Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ironic or Ridiculous?


The mother of a South Fork High School student has taken up a lost cause by trying to ban The Catcher in the Rye from the entire school district, states Eve Samples in an article on September 25th.  Of course, the mother didn't start the campaign the moment that her son brought home the book.  No, first of all she asked that he be able to read a different book, a request the school complied with.  Her son is now reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, book #14, on the ALA's most challenged books of the last decade.  Somehow it's better than Catcher because instead of using the "F" word and taking the Lord's name in vain, it only uses "nigger" upwards of 200 times.  I ask you, how is this considered a suitable replacement?  Not only that, but why, after giving her son a different text, is she now campaigning to remove Catcher from classrooms across the district?  In the article, Samples claims, "I doubt any supporter of the First Amendment would take up her cause."  I concur.  What do you think?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Blog

Banned Books, a blog from the UK, has created a list of 50 books that are "mad, bad, and dangerous to read."  The books are divided into four main categories:

1) Corrosive to Young Minds
2) Politically Incendiary
3) Downright Sexy
4) Just Wrong

Check out these lists!  You can even take a quiz on the site, for fun.  Enjoy your Banned Books Week!

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Improper School Reading"

"Are these books not for our kids?  State ACLU issues list of what's been deemed improper school reading."  This is the headline of a recent article at, written by Maggie Galehouse.  The article is quite enlightening.  Apart from just giving a list of books that some groups deem inappropriate for classrooms or for children, the article also gives some interesting facts and figures regarding the breakdown of how many books are challenged for specific reasons.
Sex or nudity: 44
Profane language: 29
Violence and horror: 18
Drugs and alcohol: 17
Offensive to religious beliefs: 12
Politically, socially, racially offensive: 11
Other/No reason given: 14
I'm not really sure what's worse, the number of books banned for sex?  Or the number banned for "No reason given"?  In any case, Galehouse does a marvelous job covering book banning trends and notes:
To some extent, what gets banned or challenged depends on what's in fashion. In the past, Harry Potter books were challenged because of their focus on witchcraft. Similar cases were made against vampire books, although Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series was challenged by only one district in 2009-10.
Yet some topics always fall under scrutiny. This year, as in years past, some of the banned books have gay themes. [emphasis added]
This article, being from a Houston news site, covers only banned books in Texas, but it gives a good indication of the types of books being challenged and, as with the quote above, it still gives insight into the trends of book banning on a larger scale.  To finish off today's post, here is a list by the Texas ACLU of books removed from some library shelves or class reading lists in Texas in 2009-10, by author:
• Judy Blume: Forever ; Then Again, Maybe I Won't
• Jean Ferris: Eight Seconds
• Brian Innes: The History and Methods of Torture
• Mark Kidwell: The Creature From the Depths
• Denene Millner: Hotlanta
• Lauren Myracle: ttfn
• Phyllis Reynolds Naylor: Achingly Alice
• Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson: And Tango Makes Three
• Julie Anne Peters: Far From Xanadu
• Patricia Polacco: In Our Mothers' House
• Anne Rooney: Zombies on the Loose
• R.L. Stine: Eye Candy
Time-Life Magazine
• Media: Tom Brown's Schooldays
• Allison Van Diepen: Snitch
• Jake Wizner: Spanking Shakespeare
• Cecily von Ziegesar: Would I Lie to You: A Gossip Girl Novel
Source: ACLU of Texas 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Banned Books Week!

Don't Forget!  Banned Books Week starts on Saturday, September 25th and goes until Saturday, October 2nd.  Check out readings lists at the American Library Association's website and have fun!  Go to your library and ask them if they have any banned books for you to check out and see what they have to offer.  It's fun, free, and you can sound like a total rebel when you talk to your friends... and without having to commit a crime!  Awesome, right?  Don't be a blue-eyed, angry robot...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Banning the Unwritten

While I don't like a lot of Vampire novels, I can see the appeal.  What I do not understand, however, are a number of issues related to the banning of the Vampire Academy series.  Firstly the idea of nudity in a novel is very difficult for me to wrap my head around as nudity, in my mind, necessitates a visual image.  Certainly one could identify descriptive language as sexual or explicit, but as nudity?  Secondly, the Stephenville Independent School District banned the whole series.  The catch?  They haven't all been written yet.  As it says in Robert P. Doyle's Banned and Challenged Books 2009-2010, “Stephenville ISD actually banned books that have not yet been published and perhaps even books that have yet to be written. There is no way the district could know the content of these books, and yet they have been banned.”  Certainly quite a feat!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Closure of Russian Archives

Ruth Derksen Siemens brought attention to a somewhat distressing situation in Russia when she released an email that describes limitations in the Russian archives.  It is now impossible to access information on an event or person until 75 years later.  These limitations were put in place in 2006.  A gathering of scholars at the 4th International Scholarly Conference on Germans of Siberia: History and Culture, in Omsk, released a plea to the Russian government asking for the archives to be reopened.  The strangest part of this whole situation is how quietly it happened.
Strangely, this restriction escaped the notice of mainstream media, international universities and many scholars. Since 2006, researchers searching the archives of the former Soviet Union can only access documents 75 years after an event has occurred. This is disturbing and distressing. Records of events that occurred after 1935 cannot be examined. The letters from the Regehr family stopped in 1937. What happened when the letters stopped? Why did they stop? Which political and ideological forces affected the letter writers? Why cannot I (or other researchers) explore archival documents that would assist me to understand the silence? (Quotation from Ruth's Email)
Now, let's look back at all the censorship issues going on in North America.  Let's think about how easy it would be to implement systems that would limit the amount of information available to the public and to academics for research purposes.  This incident with the Russian archives is very unfortunate and needs to be dealt with, and so do instances of censorship and withheld information in North America.  Help fight for the rights of people to read what they want to read in Libraries and Classrooms.  Help researchers and institutions keep archives open and available.  Let's keep information available to everyone

Are you with me?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

©New York Times

While Don't Ask, Don't Tell isn't a form of literary censorship, it is still something that is very much an issue of controlling language and identifiers.  By labeling certain people as "different" and "deviant," the US Army is able to strip soldiers not only of their ability to serve, but also of their status as people.  Because of the don't ask, don't tell policy, soldiers must watch their language, make sure they don't slip about any prior experience with "deviant sexual behavior," and censor themselves on a continual basis so as not to reveal themselves too much.  Like literary censorship, this form is just as insidious, if not more so, because it effects the way people live and act and are.  Here's a recent article from the New York Times that shows just how oppressive the censorship of identity and language really is, through the lens of a discharged soldier. 

I will be back to more literary focus next week.  Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Teacher Reprimanded over Book Choice

The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star was suggested as an optional reading in an advanced Psychology course by Jason Galitsky of Hernando High School, Florida.  The teacher has now been reprimanded, the book has been removed, and people aren't happy.

The book is a memoir by Nikki Sixx, a heavy metal star who turned to drugs and fell from the pedestal.  He put the book together using diary entries from the drug days and reflecting back on them as a now-sober adult.  The obvious message here seems to be "Don't Do Drugs."  The message is nothing new, but in order to keep young people informed, the examples need to keep coming forward.  Without the confessions of those who did drugs and know the consequences, there isn't much hope of getting kids to understand without doing it themselves.

Jason Galitsky seems to understand this notion, and so he brought the text forward as an example.  A parent, upon reading from the book, decided that it was inappropriate due to "explicit language, descriptions of drug use and photos."  The thing to remember here is that this is an advanced placement course, practically college level, and this book is too inappropriate?  If any of these students end up with careers in psychology, they will be reading and interacting with people much more difficult than this text.

You can read the whole article here.  What do you think?  Do you agree that books with drugs in them should be kept away from students?  Do you think that the students will be too distracted by the drug use to get the main message of the text?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: l8r, g8r

The latest in the ttyl series by Lauren Myracle was exactly what I expected: part funny, part annoying, part unapologetic, but overall good.  I can see why some would think to put it on a banned books list, but I thought the treatment of such subjects as first time sex and dirty pranks was quite tasteful and still realistic.  Sure there was some swearing and a few slang terms for a man's... uh... you know.  But really, the IM chats that the novel is written in were pretty much what you would expect from a bunch of teenage girls getting ready to graduate from High School.

Myracle did a wonderful job of treating sex with tender care as well as humor, in such a way that it let girls (and guys) know about some of the things to look forward to, and some of the details that might not normally be brought up by parents or sex-ed classes (depending on the school.)  It also covers such topics as emotional blackmail, revenge, and the psychological drain of constantly fighting an arch-nemesis that you won't even remember a few years out of High School.

All in all, I was impressed with this last of the series and I'm glad I picked it up to review.  I applaud Lauren Myracle and her awesome work.  And where some decide to hate the IM style, I say it's a compelling way to write a narrative without going overboard on details.  It's dialogue, honest and simple.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Part-Time Indian" Retired from Collection

One student, at least, spoke out against the decision!
In a sad turn of events, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was officially banned from a Stockton school after a 7-0 vote from the Stockton School Board. In the article from, Mike Penprase writes: "Board member Rod Tucker said his main concern was the book's language, that it had too much profanity to be of value." On the number of awards the book has won, board member Ken Spurgeon said, "We can take the book and wrap it in those 20 awards everyone else said it won and it still is wrong."
It is a sad day in Stockton.  What do you think of this happenstance?  Do you agree with the article's description of what the board members decided?

Photo Courtesy of

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

sex education

In “The Secret Source” (2006) Amy Pattee writes: “I argue that sexuality should not be censored in young adult fiction; in fact, scenes of intimacy should read as close to the truth—of the physical act and the emotional investment—as possible....  Young adult literature has the potential to fill in the gaps left by sexuality education curricula by depicting the many ways—from abstinence to intercourse—young people may choose to be intimate” (32).

The National Coalition Against Censorship writes: “abstinence-only education either ignores or denounces homosexuality, and [many occurrences of censorship] indicate the resistance to including material in libraries and curricula that present same sex relationships as healthy or ‘normal’” (NCAC).

And in an interview with Brent Hartinger by the Kids' Right to Read Project, he says, “the sexuality in my book [Geography Club] is pretty mild, especially compared to other teen novels.  In most cases, I think that’s just an excuse to attack it because it involves—shhhh! mustn’t be spoke out loud!—gay people."

All of these quotes show the necessity for a growing body of literature that takes sexuality seriously and also reveals that there is no such thing as "normal" when it comes to sex.  Not really.  What some people consider normal (ie, homosexuality, masturbation), others consider abnormal or immoral.  But libraries are not places that decide what is normal and what is not.  They are places where people can go to discover that they are not alone, that they are not the only one who likes the same gender.

Robie Harris wrote a book called It's Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health.  And yes, you guessed it, it's been challenged in libraries and classrooms across North America for the majority of the last 6 years.  One group has even decided that the book is pornographic.  Why is it that a book which attempts to show that kids shouldn't be ashamed of their sexuality is considered to be immoral, unethical, obscene, and graphic?  Life shouldn't be censored, and neither should growing up, or discovering sexuality.  That's my rant.

Robie Harris
It's Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (Candlewick Press)

A Lewiston, Maine patron refused to return the acclaimed sex education book from the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries (2007) because she was "sufficiently horrified by the illustrations and sexually graphic, amoral, abnormal contents." A police investigation found the library did not violate the town ordinance against obscenity and the patron who removed the book from the library will stand trial for theft.
Restricted, but later returned to general circulation shelves with some limits on student access, based on a review committee’s recommendations, at the Holt Middle School parent library in Fayetteville, Ark. (2005) despite a parent’s complaint that it was sexually explicit.

Robert P. Doyle Books Banned and Challenged 2004-2009.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Protecting a Perceived Innocence

To protect the innocence of young people is to assume that young people are actually innocent. Those individuals and groups that advocate for the protection of young adults through censorship and book challenges are only protecting a perceived innocence, one which seems to be at odds with reality. These groups seek to oppose the tenants of intellectual freedom to protect a teenage population from texts which simply portray the reality in which they live and develop. To ban these texts would be to ban life experience, voiding it of all challenges that encourage intellectual growth and development.

Does the demand for young adult literature with realistic accounts of life and the corresponding request for censorship on such texts tell us something about the dichotomous relationship between what teens need and what complainants perceive is needed? Of course it does. Young adult fiction is still a relatively young body of literature and as such it is still attempting to stand on some unstable ground. Teens yearn for certain stories and characters while parents, guardians, and teachers are still trying to protect young people from such stories. Libraries and classrooms often become small battlegrounds on which freedoms are contested from both sides: the freedom for young people to read what interests them, and the freedom of adults to try and protect them from perceived threats in the texts.

What seems to be missing here is parental understanding of the role of school and public libraries, namely, to provide texts for everyone regardless of how some texts might be viewed by others. I have spoken with a number of librarians over the last month and I have gathered a number of quotations. These librarians wish to remain anonymous so I will not provide names (in case someone wonders if I'm just making them up):

“The library is meant to serve the reading tastes of the entire community, not just one segment. Since we have gay teens that frequent the library, to be a truly democratic institution, we must have titles that they request and that reflect their belief and ideals.”

“I tell people that if we don’t have something in the collection that offends and individual I am not doing my job of developing a balanced collection”

“People who do not have teenagers are frequently the most outspoken and concerned about protecting the perceived innocence of our youth”
“I don’t think we really consider sexuality in the text when making a decision, because we want a variety of materials in the collection.”

“We have some kids who are hungry to see themselves in this literature and others who love a good story regardless of the sexuality or the characters.”

Judging from these clips, I think it's fairly obvious that a lot of people seem to be misunderstanding the role of libraries, viewing them as large collections of books that shouldn't offend and should only cater to certain groups. But being publicly funded, it is the responsibility of libraries to carry materials for all audiences.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

This is the question on the mind of Jerry Renault as he wonders whether or not to participate in the Trinity School chocolate sales fundraiser, the question at the heart of Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War.  It's pretty much up to the reader to decide if they think it was worth the risk.  Jerry is hounded at every turn when he decides not to sell the chocolates in an act of defiance that turns the rest of the school into a war zone.  The real message of this novel seems to be that there is a risk and a reward for defying institutional oppression and standing up for what is right.  Cormier does a fantastic job of creating Jerry and his environment, and creates a world and situation that the reader will have a hard time forgetting.

Roberta Seelinger Trites, a scholar and author of Disturbing the Universe reminds us that fighting institutions is part of life and part of what defines young people as they grow up and learn to make their own decisions, form identities, and figure out what defines their lives.  The Chocolate War is one of the best examples of this principle and it is a novel that I don't think anyone should really miss.  Though of course, how could a novel about undermining an institution, such as a school, go without its own challenges in the world?  The following is the information from Robert P. Doyle's Books Challenged or Banned in 2007-2008:

Removed from the Harford County, Md. High School curriculum (2007) because its message on the dangers of bullying is overshadowed by instances of vulgar language, including homophobic slurs. In November 2007, the Harford County's school superintendent reversed her decision to bar Cormier's novel and returned it to the classroom. Teachers now have the option of using the novel in a course that deals with harassment and decision making, but must get permission from all parents of students in the class. Challenged as an optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego, Oreg. Junior High School (2007) because the novel is "peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence." Students are given a list of book summaries and a letter to take to their parents. Four of the eight optional books offered are labeled as having "mature content/language." Challenged in the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho School District (2007). Some parents say the book, along with five others, should require parental permission for students to read them. Challenged as required reading for seventh-grade students at the John H. Kinzie Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. (2007). Challenged at the Northridge School District in Johnstown, Ohio (2007) because "if these books were a movie, they would be rated R, why should we be encouraging them to read these books?"

I'll let you answer that last question for yourself... Or in the Comments Section!!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Whale Talk

I recently finished reading Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. The novel is fantastic, engaging, and intelligent. Crutcher takes something as simple as a swim team and turns it into a lesson on bullying, racism, regret, rape, special needs, and compassion. In accordance with connecting to a young adult's world, Crutcher uses certain profanities and customary word choices in order to achieve a sense of realism, without which a reader can easily feel that something is missing. Apparently those who wish to challenge and remove the book based on racial slurs and profanity have never heard of context. What is a book about racism if racism is not included? I will let you read the book for yourselves and see if you think it's inappropriate. I, for one, do not.

Author: Crutcher, Chris
Title: Whale Talk
Publisher: Greenwillow

Removed from all five Limestone County, Ala. high school libraries (2005) because of the book’s use of profanity. Removed from the suggested reading list for a pilot English-literature curriculum by the superintendent of the South Carolina Board of Education (2005). Challenged at the Grand Ledge, Mich. High School (2005).Challenged at the Missouri Valley, Iowa High School (2007) because the book uses racial slurs and profanity. Challenged as an optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego, Oreg. Junior High School (2007) because the novel is "peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence." Students are given a list of book summaries and a letter to take to their parents. Four of the eight optional books offered are labeled as having "mature content/language."

Source: Books Banned or Challenged in 2007-2009, Robert P. Doyle

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


If challenging a book for it's content doesn't work, just decry its writing style!  Lauren Myracle's ttyl is written entirely in text message format.  The book has been challenged for sexually explicit content.  As I've talked about before, sex in young adult books really shouldn't be such a shock considering how often they say the average teenage male thinks about sex.  It's part of growing up, really.  Myracle stated that "The book's dialogue about sex and alcohol is frank but the characters criticize those who engage in those behaviors."  The majority of YA novels I've read are critical and sensitive about sex and rarely contain sex simply for the sake of titillation (though there are certainly exceptions.)  Some people who haven't been able to get the book removed for its content are saying that the book is grammatically incorrect.  Show me a text message conversation that isn't, in some way, grammatically incorrect!  Sometimes the reasoning is just lame.

Have you encountered a book challenge for a reason you thought was funny or just weird, let me know in the comments section.

Author: Myracle, Lauren 
Title: ttyl
Publisher: Amulet Books

Challenged, but retained at the John Muir Middle School library in Wausau, Wis. (2009) despite a parent’s request that the book be removed because of sexually explicit content. The author said, “The book’s dialogue about sex and alcohol is frank but the characters criticize those who engage in those behaviors.” Retained in the Ponus Ridge Middle School library in Norwalk, Conn. (2010). While many critics decry its style as “grammatically incorrect,” most who take exception point to its foul language, sexual content, and questionable sexual behavior. It is the first book written entirely in the format of instant messaging — the title itself is a shorthand reference to “talk to you later."