Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Story of One Challenge: A Cautionary Tale

A friend recently emailed me the details of one recent book challenge: Rainbow Boys, a very popular gay-themed YA novel by Alex Sanchez, was on a summer reading list at the Webster Central School District in upstate New York. The book, which has won lots of important honors, was on the "high school" sub-section, on a list that was a total of some 25 pages long. The list itself was chosen by teachers, presumably with an eye for diversity, and students were required to read two books from the list; the public libraries in the area set the books aside in a special area for easy access.

While Rainbow Boys was not on the middle school list, a middle school student checked the book out and brought it home. The parent read the book and was extremely upset, calling the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and reading an "explicit" passage. The Assistant Superintendent decided to pull the book, and informed the public libraries to remove it from the summer reading collection.

Librarians in the area strongly warned the administrators that they were making a mistake: that if parents were allowed to have this one book removed from the list especially without discussion or review, then other parents would soon want other books removed.

And what do you know? Another parent has now submitted a long list of books for removal. About half are gay-themed:

Rainbow Boys- Sanchez
Breaking Boxes - Jenkins
Empress of the World - Ryan
I Was a Teenage Fairy - Block
Lucky - Sebold
Keesha's House - Frost
Looking for Alaska - Green
Bless Me, Ultima - Anaya
My Heartbeat - Freymann-Weyr
Ragtime - Doctorow
Smack - Burgess
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Garcia Marquez
When I Was Puerto Rican - Santiago
Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Garcia Marquez
Athletic Shorts - Crutcher
Kindred - Butler
Deliver Us From Evie - Kerr
Hard Love - Wittlinger
Green Lantern: Passing the Torch - Winick
The Last Chance Texaco - Hartinger

And yeah, that's my own book The Last Chance Texaco, targeted yet again! It seems that even when I write non-gay fiction, I still get challenged.

*deep and heavy sigh*

In any event, I think this is a perfect of example of what happens with administrators try to unilaterally appease angry parents by ignoring the existing book review policy, if there is no book review policy in place in the first place (which seems hard to believe in this day and age, but yes, it still happens!). If a book truly is not "age-appropriate," there are mechanisms in place to deal with the work in question.

But if the book challenge is merely a case where one parent wants to decide not just what his or her children are reading, but what everyone else's kids are reading too, usually based on a specific religious worldview, well, that parent will hopefully learn that public libraries and public schools exist to serve the entire community, and cater to lots of diverse beliefs. Basically, we all pay the taxes that support these libraries and schools, and every young person is required to attend school; resources should exist to serve all their needs. In any event, this is America, where we hopefully still err on the side of freedom, and letting parents, individuals, and, individual families decide these things for themselves.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Brent. Every book on that list--with the exception of only two titles, yours and Kerr's--is on this list from those wonderful folks at Parents With Too Much Time on Their Hands, oops, I mean Parents Who Like to Read Only the Naughty Bits. Or something like that.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job. As a 30 year old I am out of the YA range and as an elementary school teacher I am out the other way, so I have missed these books. I am currently reading my way through the ALA's banned and challenged list. I am shocked and saddened by each fabulous book I read. I am mostly saddened though by the Parents With Too Much Time on Their Hands who Read Only the Naughty Bits.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Jordan Sonnenblick said...

Hey, all. AS IF is on this! I've called the ALA's Intellectual Freedom office, and cross-posted the info from this article at other national listservs. I'm also firing off a letter to the school district's board and the Rochester-area media.

If anyone knows how to play a stirring bugle call, please feel free to do so . . .

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a teacher in the district you mentioned, I am embarrassed at our actions. This book should be left on the list and families should decide for themselves what they want their children to read. I do not feel the book was sexually explicit, and fear the content drove the decision. That is unfortunate, to say the least. Shame on us.

6:18 AM  
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8:33 PM  

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