that is currently splitting this country than this debate raging in Oklahoma. That said, I'm not sure there's any way to compromise with people who openly advocate censorship of books and the suppression of ideas. I do know that if this country is to survive, these people must be stopped.
March 17, 2006


The Oklahoma house voted late Wednesday to withhold state funding from local libraries that do not segregate reading material with sexually explicit or gay themes from reading areas for children and young adults. House members voted 60-33 for the bill after more than two hours of questions and debate in which opponents said the measure was a form of censorship and an unfunded mandate that would remove local control from library boards.

The measure, which is opposed by the Oklahoma Library Association, now goes to the senate, where opponents predict it will be killed. "It doesn't seem that you can legislate morality," said Rep. Debbie Blackburn, a Democrat from Oklahoma City.

Blackburn and other opponents said an advisory board charged with developing an annual list of gay or sexually explicit material that must be placed in separate areas is the first step in an attempt to cleanse libraries of books some people consider offensive.

"I refuse to live under the Taliban," Blackburn said, referring to the nationalist Islamic fundamentalist group that effectively ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. "I refuse to live in Iran. This is America."

Democratic representative Ray McCarter said it is a parent's responsibility to decide what their children read. McCarter also said small rural libraries will have a hard time complying with the mandates because their facilities are small and there is no room for separate reading areas.

"The only place we can put the material is at the other end of the table," McCarter said. Areas without libraries will have to use an adults-only trailer on the back of the Bookmobile, he said.

The measure's author, Republican representative Sally Kern, said children deserve a period of "protected innocence" in which they are shielded from sexually explicit material she said is turning young people into "sex machines."

"You can't sell toothpaste without sex," Kern said. "The American Library Association is out to sexualize our children."
Read more

An Anti-Censorship Group for Kids

I've discovered that teens and younger kids have very definite opinions on the banning of books and censoring of libraries. KidSpeak is an organization for kids who want to speak out.

I am very impressed their site (and a little jealous!).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

ACTION ALERT! Target: Oklahoma Legislature

AS IF! recently received this email from a librarian in Oklahoma on the front lines of a censorship battle. She can explain the situation better than I:

Dear Brent Hartinger:

I am a Young Adult Librarian at a branch in the Tulsa City-County Library System in Oklahoma. Last night I read your post on ASIF about the decrease in book challenges shortly after I had to move our copy of Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” from our Teen Center (which contains all YA fiction and non-fiction) to Adult Fiction. The reclassification of this book is directly related to the proposed Oklahoma House Bill 2158 that you mentioned in your post (and THANK YOU for mentioning it). While I’m glad the book will remain in circulation, I was sad to remove it from the YA collection. My fear is that I will have to move your books, David Levithan’s books, Chris Crutcher’s books, Francesca Lia Block’s books, Laurie Halse Anderson’s books, and other popular and well-written books by many more YA authors who mention sex, sexuality, language, drug use, the name “Dick,” or whatever-you-can-think-of. Our YA collection will end up having no diversity whatsoever.

At first glance House Bill 2158 seems to be a simple bill which protects our children. This bill, however, has serious, long-lasting and possibly fatal ramifications for our libraries. The heart of House Bill 2158 is prejudice and censorship. It requires the segregation of library materials for children and young adults which have homosexual or sexually explicit content. It prohibits any person under age 18 from borrowing these materials, and non-compliance forces a public library to close its doors. The bill went through committee this week in Oklahoma City, and it is set to go before the OK House of Representatives for a vote next week! If it becomes law, it impacts the livelihood of all library employees, and it will have serious ramifications for public libraries in the state of Oklahoma. Our library system is on high alert, and we are in the midst of educating our customers about this legislation.

Tulsa’s Library Commission voted on Feb. 16 to “adamantly oppose” HB 2158 as part of its annual legislative plan. The following is a statement released yesterday by William C. Kellough, Chairman of the Tulsa City-County Library Commission:

“The public library distributes books and other media which are broadly representative of human thought. In a diverse, pluralistic democracy not everyone will believe or like what they read. Library materials are representative of all social, political, religious and cultural points of views. Homosexuality is a reality. What would prevent other topics of reality from becoming off limits to young people who are free citizens entitled to free exercise of speech and thought?"

Thank you for your time spent reading this, thank you for helping us get the word out, and, more importantly, thank you for your books!


Amanda Kuhns

TCCL-Zarrow Regional Library
2224 West 51st Street
Tulsa, OK 74107

AS IF! responded with a request to know exactly how we can help. Here's how Ms. Kuhns responded:

Dear Mr. Hartinger,

Thank you so much for the kind support! I especially appreciate your consideration as to how AS IF! can help us fight this bill. I shared your email with my library manager and our administration so that we could come up with ideas, and it seems that the best route to take at this point would be to arm you with more ammunition for a letter-writing campaign. I’ve included the names and emails of some state reps who may be “on the fence” on this issue and who really need to hear from more people who are opposed to the bill. Our hope is that the more pressure the House members get (from in state and out of state alike) the more likely they are to realize not only how much opposition this bill has, but also how shameful it is and, too, how truly embarrassing it would be to get wide exposure on a national level if it passes as law. I have also included below two editorials from the two major newspapers in the state -- The Daily Oklahoman in OKC, and the Tulsa World – in case anyone would like to use pieces for citing. I LOVE the idea of taking out an ad in the paper! But… the ad may be the big gun we need later to kill the nasty bill if it passes this Friday. (There would be a four to six week period when it would go again into committee before going to the Senate.)

This is so insanely wrong. I am going to read some ”illicit” material now to help me relax.

Thank you again, Mr. Hartinger – You may use what you like in the blogs.


Amanda Kuhns

Oklahoma House of Representatives members

Chris Benge: chrisbenge@okhouse.gov district 68 R

Darrell Gilbert: darrellgilbert@okhouse.gov district 72 D

Todd Hiett: toddhiett@okhouse.gov district 29 R

Lucky Lamons: luckylamons@okhouse.gov district 66 D

Mark Liotta: markliotta@okhouse.gov district 77 R

Mike Mass: mikemass@okhouse.gov district 17 D

Jeannie McDaniel: jeanniemcdaniel@okhouse.gov district 78 D

Jabar Shumate: jabarshumate@okhouse.gov district 73 D

Opio Toure: opiotoure@okhouse.gov district 99 D

John Trebilcock: johntrebilcock@okhouse.gov district 98 R

Okay, folks, you know what to do! Remember: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, so be respectful, but passionate. This is especially important if you live in Oklahoma, or know people who do!

For inspiration, Ms. Kuhns also sent the editorials from the local newspapers

DAILY OKLAHOMAN (Oklahoma City newspaper) Editorial

March 10, 2006

Don't legislate library book access

A BILL that could strip public libraries of state funding if they fail to cater to a legislative whim deserves to end up in the trash can, not the law books.

House Bill 2158 would require libraries to place any books with homosexuality or "sexually explicit" subject matter in a separate area of the library available only to adults. Libraries wanting state funding must provide documentation of their compliance and a copy of their adults-only distribution policy.

The bill passed a House committee Wednesday and now awaits a vote from the full House. We urge House members to defeat the bill.

We find it ironic that the bill said each policy should "reflect the contemporary community standard of the community the library is located in." In putting the bill on a path to becoming law, lawmakers are taking away such local control and substituting it with their judgment. It's not the Legislature's job to tell libraries which books to stock and where to put them. Local library boards are capable of making decisions on whether restricted access is necessary.

Last month, the governing board of Oklahoma County libraries approved a proposal to create a special "parenting collection" of children's books on a variety of issues, including homosexuality and sexually themed material. While the issue was contentious, board members listened to community input and gave it thoughtful debate before deciding.

That's the kind of decision-making process appropriate for a library. While we appreciate attempts to shield children from subjects they may not understand or be ready for, that's a parent's job. For lawmakers to usurp that role is bad public policy.

This isn't the first time this session where we've argued that the Legislature needs to keep its hands off. Sometimes, the best action the Legislature can take is none at all. This issue is a perfect example.


Book binding
By World's Editorial Writers

Censorship aimed at libraries in bill

A bill that would require sexually explicit books to be kept away from children and young adults in public libraries has been passed by a state House of Representatives committee.

If libraries failed to comply, they would be prohibited from using any money, either from the state or locally, to operate.

The full House should reject this bill. It is being pushed by Republican legislators who hope to trade on the statewide anti-homosexual sentiment. If enacted into law, it would, at worst, wreck the Tulsa City-County Library and, at best, force censorship.

HB 2158, proposed by State Rep. Betty Kern, R-Oklahoma City, was passed by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. Under legislative rules, bills must be reported out of the two houses by March 17.

The bill is grossly impractical, aside from its implications for censorship. Children should be protected, of course, but even here there are occasional children's books that religious zealots complain push homosexuality.

The language of the bill uses "young adults." The libraries, of course, would have to define "young adults." How? How does a librarian decide the age or maturity of a telephone caller?

One can readily think of a long list of books that touch on homosexuality and an even longer list of books with "sexually explicit" material.

To make the point, the Bible itself would be kept out of the hands of "young adults" because it contains some of the rawest sexual episodes imaginable as well as passages of the world's greatest literature.

Or, how about the Sistine Chapel ceiling? Michelangelo's famous painting does depict naked men!

The dirty little secret is that this bill is another "redneck re-election" effort. Its authors know it will play well to unthinking voters who voted overwhelmingly for a "marriage" amendment aimed at homosexuals.

Republicans are gung-ho for such bills and Democrats are so cowed by a backward electorate that they are afraid to oppose such ridiculous ideas as censorship of libraries.

Bill Kellough, the chairman of the TCCL commission, said:

"In a diverse, pluralistic democracy not everyone will believe or like what they read. Library materials are representative of all social, political, religious and cultural points of view. Homosexuality is a reality. What would prevent other topics of reality from becoming off limits to young people who are free citizens entitled to free exercise of speech and thought?"


The full commission had earlier voted to "adamantly oppose" HB 2158. The commission is right. This bill ought to be stopped.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Decrease in Book Challenges?

The ALA has announced its annual list of the year's most challenged books. Interestingly, the number of official challenges has decreased since last year. Alas, I personally don't think this means anything, since most challenges are not reported (let's face it: if a librarian pulls a book from the shelves after a complaint, she or he is not necessarily going to write the ALA saying, "Guess what? I just banned a book!").

My sense of things is that things have gotten much, much worse lately, if only because the book challengers, who seem to be mostly conservative Christians, now have the ear of the government. And that government is taking their "concerns" very very seriously.

Here's an example. A bill in Oklahoma would withhold state money from public libraries that do not move age-appropriate gay-themed children's books out of children's areas.
Jeanie Johnson, president of the Oklahoma Library Association, said the bill "flies in the face of the idea of a public library."

"Every parent has the right to monitor what their children are reading, and should," she said. "But I don't have the right to choose for another parent what is right for their child."

The bill is similar to a non-binding resolution passed by the House last year and led to libraries in several cities moving gay themed books.

These bills are being proposed, and they're passing. And, frankly, because they deal with whole ideas and inquiries of study, they're a bigger threat to intellectual freedom than the challenge of any one individual book.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

AS IF! Member's Take on Censoring "Unrealistic" Books

Here's a great anti-censorship column by AS IF!'s own Sarah Littman, author of Confessions of Closet Catholic.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Gay Penguins Provoke Outrage

I write about a lot of book challenges here, but this one has me more upset than anything in a long time.
A children's book about two male penguins who raise a baby penguin has been moved to the nonfiction section of two public library branches after parents complained it had homosexual undertones.

The illustrated book, And Tango Makes Three, is based on a true story of two male penguins, named Roy and Silo, who adopted an abandoned egg at New York City's Central Park Zoo in the late 1990s.

The book, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, was moved from the children's section at two Rolling Hills' Consolidated Library's branches in Savannah and St. Joseph in northwest Missouri.

Two parents had expressed concerns about the book last month.

Barbara Read, the Rolling Hills' director, said experts report that adoptions aren't unusual in the penguin world. However, moving the book to the nonfiction section would decrease the chance that it would "blindside" readers, she said.
Uh, I'm sorry, but this book is perfectly age-appropriate, and homosexuality is something that exists, and definitely not something that people, even children, need to be "protected" from. Many children's books include African American characters; should they be removed from the children's section too, because some people are racist and might not want their kids encountering black characters?

I'm deeply disappointed that there is a librarian anywhere that would take a position like this. And what about the kids of GLBT familes? By putting the books on a "special" shelf, the message being sent to THOSE kids is, "You're different. You don't belong among the rest of us."



Parents in Indiana are upset over the inclusion of The Kite Runner in a freshman English class, in part because of a scene where a young boy is raped.
Julie Shake [one of the parents] has no problem with those themes. But the accountant and mother of three does not approve of the "very violent" scenes, including the rape of a boy, and occasional "vulgar" language.

"The point is timing," she said. "Is this age-appropriate? Is this the best youth literature available? We believe for 14- and 15-year-olds, there are better choices."

That cuts to the heart of her argument. "I have nothing to say about it as adult literature. We have asked the (School) Board that it not be taught to minors. That leaves it open for seniors."

The school will substitute another book for their child to read, but the Shakes are not mollified. No student younger than 18 should read the book, they believe.
Here's my take: if The Kite Runner, which is a very sensitive, thoughtful book, is not appropriate for high school students, then the daily newspaper, which often includes articles about child abuse, is not appropriate for high school students. And that, of course, is absurd.

These parents have every right to decide what their children can and can't read. They have absolutely no right to make that decision for everyone else.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Censorship Canada Style

Here's another one!

For me this falls under the "overprotective" banner. We tend to want to have children exist in a perfect "Disney" world, well the hard truths of life for the majority of humans is quite different. I also trust that the librarians know which book is the right book for an audience. It's their jobs.

Art Slade

Library group defends controversial children's book
Last Updated Tue, 28 Feb 2006 16:38:59 EST
CBC Arts

The Ontario Library Association is standing by its choice of Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, for a prestigious children's reading program.

The Canadian Jewish Congress has put pressure on the OLA and Ontario school boards to remove the book, by Canadian author Deborah Ellis, from its Silver Birch reading program, an independent reading program for children in Grades 4 to 6.

The book, which features Palestinian and Israeli children telling their stories in their own words, is not suitable for readers in that age group, the CJC says. Publisher Groundwood Books suggests Three Wishes for children in Grade 6 or above.

Younger children who read the stories won't understand why some Palestinian children seem to admire suicide bombers and say they want to grow up to kill Israelis, the CJC says.

"They speak about suicide bombing and killing Israelis as suitable choices to make and as acts worthy of emulating," says Len Rudner, national director of community relations for the CJC.

"This is not about censorship," he says. "It's about providing children with material appropriate to their age group."

One Ontario school board, the York District School Board, which serves the region north of Toronto, has agreed to pull the book from the reading program.

The Silver Birch reading program encourages children in Grades 4 to 6 to read independently. A list of fiction and non-fiction books is drafted by the OLA and school libraries are encouraged to show the selections to children.

Children read with a group in their classroom or independently in a group created by a librarian. At the end of the program, children across the province who have read the books choose a favourite, which becomes the Silver Birch Award winner.

This year's list of Silver Birch nominees has 10 non-fiction books by Canadian writers, with titles such as Sports Hall of Weird, Sir John A. MacDonald, Lowdown on Earth Worms and Bloom of Friendship. There are also 10 fiction books by Canadian writers.

Ellis visited Israel and Palestine in 2002 to interview children and retells their stories in their own words in Three Wishes. Among the children she interviewed are a young girl whose older sister was a suicide bomber and an 11-year-old boy who described his home being destroyed by soldiers.

Ellis is also author of The Breadwinner series, about a young Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy to make enough money to feed her family during the rule of the Taliban.

In choosing the book for the Silver Birch program, the OLA described Three Wishes as allowing "young readers everywhere to see that the children caught in this conflict are just like them, but living far more difficult and dangerous lives. Without taking sides, it presents an unblinking portrait of children victimized by the endless struggle around them."

The CJC argues children aged 9 to 12 do not understand the complexities of the conflict in the Middle East and cannot understand what they are reading.

"There are adults who can't get their heads around this still," Rudner says.

He cites passages like this one from a Palestinian boy, whose home was destroyed by soldiers: "Killing an Israeli will make me feel glad. It will make me feel strong. … I am tired of them making me feel small and weak. I want to feel strong and proud."

In one passage a girl speaks of her sister, who blew herself and others up in a suicide bombing, as being in heaven. A teacher working with this text could encourage children to think about why people feel like that and provide some context, but a young child reading on his or her own might not understand, Rudner says.

The CJC has sent a five-page letter to OLA executive director Larry Moore urging the book be withdrawn from the Silver Birch program.

The same letter went to every director of education in the province. The York board rejected the book as not age appropriate after being alerted to the book by a teacher.

After the complaint, the Silver Birch selection committee reviewed its reasons for selecting the book and said it would stand behind its choice, Moore said.

"In our eyes, the book is perfectly good and we stand by our Selection Committee and the rights of children to read this book," Moore told CBC Radio.

The children in the book are saying honest and interesting things about their lives and other children will understand their emotions, he says.

"Children need to read about life around them. We protect them from some of these things in North America, but they still see it on TV."