Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Hiatus

Seeing as it is the Christmas season, I (along with most of the world) am getting into holiday mode.  Seeing as I haven't posted for a while, I'm thinking you probably already assumed I am taking a break.  This is my official notice to let you all know that I will be posting once again in January, when the holiday craziness settles down a bit.  Thanks, as always, for reading, commenting, and keeping the Freedom to Read in your thoughts.

Have a Merry Christmas Everyone!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Other Challenges to Literature [a case study]

This blog was created not only to explore specific and general cases of censorship, but other challenges to literature, including challenges to those institutions that provide literature for public consumption.  In this case, I am speaking about public libraries, and specifically in response to an opinion piece that the Vancouver Sun allowed to run a week or so back.  The article, titled "We should shut our libraries," was written by a british librarian who has not worked in a library since 1994.

Mr. McTernan attempts (and I say "attempt" purposely because I believe he does a terribly poor job of actually saying anything meaningful) to address reasons to keep libraries open, shooting them down one by one and finally claiming that libraries just aren't needed anymore.  The same was said when radio first started up and later when television became big and then when electronic books started coming out.  Has the library folded?  No.  Is it expensive?  Yes.  Does that mean we need to get rid of them?  Heck no!

In the week following the publication of Mr. McTernan's article, numerous letters were sent to the editors at the Vancouver Sun from outraged librarians from the BC Library Association and the Canadian Library Association.  Let's take a look at why librarians got so fired up about the issue (and why I got pretty darn upset as well):
Take reference services, once the core of the public library's educational role. Access to information has been transformed by the Internet. Google a subject and you can become ridiculously well-informed ridiculously quickly. Engrossing lectures from the planet's best minds are freely available on university websites, from the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conference series, or on BBC iPlayer. Channels such as BBC Four or Sky Arts provide a wide range of high quality documentaries across a multitude of subjects. We live in an information-rich society - so we should celebrate its availability, not yearn for a time when you had to go to the central library for it.
Perhaps Mr. McTernan has not been to a library recently, but in my area there is always a line-up of people asking librarians questions at the information desk.  The questions are most definitely different than they once were, but that does not change the fact that people still go to the library for reference purposes.  Yes, the average person might be able to find some information on the internet using Google.  But are they necessarily finding the best information?  Have they come up with good keywords and search terms?  Librarians are constantly helping people (students especially) formulate a good series of keywords with which to utilize internet searches to their maximum capacity.  The questions have changed, but the service is still necessary.
Then there's the argument that your local library is the gateway to a national and international network of literature and education. So it is - but so is your computer. Time was, to get hold of a particular book, you would have to go to a library and ask. Now, with AbeBooks and Alibris, almost all the second-hand bookshops in the world are available to search. This is as true for new books as for old: More than 130,000 titles were published in the United Kingdom in 2009, and 330 million new books were purchased.
Alright Mr. McTernan, I will concede that the using a computer at home is more convenient at times, but I cannot tell you how often I have used a library (from home) to access databases that I would otherwise have to pay hundreds of dollars per year to access.  How often does the average student actually spend money to access online databases to look for articles.  How many people in this day and age can afford to buy all the books they need instead of getting them for free?
The final defence of the public library is that it is a place for the pupil who has nowhere else to study and revise. Once again, this is the 21st century. Virtually every kid has a desk at home, even if it often has a games console on it. And libraries at secondary schools are, in my experience, uniformly good and open places for young people. Few institutions are timeless. Most reflect the period when they were created, and have to change as society changes if they are to survive. The crisis in our libraries is not because of the "cuts" - it's because they are needed less.
Let's get to some statistics now.  Perhaps the situation is different in England.  In fact, I know it is.  But the point here, is that Mr. McTernan's article was published in British Columbia, the most active and well-utilized library network in Canada.  And we are to believe that libraries should be cut?  Another article, published in the Vancouver Sun on November 4th took a good look at stats in relation to McTernan's claims and came up with the following:
About 2.7 million British Columbians hold public library cards. Hundreds of thousands more don’t have cards but visit the library regularly – in some cases, every day. Last year, B.C. libraries received more than 30 million in-person visits, a 10-per-cent increase from 2009. That is clear evidence of the growing and sustainable demand for libraries. Beyond that, there were 27 million virtual visits. For many people, losing their library access would mean losing a vital
part of their lives. 
True, not everyone uses libraries, but perhaps they don’t understand what they are missing. Libraries have been transformed with the times. A Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in 1994 — the year McTernan’s career as a librarian ended — and woke up today would not recognize the thriving, wired libraries that are ready and able to serve an information-hungry population. With ebook readers, digital materials, and electronic reference transactions, libraries have kept pace and embraced the digital age.
Well, I think the rebuttal pretty much knocked Mr. McTernan's arguments to the ground without much hope of standing up again.  Of course, part of the problem was the Vancouver Sun thinking it was a good idea to publish an article specific to the United Kingdom over here in BC in the first place.  In any case, this post is to show how important libraries are, as places of learning, knowledge, and as social spaces.  And of course, let's not forget the important work of libraries as spaces that hold high the idea of Freedom to Read!

Thanks for listening...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Defend the Freedom to Read: It's Everybody's Job

I'm back from the dead!  Okay, maybe not, but it feels like it after finally finishing up about 10 projects that I had on the go.  And now that I'm back, what better way to start than with a movie!!  This short video comes from the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, which requests that we all do our part to bring attention to book challenges to Defend the Freedom to Read.  After all, it's everybody's job...

So, now that you've seen that (hopefully) enlightening little video, it's time to talk about specific book challenges.  In Borger, Texas, a book was recently removed entirely from the Borger Intermediate and Middle School Library.  The book in question?  Carolyn Mackler's Tangled.  The book follows four young people as they vacation in a Caribbean resort.  The reason that it was banned from the school district?  This passage:
"I looked up and my heart plummeted, I swear, into my colon. Because there, standing above me and ripping off his shirt was the guy. The guy from the diving board. The guy with the muscular calves and, oh god, the swimsuit riding low enough for me to conjure up some serious imagery."
Really, is this so bad?  I mean, okay, so a younger student might not be the best audience, but you can't tell me that middle school students are not thinking in these terms and that this passage is somehow so overly explicit that it's going to ruin a child for life.  As one commenter on the ConnectAmarillo article wrote:  "thats all the book said, pretty much? Newsflash, boys have penises and girls have vaginas. And I am about 99.9% sure that most middle schoolers know this."  Is this passage really enough to have books completely removed from libraries these days?  Apparently.  Are we so easily offended by sexuality?  Apparently.

It angers me that books are taken away from students for so little in this day and age when access to books should be celebrated and enjoyed.  Why is it that suddenly anything remotely sexual is too much for teens to handle?  Well, it's not, really.  It's parental discomfort.  Most of these concerns are from parents who, it seems to me, are much more afraid of sexuality than their children.  Please, parents, let your children read and ask questions!!  It doesn't help to shelter them when they already (probably) know more about sex than you do.

Anyway, thanks for listening.  Let me know what you think.  And keep your eyes peeled for challenges in your area, wherever you are!  Remember, defending the right to read is everybody's job!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

posting pause

Apologies for the lack of posts recently!  I am just finishing up my current degree and trying to get a few other projects sorted out.  Until then, I am having to take a short hiatus from posting on this site.  I will be back, however... I promise!  Until then, keep reading those books!!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Books for Prisoners: What's allowed and what's not?

The American Library Association asserts:
When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality; his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded. If anything, the needs for identity and self-respect are more compelling in the dehumanizing prison environment.
An article in The Huffington Post the current problem is a disconnect between what is constitutional and what prisons and wardens feel is allowable for inmates in terms of reading materials and access to information sources.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons regulations state that publications can only be rejected if they are found to be "detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity." That description is generally understood to include content such as explanations on how to make explosives, martial arts training manuals and books containing maps of the prison and its surrounding area. 
Yet according to a list compiled by the Prison Books Program, and seen by The Huffington Post, many correctional institutions censor materials far beyond these guidelines. Central Mississippi Correctional, for example, is stated as refusing to allow any books whose content includes anything legal, medical or contains violence, while Staunton Correctional in Virginia is claimed only to allow its inmates access to "non-fiction educational or spiritual books."
A 1980 US Supreme Court ruling states that "[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution," and that "a warden may not reject a publication 'solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant.'"

Personally, I don't see books and access to general information as a problem, no matter what the crime committed.  I believe that there should be consequences for inmates depending on what they have done, but keeping them away from books and the internet should, again in my opinion, only be a short term punishment, like denying access to television for a child's misbehaviour.  Of course, this is me speaking from a restorative justice standpoint as opposed to a retributive justice model, such as is currently being utilized in North America.

In any case, I agree with the following guidelines from the American Library Association.  According to the ALA "these principles should guide all library services provided to prisoners:"
  • Collection management should be governed by written policy, mutually agreed upon by librarians and correctional agency administrators, in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, its Interpretations, and other ALA intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional libraries should have written procedures for addressing challenges to library materials, including a policy-based description of the disqualifying features, in accordance with “Challenged Materials” and other relevant intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional librarians should select materials that reflect the demographic composition, information needs, interests, and diverse cultural values of the confined communities they serve.
  • Correctional librarians should be allowed to purchase materials that meet written selection criteria and provide for the multi-faceted needs of their populations without prior correctional agency review. They should be allowed to acquire materials from a wide range of sources in order to ensure a broad and diverse collection. Correctional librarians should not be limited to purchasing from a list of approved materials.
  • Age is not a reason for censorship. Incarcerated children and youth should have access to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, as stated in “Free Access to Libraries for Minors."
  • Correctional librarians should make all reasonable efforts to provide sufficient materials to meet the information and recreational needs of prisoners who speak languages other than English.
  • Equitable access to information should be provided for persons with disabilities as outlined in “Services to People with Disabilities.”
  • Media or materials with non-traditional bindings should not be prohibited unless they present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security.
  • Material with sexual content should not be banned unless it violates state and federal law.
  • Correctional libraries should provide access to computers and the Internet.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nabokov Under Attack in Russia; Teenage Awkwardness Under Attack in Bakersfield

In Russia, there's trouble brewing for the works of Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, an article in the Globe and Mail states. "A senior Russian Orthodox official claimed Wednesday that novels by Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez justify pedophilia and said they should be banned in the nation's high schools."  While I do not want to get into a church vs state discussion, mostly because those against and those for will practically never be convinced to abandon their views, I do want to point out an interesting fact about the Orthodox Church that is working so hard to ban these books.  According to the article, "polls have shown that only about 5 per cent of Russians are observant believers."  Moreover,
Church and state are officially separate under the post-Soviet constitution, but Orthodox leaders seek a more muscular role for the church, which has served the state for much of its 1,000-year history. 
Some nonreligious Russians complain that the church has tailored its doctrine to suit the government, which has justified Russia's retreat from Western-style democracy by saying the country has a unique history and culture.
If so many Russians do not observe the Orthodox Church's doctrine and there is a separation of church and state in Russia, then how is it that this group thinks it has the right to decide what books are appropriate for everyone on the country?  I understand the Russia has a very different social and political structure than Canada or the USA, and I do not claim that I know how to solve the problem, but at the core, freedom to read should be the same anywhere.

People deserve the right to read books and those who don't agree with the content can choose not to read the literature.  Granted there are certain texts that go beyond common decency (the Pedophile's Guide to Love, for example), but these books are the exception to the rule and should be treated as such.  Not every book about incest or pedophilia needs to be banned, because in the majority of cases, these themes are usually treated carefully by authors, and are usually not showing them as a "good thing."

In other news, a book in Bakersfield, CA is under attack by a few parents who believe the book is much too erotic to be on the shelves of school or public libraries.  The book is What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones and she writes about her disappointment in these attacks in the LA Times this week:
"Our young people should not have to be exposed to your erotic thoughts and feelings," one irate parent from Iowa wrote. "Your book should be removed from all junior high media bookshelves. That's what we will attempt to do here in Algona. We strive as a community to keep high morals and values." 
And there were many other letters, including this one from a Texas woman: 
"I am a 6th grade teacher, and had the unfortunate experience this past week of having your book discovered by a student in my classroom library. On any given page, vulgarity and filth can be found!... Freedom of speech and press doesn't give anyone the right to corrupt young, impressionable minds! I feel sorry for your children. Please stop writing such filth!"
The part of the novel that is being attacked most is about a young girl who presses her newly grown breasts against a frosted window.  She is exploring her new body and feeling new sensations.  It may be unorthodox to some, but is this really enough to consider a book filth?  Sones writes about how she put such content in her novel because she wanted young girls to see that experiencing new sensations in a post-puberty body is normal and part of growing up.  Of course many parents seem to find this offensive, to which I say, "then don't read this book.  And don't push your boobs against frosted glass!"  Sones finishes up her article succinctly and with no real need for further explication, so here it is:
One mother of a 12-year-old daughter wrote me to crow about her success in having "What My Mother Doesn't Know" banned in Virginia. "I saw to it that the school took this book off the shelf, as well as all the others that you have written," she wrote. "I am not a book burner, but this book does not belong in middle school and maybe not even in high school!" 
I don't have a problem with her forbidding her daughter to read my book. But imposing her personal beliefs on every child at the school makes her no better than a book burner. As the playwright and journalist Clare Booth Luce once put it: "Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banned Books in the Huffington Post

Check out these words of wisdom and opinion from Molly Raphael, current President of the American Library Association.  She brings together serious topics on censorship and the restriction of access to books and looks at the differences and similarities between the two.  Well worth the read and definitely in the spirit of Banned Books Week!
[F]ar more often than we may realize, individuals and groups have sought to restrict access to library books they believed were objectionable on religious, moral, or political grounds, thereby restricting the rights of every reader in their community. For example, this summer the Republic (Mo.) school board voted to remove Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler'sTwenty Boy Summer from the school library as a result of a complaint that the book "teaches principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth." More than 150 students and their families have lost access to those books; while a local and national outcry caused the school board to return the books to the library, the books are now on a locked shelf and unavailable to students absent the consent of a parent or guardian. 
It's become popular in the last few years to argue that this kind of book censorship is no big deal. Isn't the decision to ban the books just a way of helping parents protect their children? What does it matter if a book is banned from a school or library if kids can obtain books from online retailers? 
Such censorship is, in fact, a very big deal. Such censorship matters to those who no longer can exercise the right to choose what they read for themselves. It matters to those in the community that cannot afford books or a computer, and for whom the library is a lifeline to the Internet and the printed word. And it matters to all of us who care about protecting our rights and our freedoms and who believe that no one should be able to forbid others in their community from reading a book because that book doesn't comport with their views, opinions, or morality.
Click here to read the rest of this Huffington Post article.  It's worth taking the time to check out!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two [More] Titles from "Books Banned and Challenged, 2010-2011"

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Doubleday)
Mark Haddon

Removed from the Lake Fenton, Mich. summer reading program (2010) after parents complained about its “foul language.” The book is about an autistic child who investigates the death of a neighborhood dog. It was a joint winner of the 2004 Boeke Prize and won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year award. 
Source: Sept. 2010, p. 200.

The Dead Man in Indian Creek (Clarion Books; Sandpiper)
Mary Downing Hahn

Challenged at the Salem-Keizer School District, Oreg. elementary schools (2010) because of the drugs and drug smuggling activities in the book. The book was previously challenged in 1994 in the same school district because of graphic violence, examples of inappropriate parenting, and because it was too frightening for elementary students. The book has won awards from the International Reading Association, the Children’s Book Council, and the American Library Association. 
Source: May 2010, pp. 105–6.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Differing Perspectives on Banned Books Week 2011

"Banned Books Week is just hype." USA Today
The problem: None of this is remotely true. Banned Books Week is an exercise in propaganda. For starters, as a legal matter no book in America is banned, period, full stop (not counting, I suppose, some hard-core illegal child porn or some such out there). Any citizen can go to a bookstore or and buy any book legally in print — or out of print for that matter.  
When the American Library Association talks about censorship of books, it invariably refers to "banned or challenged" books. A "banned" book is a book that has been removed from a public library or school's shelves or reading lists due to pressure from someone who isn't a librarian or teacher. In practice, this means pretty much any book that's pulled off the shelves of a library can be counted as "banned." Even so, that's very rare, which is why the ALA lump "banned" and "challenged" together. Moreover, it's crazy. If the mere absence of a book counts as a "ban," then 99.99% of books have been banned somewhere.... 
[Follow this link to for the rest of the article] 

"'Banned Books Week' worth the hype." Peoria Journal Star
I winced this morning when I read Jonah Goldberg’s column about Banned Books Week, which takes place this year Sept. 24-Oct. 1. 
Titled “Banned Books Week Overhyped Propaganda,” the opinion piece pokes fun at the annual effort by the American Library Association to throw a spotlight on attempts to force school and public libraries to remove books from the shelves that some people consider controversial. 
For Goldberg, this effort is a bunch of lefty nonsense. There really is no danger of books being banned in the United States, he writes. This is just an effort to bully parents who are concerned about what books their kids may have access to....
[Follow this link to for the rest of the article]

"Banned Books Week celebrates freedom to read." USA Today
Librarians have always supported a parent's right to decide what his or her family should read. But in our democracy, other families should be able to make different choices for their own families, not dictated by a particular political or religious viewpoint. 
We need to remember that when one book is removed, this act of censorship affects more than one person or family. It affects the entire community. We need to remember that public libraries serve everyone, including those who are too young or too poor to buy their own books or own a computer. 
Contrary to commentary writer Jonah Goldberg's assertion, librarians and library users celebrate Banned Books Week as a testament to the strength of our freedom in the United States. We celebrate the freedom to read because we all know that we are so fortunate to live in a country that protects our freedom to choose what we want to read. If you doubt this, just ask anyone from a totalitarian society. That is why we draw attention to acts of censorship that chill the freedom to read.... 
[Follow this link to for the rest of the article]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two Titles from "Books Banned and Challenged, 2010-2011"

Shooting Star (Atheneum)

Retained in the Broken Arrow, Okla. Sequoyah Middle School library (2010) despite a parent’s concern about several swear words in the text.  The book is about a high school football player who, after becoming discouraged about his size, starts using steroids to bulk up, resulting in negative effects on his life and personality.
Source: Nov. 2010, p. 257.

Push (Vintage)

Challenged on an extracurricular reading list in the Horry County, S.C. school library (2011). The 1996 novel is based on the story of Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, who grows up in poverty. Precious is raped by her father, battered by her mother, and dismissed by social workers. The story follows Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, through her journey of learning how to read and be on her own. The novel was made into a critically acclaimed movie, Precious, in 2009, which received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, for the 82nd Academy Awards and Sundance Film Festival praise.
Source: May 2011, pp. 94–95.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Secret Locker Library

This is a fantastic idea for those students who won't let ridiculous policies stand in the way of intellectual freedom.  A recent article showcased the awesome work of a student (going by the name Nekochan) in a Catholic school who began running a banned books library out of her locker and the empty one next to it.  She felt that the books being banned from classrooms and the library was a bit ridiculous and so she started lending the titles on the banned books list to other students.
Nekochan wrote about the recent book ban: “I was absolutely appalled, because a huge number of the books were classics and others that are my favorites. One of my personal favorites, The Catcher in the Rye, was on the list, so I decided to bring it to school to see if I would really get in trouble. Well… I did but not too much. Then (surprise!) a boy in my English class asked if he could borrow the book because he heard it was very good AND it was banned! This happened a lot and my locker got to overflowing with banned books, so I decided to put the unoccupied locker next to me to a good use. I now have 62 books in that locker, about half of what was on the list.”
You can also see the information Neko provided on Yahoo! Answers to see if anyone else had done anything similar, and what sort of repercussions she might expect if found out.

It's hard not to smile and cheer (at least on the inside, if you're in a crowded room) for someone like this, with guts to stand up to a ridiculous policy to keep books out of the hands of teens who might actually learn from them.  These sorts of decisions are made in the name of protecting students, but protecting them from what?  Really, I've never figured it out.  Anyway, I hope this post is inspiring to some and a wake-up call for others.  Not all young people are just going to side by and let institutions get away with policing the books they read, so watch out, more Nekochan's are waiting in the shadows, looking for their chance to make a difference.

Thanks for listening!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gay sex is worse than suicide or drug use...

A New Jersey school has dropped two popular books with—gasp! Gay sex scenes!—from their required reading lists, and apologized to parents for exposing their children to such a morally reprehensible act. The books? Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood and Nic Sheff's Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines. The meth and mental instability and suicide that make up the other major themes in the books? Those are apparently just fine. (
It baffles me to think that we are still so hung up on sex as a taboo subject, while drugs and violence are still visible to a staggering degree.  This actually reminds me of a recent incident in which the show Game of Thrones on HBO was criticized for showing too much female nudity, while absolutely nothing was said about the multiple beheadings in the season premiere, not to mention the themes of incest and rape.  It was all about the boobies.  (Though don't get me wrong, I'm in no way saying that the show is for kids!)  So this report of a backlash against gay sex is not at all surprising in some respects.  This does not mean that I am not appalled.

The fact that the two texts were part of list of books created by a group of teachers and approved by the Board of Education apparently means nothing.
Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council jumped on the book-banning bandwagon, telling Fox News that "Here we see the intersection of parental values being offended, the hyper-sexualization of our youth and the homosexual agenda being pushed. This just illustrates why a lot of American parents are not willing to entrust their children to the public schools anymore."
Apparently sex is the reason that American parents don't like the public education system.  They would rather students remain entirely ignorant to sex and sexuality, because, as we all know, you never get pregnant or catch an STI because of ignorance... right?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heaven forbid that history speaks of sexuality!

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Challenged at the Culpeper County, Va. public schools (2010) by a parent requesting that her daughter not be required to read the book aloud. Initially, it was reported that officials decided to stop assigning a version of Anne Frank’s diary, one of the most enduring symbols of the atrocities of the Nazi regime, due to the complaint that the book includes sexual material and homosexual themes. The director of instruction announced the edition published on the fiftieth anniversary of Frank’s death in a concentration camp will not be used in the future despite the fact the school system did not follow its own policy for handling complaints. The remarks set off a hailstorm of criticism online and brought international attention to the 7,600-student school system in rural Virginia. The superintendent said, however, that the book will remain a part of English classes, although it may be taught at a different grade level. 

Source: Mar. 2010, pp. 57−58; May 2010, p. 107.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Banned Books Week Approaches!

In the good ol' US of A, the countdown to Banned Books Week (BBW) has begun.  BBW begins on September 24th of this year, and plans are being put into motion at many libraries in North America to prepare for both the celebration of the freedom to read as well as the inevitable contestations by conservative political and religious groups.  In case you are reading this and don't know much about Banned Books Week, here is a brief explanation from the American Library Association website:
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
In preparation for this even each year, Robert P. Doyle, in cooperation with a number of pro-freedom-to-read groups, puts out a publication highlighting some of the more visible and notable book challenges.  The publication, Books Challenged or Banned, comes out every year in the summer and is available through the ALA's website.  The 2010-2011 edition has recently been published, and as I did last year, I will be posting snippets each week (hopefully more than one if I'm not over-run with work) to highlight some of the more unusual or more public cases.

To start this cycle off, I bring you the case of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Amy Sonnie, ed.)

Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Alyson Books)

Banned by the Rancocas Valley Board of Education from the Mount Holly, N.J. High School library shelves (2010) after a local conservative group expressed concern that the book was too graphic and obscene. The local group, part of the 9/12 Project, a nationwide government watchdog network launched by the talk-radio and television personality Glenn Beck, called for the banning of three books, all dealing with teenage sexuality and issues of homosexuality. 

The two other titles challenged, but retained were: Love and Sex: Ten Stories of Truth edited by Michael Cart, and The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell. Removed from the Burlington County, N.J. public library (2010) after a member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project complained about Sonnie’s book. Named as one of the best adult books for high school students by School Library Journal in 2001, the book was called “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate.” 

Source: July 2010, pp. 154–56; Sept. 2010, pp. 199-200.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Will they never learn?

I wonder how many times people are going to ban books (or other forms of media) before they realize that it doesn't work!  One of the most prominent movie examples was the banning (or attempted ban) of the film Deep Throat back in the 1970s.  As soon as it started getting banned, it became more popular than ever!  It grossed millions more than was ever estimated.  The same thing happens with books, and I don't know why people aren't noticing this.

When The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian was banned from schools earlier this year and late last year, book stores in the districts that implemented bans saw skyrocketing sales of the title.  Now, in the wake of the banning of Slaughterhouse-Five in Republic, Missouri, the Vonnegut Memorial Library is giving out free copies of the book to students who want to read it.  This action would not have happened if the school board had not voted against it for purely idiotic reasons.  First of all, the guy who asked for its removal doesn't even have any children in any of the schools, and secondly, well, the guy's an idiot.  But you can read more about that in the previous post.

In a recent article in The Atlantic
, Barbara Jones, director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom is quoted:
“Maybe people are scared of the power of good literature,” Jones says. Time and again, those who are most offended by books are, as Scroggins is, people unaffiliated with public education or libraries. “I call them ‘True Believers.’ I guess people could accuse me of that too,” Jones chuckles, “Because I do have pretty strong feelings about freedom of expression.”
Apparently only 10 free copies of Slaughterhouse have been picked up from the Memorial Library, "But it’s summertime, and [they expect] to receive more requests once children return from vacation and they start to think about books again."

The more one speaks out against material, the more people want to see what the big deal is, leading to more purchasing, borrowing, and reading of the material that is under scrutiny.  Seriously, if you don't want more people reading the books that offend you, LEAVE THEM ALONE!

[End Rant]

Thanks for listening...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vonnegut library offers banned book to Missouri students

In the article "Vonnegut library offers banned book to Missouri students," Susan Guyett explains that
Up to 150 students at a Missouri high school that ordered "Slaughterhouse-Five" pulled from its library shelves can get a free copy of the novel, courtesy of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, library officials said on Thursday.
This decision comes in response the Scroggins controversy (see post immediately below) that has had academics up in arms for the past year ever since he claimed that books such as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Slaughterhouse-Five are pornographic and contrary to Biblical teaching (I guess he's assuming these books are being taught in Sunday school instead of public schools?)  The following comment espouses many of my views on the subject and is much more articulate that I am most of the time:
"All of these students will be eligible to vote and some may be protecting our country through military service in the next year or two," Julia Whitehead, the executive director of the Vonnegut library in Indianapolis, said in a statement. 
"It is shocking and unfortunate that those young adults and citizens would not be considered mature enough to handle the important topics raised by Kurt Vonnegut, a decorated war veteran. Everyone can learn something from his book."

The offer of a free book to any Republic high school student who requests one is a way for the fledgling 7-month-old library, located in Vonnegut's hometown, to show support, she said.
I think this move is pure brilliance and I sincerely hope that students take the library up on the offer for the free text.  If only more libraries could afford to do this when books are challenged in nearby school districts.  In a way, this reminds me of when The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was banned and local bookstores were suddenly inundated with orders for the book.  I hope the library has the same "problem," if students requesting important texts can actually be considered a problem.

What do you think of this move by the Vonnegut Library?  Do you think other libraries should do this in other areas if feasible?

As always, thanks for listening!  (Oh, and please tell friends about this blog!)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Scroggins Strikes Again

It is a sad day in the city of Republic, MO.  Three books that were targeted by the infamous Dr. Scroggins (you can read my previous post on Scroggins and his horrible grammar and opinions) and two were removed from not only the curriculum, but from library shelves as well (from  The two books removed were Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut) and Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler).  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was allowed to stay, much to the disappointment of Dr. Scroggins, who claims that Speak is soft pornography.

The reason these books were challenged?  "The resident who filed the original complaint targeted these three books because 'they teach principles contrary to the Bible.'"  Um, wow...  In the article Scroggins states: “I congratulate them for doing what’s right and removing the two books.  It’s unfortunate they chose to keep the other book.”  Not only am I incredibly disappointed in the actions taken by Scroggins to have important works of literature removed from schools, but I am also increasingly disappointed in the actions of school boards when voting on these sorts of issues: "It is important to note that, out of the four School Board Members, only one has actually read all three books."
Melissa Duvall, the only board member to have read all three books proposed to be banned, said the school board's vote was more about policy and less a criticism of the books in question. (From
This behaviour from school boards is incomprehensible and irresponsible.  How can school boards expect students to make their own informed decisions if they are not willing to do the same themselves.  By not reading the books in question and saying the vote is about policy is ignorance, pure and simple.  If the vote were about policy, the books would be used as examples in an argument, but in this case, the books are the objects in question, therefore making the vote ABOUT THE BOOKS.  If this were so, a policy would have been voted on, not books.  And since it was about the books, Ms. Duvall, EVERY member of the board should have been REQUIRED to read them!  How is this so difficult to understand at the administrative level!

I will stop writing now for fear that my keyboard will melt under the fury of my quickly typing fingers.  To leave off on a slightly more "fun" note, I am including, below, a passage from The Rejectionist (a site no longer available) in which the writings of Mr. Scroggins were put under a microscope and then ridiculed merrily passage by passage.  Enjoy!  And comment!

Thanks for listening.

Scroggins wrote, about Twenty Boy Summer: In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.
And how, pray tell, does a drunken teen use “condoms to have sex”? We consider ourselves pretty worldly, good sir, but we are quite baffled as to the exact logistics involved in “us[ing] their condoms to have sex.” Perhaps you are more well-versed in the vagaries of kink than this innocent Rejectionist, Dr. Scroggins. A little light shed on the technicalities of this activity would be most useful, as we are left here to our imagination, which we must admit is failing us entirely.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Inmate's Right to Read Upheld, but Policy Still in Need of Change

The following is directly from a short piece in the Baltimore Sun this week, an article on the decision of Hagerstown prison to allow an inmate to read an autobiography about Marshall "Eddie" Conway, a Baltimore Black Panther.
Our view: Correction authorities make right call in reversing ban of inmate's book from the Hagerstown prison, but policy still needs to be changed. 
Maryland corrections officials made the right call today when they lifted the ban on a book written by a inmate Marshall "Eddie" Conway, but the troublesome — and almost certainly unconstitutional — policies that led to the banning in the first place remain. The book "Marshall Law —The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther," is no longer prohibited reading at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, but the prison system is sticking by its assertion that it can restrict inmates' speech rights beyond what is necessary to maintain security. 
Originally prison officials said the autobiography had been banned because the author and the inmates whose photos appear in the book failed to notify the victims of their crimes of the book's publication. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union had questioned this procedure, saying giving the victims tacit veto power over an inmate's right to speak out is a violation of the First Amendment.
While prisons are around for the purposes of punishment and reintegration of people into society with a hopefully less criminally-minded way of life, I don't quite understand how keeping certain books out of the hands of inmates is at all helpful.  Late last year I noted two other instances of books being kept away from inmates: The Bible-only policy in a South Carolina jail and the confiscation of Harry Potter in the Plainfield correctional facility.  As I said in my post on Harry Potter:
The inmates are allowed to take hardcover books out of the prison library, so should they not be allowed hardcover books that have been searched and that present no threat in terms of their subject matter. I can hardly see how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would threaten security in the prison environment, unless one of them happens to be looking for the Deathly Hallows themselves!
I can understand the removal of certain texts perhaps, but the removal of books such as Harry Potter, autobiographies, and Bibles that aren't softcover seems a little bit ridiculous. It is good, in my opinion, that organizations such as the ACLU are around to take notice of these situations and defend First Amendment rights, even when prisons and correctional facilities want to pretend they don't apply to inmates.

What are your thoughts on books in prisons?  Do you think that books should be confiscated for any specific reasons?  I would be interested to see what you all have to say.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on trial...

Albemarle School Board to vote on expelling 'A Study in Scarlet'
Aaron Richardson
The Daily Progress (July 13, 2011)
A parent asked that the book be removed from reading lists because, he says, it casts Mormonism in a negative light. After reviewing the work, a School Board-appointed committee determined that it wasn’t age-appropriate for sixth-graders. According to the parent’s complaint, the book repeatedly refers to Mormons as violent and intolerant, and accuses them of murders and kidnappings.
Okay, fair enough, the book is seen as religiously intolerant and has false views of a religious group, but since when is that good enough grounds for removing a book from a curriculum?  How many books have racism and are still taught?  How many books are intolerant of Islam, and are still viewed as just fine to read?  In fact a textbook that is apparently too tolerant of Islam, was requested to be removed from a school by Tea Party members in Prince William County, VA.

That being said, it is a bit disappointing that instead of talking about how a book mis-represents something, people feel it is better to make the book disappear or to take it away.  At least this would only be taking the book out of the curriculum and not the library.  And the board is following the challenged books process.  That does not mean that I'm not disappointed in the situation.  It still kind a sucks.
“When you look at the work, the basic question is, if someone says it shows a lot of cultural or religious bias, you have to look and see if that work has enough value to where the regard for the work outweighs the cultural bias,” county schools Secondary Education Director Matt Haas said. 
School Board member Harley Miles stressed that the schools have followed the established policy for reviewing works that parents find offensive or destructive. Once a complaint has been filed, Miles said, a committee reviews the work to see if the complaint has merit. If it does, the committee can recommend that the work be removed from reading lists.
It seems that this is not a common occurrence in Virginia, to get complaints such as this.  The School Board Chairman, Stephen Koleszar, said "this is the first time in 16 years he has seen a request like this. For Koleszar, keeping children from learning about cultural or religious prejudice is dangerous...."
“I personally believe that kids should have a wide range of material available to them,” Koleszar said. “While it places Mormonism in an unfavorable light, we can’t pretend prejudice in this country isn’t real. Still, it probably isn’t age-appropriate.”
Again, I am not going to rant and rave against the School Board since it is doing its job.  And unlike the post prior to this one, the Board is actually reading the text in question.  I'm disappointed about the attitude that starts proceedings like this in the first place, that thinks the removal of texts is better than a discussion about the shortcomings of the views in the text within the classroom where biases and prejudice can hopefully be redirected in a constructive way.  Two other Mormons spoke up in response to this situation, being quoted in the comments section after the article on

by Blair
I do not live in the area, but I am a Mormon who would like to voice my admiration for the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is a classic character, still deserving our attention. I've recently read "A Study in Scarlet," and while its depiction of Mormonism is wildly off-base, I still believe the book is still highly entertaining. As a Mormon I actually chuckled several times at the depiction of Mormons, I enjoyed it. Granted, it would be nice if the teachers gave some background to make sure kids have a better understanding of the conditions of the period, but in this way students could take the opportunity to learn about how people with different beliefs have been depicted in popular literature in the past.
by Kent Larsen
As an active and heavily involved Mormon, I'm deeply embarrassed by this action. Hiding the misunderstandings of Arthur Conan Doyle and others who wrote about Mormonism is not a useful approach to changing perceptions of Mormonism. To the contrary, instead it makes Mormonism look like something secretive. Yes, Conan Doyle gets most of what he writes about Mormonism wrong. But the book is still a good read, and could give a good teacher the opportunity to talk about prejudice in writing. Lets not hide materials from students just because we think they might get incorrect ideas. Instead, lets teach children to think critically about what they read, and help them to learn to discern the difference between truth and error.
Let me know what you think!  Comments please!

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Richland Reverses Previous Ban on "Part-Time Indian"

The Richland school district reversed their decision to ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian after finding out that not all members of the Instructional Materials Committee had read the text.  After reading the book for themselves (which the probably should have done in the first place!) two board members changed their minds and called for a re-vote, which is only allowed if a member of the majority vote asks.  Rick Donahoe, one of the board members, said that he actually found the book to be "outstanding."  Mary Guay also changed her vote.  The lone dissenter was Phyllis Strickler kept her vote against the book.  But, two in the crowd at the last meeting still spoke out against the novel, according to
David Garber read from a Wall Street Journal article critical of coarse themes and language in young-adult novels that names Absolutely True as an example. Garber is a member of the IMC and of a group that rates novels based on how much of their contents it finds offensive. 
Dave Hedengren questioned if board members lost the ability to know when a book went "over the mark," and equated some of the books taught in Richland schools with internet pornography, which is electronically blocked from school computers. 
The district cannot meet the exact standards of every parent in its votes on novels, which is why the last say over what a student reads is with the parent, Jansons said. 
"That's why we have the opt-out policy," he said. "I trust the process we're using."
After the results of the new vote were given, Guay and  Donahoe assured everyone that they would be reading every novel they vote on.  While I do applaude their decision to reverse the vote, I'm not sure why the reading of contested novels is just now being lauded as a good idea.  Has voting on the opinions of others ever been a very good way of doing it?  Especially, in this case, a Review Committee on which all members don't even bother to read the books in question?

If the board had simply read the book to begin with, perhaps all the political hearsay and controversy wouldn't have been as big of a deal as it is now.  But what do I know?  I'm just a guy who reads books.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What are libraries for?

Libraries are gigantic holding tanks of information on a vast array of topics, available for anyone.  At least, that's what they're supposed to be.  And many are definitely still doing their best to make a variety of materials available to the public, but that's not to say there isn't a struggle at times.

Tulsa library, according to an article on, receives about a dozen complaints each year, or 45 complaints since 2008.  But it's not all bad news, says Laurie Sundborg, chief operating officer at the library.  She goes on:
"We appreciate when someone does this [files a complaint] because we can review our decision to include the item in our collection and convey to customers what public libraries stand for in the community.  We represent a diversity of viewpoints in the community and the people who make up our community.  
"As a parent, I may have something I'm completely comfortable with while a parent next to me may not. We encourage each family and each parent to take an active role with their child and talk about the values they want passed down to them." 
It's good to know that some libraries at least have a positive perspective on challenges and that there is a process in place with which to confront such challenges.  It is also good to see that there is still support for the idea that libraries are for providing materials of all sorts to people of all sorts and not just keeping items that won't cause too much fuss.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gloucester Public Library removed a display of LGBT related materials during Pride Month after a few patrons and one politician expressed feelings of discomfort.  According to an article in, the display was taken down two thirds of the way through Pride month after "A few library patrons complained, and county Supervisor Gregory Woodard objected to the idea of 'promoting gay rights.'"

Promoting gay rights made a few people uncomfortable and so the display was taken down:
It's the queasiness of people like Woodard with people who happen to be gay that ruins even innocuous public expressions of what should be, yes, pride.  
It's Woodard who chose to sabotage a display in a public library based on his own discomfort with members of the public who are different from him.   
At least one member of the Board of Trustees spoke out against the decision to take down the display.  Jody Perkins stated that she was "not happy the library would 'cave in to bigoted individuals."
She's also not happy library staff ignored protocol for removing an exhibit or materials based on complaints. The library's policy manual directs a complainant to fill out a form and discuss it with the library director. If that doesn't resolve things, trustees meet for a final decision.  
Instead, after four or so complaints trickled into the library and an anonymous message appeared on the county administrator's answering machine, staff took the exhibit down last week.
Sure, there were complaints and the Library Director felt it would "ease the concerns" to take down the display, but that doesn't excuse the fact that protocol was ignored and the opinions of a few individuals was enough to get rid of a display meant for an audience that also uses the library.  Everyone should be able to find materials at a local library and the opinions of four or five people should not be enough to keep materials away from an entire people group that seeks representation in library collections.

If you go into a library and find something that makes you uncomfortable, instead of immediately trying to get it removed, why not put it back on the shelf and just don't read it?  I can't answer this because that's not how I think.  But I am glad that more often than not, libraries follow Tulsa's example and follow procedures to address concerns, but ultimately leave (most) materials in their collections for those in the community who want access to them.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How to teach about censorship in the (post-secondary) classroom...

I was recently able to attend the 2011 Children's Literature Association Conference in Roanoke, VA.  The conference was on a variety of topics all over the map, but on the last day a syllabus exchange was held, in which a number of teachers gave talks on how to teach about censorship and book challenges.  The following is from the syllabus exchange and was sent out by Edwina Helton afterward.  Included are some facts and statistics as well as a few exercises to use with students, and some definitions from the National Council of Teachers of English that can hopefully clear up some ideas about what is meant by censorship in most cases.  I hope you find this useful!  Feel free to write in the comments if you have ever taught classes on censorship or if you have been in a class on censorship, and please let me know about your experiences!

Cultural Context and Censorship

There are times when a book selected by a librarian or teacher for school study provokes criticism from the community or parents.  In some cases, a parent asks that their child not read a particular book, and this request can be accommodated.  Sometimes, a community member or parent requests that no child be permitted to read a particular book.  This is a much larger problem.  The suppression of reading material is censorship.  Choosing a book that we like or matches our taste in a non-offensive manner is selection.  “Censorship is the attempt to deny others the right to read something that the censor thinks is offensive...  selection is the process of choosing appropriate material for readers according to literary and educational judgments” (409).  The controversy surrounding many books is often rooted in an explicit attempt to impose censorship by limiting student access to a book grounded in religious and political views.  Many national organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of English, have worked to develop strong guidelines and polices on censorship.  Helpful documents to support parents and teachers in contending with book challenges are outlined in NCTE’s The Students’ Right to Read (1972) and The Students’ Right to Know (1982).  These documents offer specific guidelines to follow when a book is challenged. 

NCTE offers five means for distinguishing between guidelines for selection and censorship:

1.    Censorship excludes specific materials; selection includes specific materials to give breadth.
2.    Censorship is negative; selection is affirmative.
3.    Censorship intends to control the others’ reading; selection intends to advise others’ reading.
4.    Censorship seeks to indoctrinate and limit access to ideas and information, whereas selections seeks to educate and increase access to ideas and information.
5.    Censorship looks at specific aspects and parts of a work in isolation, whereas selection examines the relationship of parts to each other and to a work as a whole (1983).

Suggested procedures for contending with book challenges include:

1.    Establish book selection procedures before the censors come.  Make your procedures public.  Keep the community informed and involved.
2.    Involve professional librarians, teachers, parents, administrators, and lay community members in the book selection process.
3.    When complaints are registered, have them put in writing.
4.    Ask the person who makes the complaint to read the entire book and put the incident or language in question in context.
5.    Meet the person who makes the complaint to discuss alternatives.

From: Bernice Cullinan and Lee Galda’s Literature and the Child, pages 409-10.

Activity on Censorship

In this activity, you will gain experience in exploring the significance of censorship using a formerly banned text as a site of your study. 

Part I:
Read your book carefully.  Create a dialog with the following characters:

A.    Unhappy citizen who wishes the book removed from children’s access
B.    Parent who reads the book for the first time before attending the meeting
C.    School principle who is strongly against censorship
D.    Administrator concerned with public opinion on the school

In your dialog activity, your characters are having a meeting to make a decision about your controversial book.  Carefully create voices from the position you are depicting to show the perspective of the role you are playing.  Your goal is to come to some decision by the end of your meeting.

Part II:
After creating your dialog, discuss what you learned from your activity.  On a separate piece of paper:

1.    List your observations and what you learned through your dialog activity.
2.    What is your position on the book.  Is it potentially offensive?  What cultural values are advocated?
3.    Offer your analysis of the book’s meaning with attention to the artistic strategies.
4.    Review the handout of book reviews on your book.  Do they support the position you took on the book?  How do the book reviews complicate your reading of the book?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Censorship is (Anti-)Gay! [a paper on book challenges]

This post is a paper that I wrote for a children's literature class at my university.  I figured, since I received a good grade, that I would share it with you here, on my blog, in case you're interested.  Feel free to leave comments and responses, as usual.

Censorship is (Anti-)Gay:
Exploring a Selection of Challenged Children’s Books Containing Same-Sex Couples

There are many children’s texts that are beginning to explore gender variance and queerness within individual identities and family structures. A number of these texts are quite helpful for children and adults to attempt a familiarization of non-heteronormative family structures. A book such as And Tango Makes Three (Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson) can be incredibly useful when providing information for a child who questions whether or not homosexuality is natural, while a text such as King and King (Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland) can help children explore alternative forms of marriage that are not problematized or stigmatized. Other books, however, can be less helpful due to stereotyping or else the message can be diluted because of cultural and institutional pressures. Heather Has Two Mommies (Lesléa Newman)and Daddy’s Roommate (Michael Willhoite)have been frequently challenged as presenting unrealistic family situations and having children play mouthpiece to a supposed homosexual agenda. Of course, timing is at play in situations like the latter two, as they were published in a time when homosexuality was an even more taboo topic than it is today.

And Tango Makes Three

The plot of And Tango Makes Three is a simple one, following two male penguins (Roy and Silo) as they meet, build a nest together, and eventually hatch an egg together. This heart-warming tale of sexual diversity was written by Richardson and Parnell in an attempt to bring forward the topic of same-sex couples to children in an accessible and (with the help of Henry Cole) adorable way. Richardson is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia and Cornell Universities, and is, therefore, able to approach this topic with a critical eye that is backed up by a history of psychiatric training. The authors also provide a note at the back of the book which authenticates the realities reproduced within the pages of the book. The history of the penguin couple is present as is the historical information surrounding their meeting and role in the upbringing of Tango, their baby. This is a wonderful example of what B. J. Kass classifies as “social diversity or even, perhaps, ‘tender topics’” in children’s literature. 

There has been terrific backlash surrounding the book, however, and it is because of this that certain aspects of the story must be considered. The first of these involves the illustrations and the anthropomorphizing of the penguins through expression and emotional attribution. Roy and Silo, while illustrated with all the realistic characteristics of a chinstrap penguin, also embody very human emotional responses. Henry Cole has created lovable creatures that show happiness, confusion, and sadness through facial expressions that actual penguins cannot perform. When the two penguins realize that the male-female couples are hatching babies, they are illustrated in a way that provokes a feeling of sadness and uncertainty, with the corners of their beaks suddenly forming into frowns while the other penguins have a smile on their faces. 

This is one of the difficulties of any story that contains anthropomorphized animals, but in this case it is complicated by the fact that the story is actually true and the real animals have no way of expressing these emotions. With this in mind, it is understandable that children could become confused and have much more emotional investment in the illustrated penguins than in the real thing. Because of this, many groups have expressed outrage at the story for portraying same-sex relationships as sympathetic and have since attempted to get the book removed from libraries and classrooms across North America (American Library Association).

King and King 

Linda de Hann and Stern Nijland’s King and King is a typical story of finding the right person to marry, but is atypical in that the bride and groom are both young men. The first young prince is supposed to be looking for a wife, and so his mother sends out invitations all over the land to get princesses to come visit. After meeting a number of these princesses and feeling nothing for any of them, the prince begins to lose hope. But at the last minute, one last princess arrives, along with her brother, another young prince. The two young men see each other and fall in love immediately. They eventually get married and the kingdom is happy. 

The book has come under fire from its North American debut in the early years of the 21st century.  Within the book, there are a number of instances in which homosexuality is presented as normalized within the fictional world: “At last, the prince felt a stir in his heart. It was love at first sight” (19-20). The normalization of same-sex attraction is contrary to the heteronormative social expectations and also goes against the general consensus regarding same-sex marriage in the United States. When the two princes get married, there is no opposition within the text, conveying to children the idea that same-sex attraction is not something abnormal: “The wedding was very special. The queen even shed a tear or two… The two princes were known as King and King” (23, 27). The negative reactions of conservative groups have made the reception of King & King very tumultuous. 

In contrast, some review journals, such as Booklist, have found the book to be a very positive literary example for children. Gillian Engberg, in Booklist, called the book “a winning Dutch import for parents looking for an original tale with a gay slant.” The book was also called "brief and lighthearted" and the illustrations "whimsical.” As well, "whimsical, textured collages mix beautiful papers, fabrics, and bright paint in scenes that show the bossy queen, the wildly imagined town, the eclectic princesses, the wedding, and finally, a kiss between the two starry-eyed princes. Adults will know what's coming early in the story, but many kids won't. They'll simply like the fun artwork and the final twist on conventions" (1856). Controversy has surrounded the book, but at least some sources understand what children will see in the book, namely colourful illustrations and a poetic story. Another controversial children’s picture book, however one without much in the way of artistic merit, is Leslea Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies.

Heather Has Two Mommies 

Heather is a young girl with two mothers. The text explores the childhood experiences of a young girl with same-sex parents. Newman’s book explores the experiences of Heather as she interacts with other children and her mothers, showing a normalized portrait of a family with same-sex parents. The text gives the history of Heather’s birth, her upbringing, and her time in school, comparing family structures with other kids in her classes. Adults and other conservative groups attacked this book right from the beginning, arguing that it promotes a homosexual lifestyle and undermines traditional family values. In “Queering the Picture Book,” Melynda Huskey asserts, “[h]ardly anyone tried to defend Heather on its literary or artistic merits: at thirty-six pages, it’s too densely textual for children the age of its protagonist (three) and its graceless black-and-white illustrations lack the energy or skill to engage the eye during the relatively long time required to read each page out loud” (66). Unlike King & King then, Heather has little to redeem it except that it is the first book of its kind. This should be taken into account as there was no book from which to learn certain lessons about portraying same-sex characters in a picture book. 

Linda Salem, in Children’s Literature Studies: Cases and Discussions, writes, “[o]bjections to Newman’s book include showing different kinds of families, negative reactions to the anatomical details depicted in the book, and the use of the words sperm, egg, breasts, and belly to describe pregnancy” (106). One of the other girls at school with Heather actually has two dads: “’I don’t have any mommies. I have two daddies,’ Stacy says proudly” (15). It is statements like this that caused controversy initially, the fact that Stacy is proud to have two dads. In the eyes of many conservative groups, heterosexual couplings are the type of relationship to be strived for, not homosexual. Much like Tango and King & King, “[b]oth Newman [author of Heather Has Two Mommies] and Willhoite [author of Daddy’s Roommate] have been accused of promoting sodomy, militancy, prostitution, bestiality, and incest. The books were removed from New York’s Rainbow Curriculum designed in 1992 to teach respect for all racial and ethnic groups” (Salem 107). Michael Willhoite’s Daddy’s Roommate is a particularly poignant example of a text attempting to normalize the existence of homosexual partnerships to young children. 

Daddy’s Roommate 

This book is about a young boy who lives in a home with two fathers. When the boy was young, his father left his mother for another man, Frank. The two men live together and the young boy gets to visit them. The young boy narrator makes a number of frank and non-heteronormative explications that have given rise to a number of instances of censorship and book banning.  The first of these starts near the beginning of the book: "Daddy and his roommate Frank live together, work together, eat together, sleep together, shave together, and sometimes even fight together" (3-8). The boy does not automatically associate this with the term gay until it is spelled out later by his mother: "Mommy says Daddy and Frank are gay” (24). 

In this book, Willhoite shows that homosexual relationships are as perfectly acceptable and equal to heterosexual couples: "Being gay is just one more kind of love" and “love is the best kind of happiness" (26-27). In this case, the most worrying part for some is the fact that a heterosexual marriage was broken up for the sake of a homosexual relationship between Frank and his daddy. Controversy surrounds such lines as the one above about the two men sleeping together and illustrations of the two men touching, holding hands, and rubbing suntan lotion on each other. Many instances of censorship have mentioned these issues as being too explicitly sexual for a children’s book. The book does at least spend time exploring an alternative way of seeing same-sex parents that shows the origins of the relationship and the ways that heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships are both valuable. 

Conclusions and Discussion 

Having explored the main points of each book and a few reasons for the censorship and controversy surrounding them, it is time to discuss the concept of censorship and the difficulties surrounding the act. The exploration of these topics is not something that should be limited or kept from children, especially in schools and libraries. A number of scholars have written articles on and explored censorship and the implications that censoring books have toward children. 

Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer, in The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, speak to the act of parents keeping books from their children for fear of destroying their innocence. “In trying to protect children, however, these adults may well be doing more harm than good…. It also deprives adults of the opportunity to discuss these matters with children, and to share their own attitudes with them. Without such discussions, adults might actually diminish their control over children rather than increase it” (102, 103). Nodelman and Reimer continue, asserting that censorious practices by parents and others only serves to prevent children from learning: 
[Children] have special need of knowledge as a resource to make sense of new things. Those who are deprived of knowledge of certain attitudes or forms of behavior and, therefore, prevented from thinking about why they might be harmful, are the ones most likely to take such attitudes or commit such acts. To deprive children of the opportunity to read about confusing or painful matters like those that they might actually be experiencing will either make literature irrelevant to them or else leave them feeling they are alone in their thoughts or experiences. (102-3) 
Nodelman and Reimer aren’t the only ones who feel this way either. The act of censorship keeps children from learning valuable life lessons. But the act of publishing also says something about the progress of society as well. 

The very act of creating children’s books with gay and lesbian content proves that there has been a certain amount of progress in society over the last few decades: “These books speak to changing societal attitudes. Although homophobia remains with us, and same-sex marriage has become a political issue, these books show that in some ways society has made progress toward acceptance of homosexuality” (Cole 124). All the books discussed in this paper—Heather Has Two Mommies, Daddy’s Roommate, And Tango Makes Three, King & King—reveal a certain amount of progress by the very act of their existence. Each author is making a statement by writing about different family structures for child audiences. The books are all far from perfect, some containing stereotypes, some containing didactic text, and others guilty of being just plain unappealing to the eye, but each is also a step forward in sharing knowledge and teaching about diversity. 

Though adults are not always open to diversity, as can be seen through the initial and ongoing reactions to each book. And this leads to issues of censorship; Censorious people want “children to be as pure and as devoid of knowledge as they believe children are supposed to be” (Nodelman and Reimer 104). Assumptions abound surrounding censorship, about what adults believe children can and cannot handle. In every family the expectations may be very different as to what parents will allow their child to be exposed to, but in school and library situations, where there is greater access and more incentive to teach about issues of diversity, it can be difficult to know what should be taught to all students, and what should be left for parents to decide. However, according to the works of Nodelman and Reimer, and Cole, it would seem that to deny children is to the detriment of their ability to learn about diversity and different family structures. In any case, there are available children’s books with gay and lesbian content and they should be, if not explicitly taught, at least be made available to all children, and not be hidden through acts of censorship.

Works Cited

Cart, Michael, and Christine A. Jenkins. The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004. Toronto: Scarecrow, 2006. Print.
Chick, Kay. “Fostering an Appreciation for all Kinds of Families: Picturebooks with Gay and Lesbian Themes.” Bookbird 46.1 (2008): 15-22. Print.
Cole, Pam B. Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century. New York: McGraw Hill, 2009. Print.
de Hann, Linda, and Stern Nijland. King & King. Toronto: Tricycle, 2000. Print.
Engberg, Gillian. "King & King (Book)." Booklist 98.21 (2002): 1856. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
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Newman, Lesléa. Heather Has Two Mommies. Illus. Diana Souza. Boston, MA: Alyson, 1989. Print.
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Richardson, Justin and Peter Parnell. And Tango Makes Three. Illus. Henry Cole. Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.
Salem, Linda C. Children’s Literature Studies: Cases and Discussions. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. Print.
Wiles, Heather. Controversy, Censorship, and Children’s Literature. 2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2011. <>
Willhoite, Michael. Daddy's Roommate. Boston, MA: Alyson, 1991.