Thursday, May 31, 2007

Warriors for Innocence: Not so Innocent?

So the blog-world, specifically the LiveJournal world, is abuzz with talk of a new cyber group, Warriors for Innocence (I'm not linking to them because their site allegedly uses spyware). They target profiles that "promote pedophilia" and badger LiveJournal isn't deleting them, but apparently many profiles have been deleted improperly--abuse survivor groups, for example.

Now Live Journal has apologized for the debacle.

Here's a good run-down (hat tip to Sister Coyote)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Not Your Typical Book-Burning

A man burns books, but not the usual reasons:
So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books in protest of what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.

"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.
Publicity stunt? We here at AS IF! think so. But not necessarily a bad one.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

AND TANGO MAKES THREE is #1 Most Challenged Book

Interesting article on the picture book And Tango Makes Three, currently the country's single more challenged book, in England's The Guardian.
"We did expect a negative reaction," admits one of the authors of the children's book And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson. "In the US, homosexuality and talking to children about sexuality have been highly politicised, so yes, we expected to take some heat for it."

In the event, the story of two male penguins who bring up a chick, which Richardson co-wrote with the playwright Peter Parnell, generated more heat than its authors perhaps anticipated. In 2006, it shot to the top of the American Library Association's (ALA) list of most frequently challenged books as people across the country objected to the idea of such a tale being aimed at children of its target age group of between four and eight, provoking protests in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa and Indiana.

But this was not a tale: it was, in fact, inspired by a newspaper article, which told how a zookeeper noticed two of his penguins, Roy and Silo, were trying to hatch a stone.

"The New York Times ran an article called The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name about homosexual behaviour in animals, which started with Roy and Silo's story," remembers Richardson. He started reading it out to Parnell, and "in reading it aloud, it started sounding like a children's story.

"It had the same elements as some of the books we'd grown up with," agrees Parnell, "where an unlikely character tries and tries and eventually succeeds."

They were aware, however, that the idea of two gay penguins striving to raise a child would prove more controversial than, say, the Little Red Hen's attempts to bake bread.
I had an interesting conversation recently with the editor of another often-banned gay-themed picture book. Everyone assumes that these books sell really well because of all the publicity. That's not necessarily true. Which says to me that there's still a lot of self-censoring going of gay-themed books. How else to explain libraries not purchasing these a highly-praised, obviously topical, and much discussed books?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gay Teen Books: Good News and Bad News

The good news is that Rainboy Boys, Alex Sanchez's 2001 gay teen book, has been returned to an optional summer reading list in Rochester, New York, after it was removed in a big controversy last year (that we documented in detail).

My Rochester friend, librarian Ove Overmeyer, had this to say in an article on the development:
"Those lists should be lists of inclusion, nothing should be excluded. That's a good thing. I think we learned something from the whole process," he said.

"Parents should be responsible for what their children read, but other parents shouldn't tell other parents what their kids should read," Overmyer said.
In less satisfying news, a former student of mine, Carrie Jones, has heard rumblings of censorship due to the word "gay" in the title of her fab new book, Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend.
Some booksellers are afraid of controversy. They have bottom lines. They need to make them. I knew that places like Wal-Mart wouldn't stock my book because of that word, the GAY word. I had hoped that independent bookstores would be a little more, um, independent. I had hoped that they would fight the good fight so that kids could get books that were different, that meant something, that had themes that made them think. I can understand that they are afraid that people might picket their bookstores, might cause a stir about a book that has the word 'gay' in it, and that could hurt their business, but what this comes down to really is pre-censorship.

What does this mean? It means that books with gay themes or even the word "Gay" in the title aren't as available. You have to hunt for them. Their authors might not sell as many books. That makes the authors a little less lucrative to publishing houses. Maybe their next book won't get published. Maybe it will. But it's harder.
I feel Carrie's pain. I really, really do.

Here at AS IF!, we believe in freedom of choice--even, I suppose, the freedom to not stock a book with an otherwise enthusiastic audience solely due to perceived or real prejudice.

But it's still frustrating.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Judy Blume in Newsweek

The godmother of anti-censorship, Judy Blume, is interviewed in Newsweek about her landmark novel, Forever.

I thought this was particularly interesting (mostly because I've been saying the same thing for years!):
There is so much sex on TV and on billboards today—seemingly more than when “Forever” first came out—why do you think the book continues to be so controversial?

Because it's a book. Some adults, for whatever reason, have a desperate need to control everything in their children's lives. They can't control what's on television or on a billboard, but many think they can control what their children read. These individuals believe if their kids don't read about it, they won't know about it, and if they don't know about it, they'll never do it. They think they can have a book banned if they don't want their children to read it. They'll go into school waving a book, demanding that it be removed. There are a lot of would-be censors out there. Not only do they want to make the decision for their children but for all children. How much better it would it be if the parents could read the book, too, and then talk about it with their teens.

From Sonya Sones

Sonya Sones has sent in a very thoughtful and interesting response to the events in Wisconsin:


Maybe some of you have heard that my novel in verse for teens, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, has been successfully challenged in the community of Wisconsin Dells. “The action,” an article in American Libraries Online stated, “was taken after Sherry Volkey, the mother of an 11-year-old student, appealed a reconsideration committee decision declining her request to remove the book entirely from the school media center as well as the school’s accelerated reading program. Characterizing as “soft porn’” the book of poems describing the coming-of-age experiences of a fictional 14-year-old girl, Volkey told the school board, “I was deeply appalled when she brought this book to my attention and read to me a poem in here about getting undressed and taking your bare chest and sticking it up against a winter window.”

It crossed my mind that those of you who haven’t read the book, upon reading Volkey’s complaint about it, might be curious as to why I would include such a scene in my book. I felt is was the right choice to include this realistic, albeit painfully honest poem because the main character, Sophie, is at an age when her body is going through enormous changes. In reflecting on how quickly her breasts have developed she says, “It is pretty astonishing / how my molehills / have turned into mountains / overnight.” Sophie is fascinated by, and hyper-aware of, all the changes puberty is causing in her body. I hope that girls who stumble across this moment in my book might feel less alone, less embarrassed by the curious and confused feelings they’re having about the sudden transformations of their own bodies. Besides, when Sophie experiments with pressing her breasts against the glass in order to observe the effect the cold has on them, it is nighttime and no one else is watching. The scene is no more pornographic than was the scene in The Higher Power of Lucky, when the snake bites the dog on his you-know-what.

Without fail, the people who want to rip my book from the hands of young readers have not even read it. They have only read small sections of it. If Sherry Volkey, the woman who lodged the complaint in Wisconsin, had read the whole book she would have seen that there is no possible way its contents could be categorized as what she calls “soft porn.”

This is just plain dumb. Because, as far as sexuality goes, nothing happens in What My Mother Doesn’t Know except for kissing. I guess it seems too sexual to Ms. Volkey because of Sophie's passionate nature and the way she describes these kisses. But Sophie says she "just doesn't feel ready" to go beyond kissing, and certainly the book doesn't support the idea of teens having sex. In fact, Sophie steadfastly refuses to let her boyfriend Dylan push her to go further than she wants. I included this in my book to suggest to girls that they don’t have to allow boys to pressure them into doing anything that they don’t want to do. Dylan's sexually aggressive behavior is one of the main reasons that Sophie stops dating him.

Since so many books make it seem like it’s the norm for teens to be having sex (not to mention scarfing down drugs and alcohol) and mine does just the opposite, I find it ironic that Ms. Volkey wants my book removed from the school libraries.

There is one instance in the book where Sophie’s breast is touched by a boy. But this happens when an older boy on a street corner, who doesn’t even know Sophie, grabs her breast. Sophie has not invited his advances in any way, and her response to his molestation is to chase him down and kick and hit him. I included this poem to show girls that they don’t need to sit silently by if, God forbid, they are ever attacked themselves. (Which, unfortunately, is what I did when the same thing happened to me at her age.)

I’m happy to report that the emails I receive from my fans make it clear that the other themes in my book – don't judge a person by the way they look, be true to your heart, don't care so much about what your peers think – are getting through to my readers as well. I got one just today from a girl who said, “It taught me that maybe the hottest guy isn't the best guy for me. So now I will definitely look at and notice the not so hot and popular guys.” It delights me to think that my book might have helped the homely guys of the world to get a date.

Don't get me wrong—I don't write to teach kids how they should be living their lives. But if some of that happens to come through while I'm telling the stories I want to tell, then... well…hooray!

If Ms. Volkey doesn’t think her own daughter is ready to read books which deal realistically with teenage life, that is certainly her choice to make. But what right has she to try to impose her short-sighted beliefs on an entire community?

I hope that the students and parents of Wisconsin Dells will fight back. No one should allow ignorant people to rob them of their rights.

Sonya Sones

Monday, May 14, 2007

WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN'T KNOW Restricted in Wisconsin

Sonya Sones' book What My Mother Doesn't Know has been restricted in Wisconsin. The challenger referred to it as "soft porn," indicating that she has apparently never seen any porn, soft or otherwise.

What struck me was this quote from the author, which I can really relate to.
[Sones] said in writing her book at the outset she didn't think it would be controversial. Other books, she said, depict teens drinking alcohol, using drugs and having sex, while her book does not.

Sones said she wanted her book to address a girl's first bra, period, crush, kiss and love, as well as her second and third loves.
Don't ask for whom the book banners accuse of being "soft porn." They toll for thee. Or something like that.

Monday, May 07, 2007


Apparently books that begin with a conjunction or a preposition are a big no-no, as evidenced by two new challenges, one of Of Mine and Men (in Texas) and one of And Tango Makes Three (in Stockon, California).

The comments under the latter article are interesting. As I've blogged before, I think folks are verrrrrry tired of these self-appointed book censors.

Friday, May 04, 2007

John Green Talks Book Banning

AS IF!'s own John Green talks about book bannings. Watch it! It's funny.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Update on Two Girls Kissing

Here in Washington State (where I live), there was a protest this week over the fact that two girls kissing the lunchroom were recorded on a surveilance camera, the tape of which was then shown to the girl's parents.
As many as four dozen students risked an unexcused absence to call attention to what they said was discrimination against lesbian students.

Some called for Keith Nelson, the dean of students, to be fired for showing the video to the parents of one of the girls in February. The parents of that girl, a junior, withdrew her from school. She’s now attending at a campus outside the district.

The other girl, senior Jenna Johnson, said she organized Monday’s event.

“I hope it sends a message across that people shouldn’t discriminate on sexual preference,” said Johnson, a 17-year-old who still attends the school. “People should love you for who you are.”
Today we learn that the dean who did the privacy-violating has, in fact, been reassigned, though, interestingly, the district is being very cagey about whether or not it is due to his recent actions.

What I found most intersting/depressing/illuminating was the dean's comment:
“The real story is this – do parents have the right to know what happens at school? And do parents have the right to know what type of activities their child is involved in at school? Of course they do,” he wrote in the e-mail.
Actually, this isn't the real story.

Look, I don't know how many times I'm going to have to say it: if you have a law, rule, or policy, it must be enforced consistently, for all people. If you only enforce it for one group of people--say, GLBTQ students--but not for straight students, well, that's the very essence of discrimination. You know, treating two groups in an unequal way?

So I ask the school: how many times have videotapes of heterosexual students kissing in the lunchroom been shown to their parents? What's that? Never?

I honestly don't see what's so hard about this. What do people think discrimination is anyway?

In a related story of gay panic, a school flips out when a journalism advisor allows a student to write an editorial advocating tolerance of gays. Apparently, that idea is so terribly "controversial" that it showed bad judgement when the advistor did not notify the principal in advance. The advisor was originally slated to be fired--fired!--over this "infaction," but may now keep teaching at another school. But:
"The school administration has said in no uncertain terms that she's not going to be given a journalism position," Proctor said.
Oh, God, no, not that.