Friday, December 29, 2006

Meg Cabot: Princess is Banned

Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot (and real sweetheart, based on my having once shaken her hand) has been banned. Here's her, uh, unique take on it:
Have you ever had a secret—or even not-so-secret—dream?

A dream that maybe you wished upon a star would come true?

Or prayed for on bended knee?

A dream that everyone told you was totally unrealistic…would never come true…to just give up on…that, yeah, okay, might happen for other people, but was never going to happen for you?

This post is for all you dreamers out there. Keep on dreaming, dreamers.

Because dreams? They really can come true, if you hang in there, and believe in them long enough.

Because my dream? It finally came true. Through hard work, perseverance, and many, many references to French kissing.

Yes, people. It finally happened:

I’ve been banned.



All I can say is that if Joshua found Princess Diaries 1-7 inappropriate for grades pre-kindergarten through 6th grade (although the books really are for readers aged 12 and up, so I’m not sure why people in Joshua were making them available to pre-kindergarteners anyway. Although perhaps there are some very precocious readers there), I can only imagine what they’re going to think of Princess Diaries 8, Princess on the Brink.

It is entirely possible the whole town might spontaneously combust if someone happens to get their hands on it.

Especially a pre-kindergartener.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gay Penguins Banned with no Review

Here at AS IF!, we've often said that it is always a mistake, one with terrible consequences, when a library or school district bans a book without following an existing policy or, worse, when no actual policy exists.

And Tango Makes Three, the "gay penguin" book, has been banned in North Carolina. And boy, was the review policy not followed:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Superintendent Peter Gorman and his top lieutenants have ordered a picture book about presumably gay penguins removed from school libraries, the first time Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has banned a book in more than a decade.

But Gorman said Tuesday he'll let a committee review the decision after Charlotte Observer questions revealed he and his staff sidestepped CMS policy.

The ban came from a miscommunication between him and his chief of staff, Robert Avossa, Gorman said. "I screwed this one up."

"And Tango Makes Three," the real-life story of "the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies," has drawn objections in schools or public libraries in seven states.

All decided to keep the book, according to the American Library Association. Charlotte-Mecklenburg's public library has also rejected a request to remove it, a spokeswoman said.

CMS pulled the penguin love story without a formal complaint. Gorman said a couple of parents had asked him about the book, in which two male penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo pair up and hatch an adopted egg, and Republican county commissioner Bill James had e-mailed him.

James said he read an online article about the book and asked Gorman if CMS libraries had it. "I am opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal," he said.

Four of CMS's 93 elementaries - Eastover, Hickory Grove, Mallard Creek and Myers Park Traditional - had the book.

On Nov. 30, top CMS administrators Ruth Perez, Ronald Dixon and Gloria Miller sent a memo to principals and media specialists explaining the decision to ban the book from all schools.

"First, it is a picture book that focuses on homosexuality. Second, we did not feel that such information was vital to primary students. Next, we did not believe the book would stimulate growth in ethical standards, and the book is too controversial."

Banning books is controversial, too.

"One parent's decision shouldn't dictate whether or not the book is available to all the other families in the community," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association. "Any challenge to a book is ultimately an attempt to remove an idea from public discourse."

Banning "Tango" is a bad idea, she said, and doing it without an open, balanced review is worse. READ ON

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Letter From Bookseller Carol Chittenden on Yoko Kawashima Watkins

A letter from Carol Chittenden (a Massachusettes bookseller), regarding the recent challenge of Yoko Kawashima Watkins:

Dear Colleagues,

Many of us know Yoko Kawashima Watkins for her perennial favorite titles, So Far from the Bamboo Grove and My Brother, My Sister, and I. Over the last two decades she has spoken to tens of thousands of children, teachers, parents, booksellers, librarians, writers, editors, graduating classes, peace groups, and international scholars. Again and again her words have inspired standing ovations; often they also move her listeners to tears. Based upon her personal experiences as a refugee at the end of World War II, she delivers a wide variety of stories containing two important messages: peace is important because war does terrible things; and integrity is the most valuable thing any person possesses.

So it is surprising that Yoko and her books are under attack. The challenge comes from a Korean Man, Henry Jaung, who apparently lives in the area of Dover, MA, an affluent suburb west of Boston. (I say "apparently," because much about this individual is unclear.) IN September he caused a private school in Connecticut to withdraw Yoko's speaking invitation, alleging that her father was responsible for war crimes in the 1940's. In fact, Yoko's father, Yoshio Kawashima, was a highly refined and educated diplomat who was the top civilian official in the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and Korea. He gained a reputation for saving many, many Koreans and Chinese from the often brutal and despotic Japanese military presence. But a general with a similar name was responsible for some very unpleasant events in the
same period.

Once Yoko cleared up that confusion, Mr. Jaung lodged other charges, to the effect that her books contain inappropriate sexual content because they describe, very briefly and cleanly, the fact that Korean soldiers abducted and raped girls, and nearly caught Yoko's older sister Ko as well. Jaung also accuses the books of being anti-Korean, which would appear to indicate that he has not read them, because there are long passages about the kindness of Korean individuals who helped the Kawashima family members as they fled hundreds of miles.

For some time Mr. Jaung would not identify himself publicly in connection with his accusations. He also refused, through intermediaries, to meet with Yoko. But more recently, he has been campaigning to have her books removed from their long-standing place in the Dover-Sherborn school system, and that resulted in his identification in the press. Much of the controversy has been covered in the Boston Globe.

According to the paper, he has also sought to muster support among other Korean Americans with his claims of anti-Korean content in the books.

Most recently Mr. Jaung has threatened to seek a court injunction against the schools' use of the books. While it would seem unlikely that U.S. courts would go along with his claims, his aggressive attacks have already caused disruption in several schools and anguish for Yoko, who has worked so hard to encourage reconciliation and understanding. His agitation has, however, produced one valuable result: it is showing children who know these books the value of their freedom to read, and how easily that right can be attached. As the Cape Cod Times editorial of December 3 concludes, in regard to the case, "There is another way to add balance: More books. More reading."

Please be aware of this confrontation, and re-read the books if you haven't done so recently, in case the issue arises – as Mr. Jaung expressly hopes – in schools near you. If there is a Korean American community in your area, this is even more likely.

(Full disclosure: Yoko is an admired personal friend, and I have had the honor of working with her, and recommending her books to readers in my store. More often, I have overheard one reader recommend them to another.)


Carol B. Chittenden

Eight Cousins

Falmouth, MA

[UPDATE]: Some posters have objected to some of the facts in this letter (in comments). Ms. Chittenden may respond. In the meantime, we'll consider publishing responses to this letter. Email me at

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jane Pittman Stays

The school board at the Puyallup School District (a stone's throw from where I live) has deciced to keep The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman on the required reading list:
“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitt man” will remain required reading for eighth-graders in the Puyallup School District.
The Puyallup School Board voted 5-0 Monday night to uphold an earlier decision by a district committee requiring eighth-graders to read the novel.

The board made the decision in considering an appeal from a parent and a group of six teachers who challenged the requirement. The challengers said that while the novel is a valuable and compelling account of its period, its complicated content, including implied incest and rape, and heavy use of racial slurs made it inappropriate for eighth-graders.

In explaining their vote, each board member recounted the difficulty of balancing valid concerns on each side of the debate. Board President Diana Seeley said it wasn’t a sole issue of dealing with racism or the “n-word.”

“This is about the environment in which it’s being used,” she said. “We don’t necessarily know that by telling children not to use that word, they will stop using it. But it is our hope by giving them an explanation of the word and where it came from, they’ll understand it’s inappropriate to use it in the future.”
One part of the article caught my attention:
Before making their decision, board members heard from numerous parents, community members and staff members. Some advocated requiring the book for eighth-graders for its perspective on race relations and slavery, while others were concerned that youngsters that age would be confused by the book’s adult situations. Several expressed concerns for children who have been sexually abused, and the trauma they could experience as they study the book in a classroom of peers.
Uh, not to put too fine a point on it, but this is the dumbest thing I've read in a long, long, long time. Ban a book because some kids are sexually abused and the book might trigger some trauma? Um, if that's a criterion for banning a book, well, we can pretty much close up the libraries now, can't we?

I'm sure these people mean well, but, I mean, wow.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Two Interesting Book Selection Links

Two very interesting "book selection" related links, both worth reading:

(a) A blogger at the Conversational Reading Weblog writes about controversial book selection at a boarding school (all school librarians and/or teachers will relate!).

(b) A librarian-poster over at writes how the effort to ban Harry Potter in all of George is so misguided, fundamentally misunderstanding the book selection process.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

GREAT Speech by Diane Kitchen

Librarian Diane Kitchen, who was the target of attacks in the Columbia-Brazoria school district for the past few months, made a magnificent speech at her district's school board meeting this week. The speech is reproduced below in its entirety with Diane's approval.

Good evening

I have worked as a librarian for C-BISD for 34 ½ years, 30 of them at the junior high school.

Some people decide after being in the classroom for several years that being a librarian is the path they wish to follow. I went off to college knowing that this was what I wanted to do and that desire has never wavered.

As Mrs. James stated last month, we have taken courses and continuing education classes and workshops on book selection and providing for our patrons. This means ALL of our patrons, not just the students who have been blessed to live a “Beaver Cleaver” childhood. I wish that all of my students were so fortunate.

One student’s reality is frequently not the same as so many others.
1. A large percentage of our students are from broken homes, complete with all the baggage that encompasses.
2. We have students who are being raised by a single parent.
3. We have students being raised by a parent with his or her significant others either present or coming and going through their lives.
4. We have students being raised by parents who are not home when their child is, whether because of work or other reasons.
5. We have students being raised by grandparents.
6. We have student living in foster homes; and as a CASA volunteer, or Court Appointed Special Advocate for children, and working closely with CPS, I know what it takes to have a child removed from the home and placed in foster care.

We as librarians must know all of our students and provide for the needs of each of these students.

I have given each of you a publisher approved copy of award-winning author Gary Paulsen’s introduction to his most recent book. I regret not having copies for each member of this audience, but to exceed publisher Simon & Schuster’s approved number of copies would violate copyright laws.

If I were as eloquent as Mr. Paulsen, I would not feel the need to do this. Because I am not, I ask that you allow me to read sections from this introduction.

I apologize in advance for any display of emotion, but passion evokes emotion and like Mr. Paulsen, I am exceedingly passionate about the right to read and access to books.

1. p. 1
2. p. 4
3. p. 7

Over the course of my career, I have had:
1. 2 students who committed suicide. Maybe it would have helped them to know and read about someone who was able to overcome their despair.
2. 2 students who watched their fathers being shot to death
3. 2 students whose father or step-father killed their mother
4. Students who have had a parent or sibling die
5. Students who have endured life-threatening illnesses
6. Girls who have had babies
7. I had one student who rode with her mother every evening to the local bar where she sat in the car doing her homework and waiting to drive Mom home at closing time. Each morning she was responsible for getting herself and 2 sisters up and off to school.

These are just a minute number of students who could or have been helped by words of encouragement found in a book.
These students and others in difficult situations, more than any others who need access to books, are the students whose parents will not show up here, nor any other school function in which their child may participate, beginning with registration and continuing through, yes, even graduation.

Yes, there are some books in the library that some may find offensive. In each case that I know of, if the situation is taken in the context of the entire story, either the character eventually makes a wise choice, of if the choice is a poor one, the character learns from it. What a waste to spend one’s time searching for something to offend rather than something to teach a lesson

The district administration has initiated parental permission forms to allow or deny access to our young adult sections. As librarians, we recognize that it is the responsibility of the parent to act as the ultimate overseer of their child’s reading material. That is their responsibility and their right. It is not their right to decide for my child or your child.

We ask you to allow us to continue providing for all of our students.

The result? Diane emailed us yesterday that, "The board voted to leave the library as is, with the separate YA section and approval needed. Any challenges must go through all of the channels. The 'book Nazis' are still out there writing letters to the editor, but the community seems to be really tired of hearing from them."

ACLU Report on Texas Schools

Want to know what's going on in the Texas schools, book censorship-wise? Take a look at the ACLU's 10th Annual Report on Banned and Challenged Books in Texas Schools, 2005-2006 School Year.

It's an interesting read, and also includes a great interview with Judy Blume, the Queen of All Things Censorship-Related.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Dirty Cowboy Dares to be Naked

Here's a new one . . . award-winning children's picture book, THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, has been banned at a school in Texas. It was removed from the library shelves a W. C. Andrews Elementary. The reason cited: sexual content.

Uh . . . the book is about a cowboy who needs a BATH. And, like many of us, when he bathes, he's . . . naked. For more information on banned books in Texas, check out the ALA Banned Book Week site and click on the ACLU of TX Banned Book Week Project.

In the meantime, if you bathe, wear clothes, or you might get in trouble!