Monday, January 31, 2011

ACLU celebrates First Amendment

Adam Causey, on, writes about a gathering in Shreveport where 30 people gathered to celebrate First Amendment rights.  This even was put together to help Americans appreciate the freedoms that they have in opposition to such places as Egypt (especially since they are in such a state of turmoil at the moment.)
The local office of the ACLU sponsored "Banned in America," a celebration of the First Amendment's freedom of speech.  About 30 attended the event at CoHabitat.  Shreveporters read from some of their favorit books or played clips from films that have been censored.
The group discussed the recent controversy surrounding Huckleberry Finn, watched public domain movie clips, and talked about the general good side of freedom of speech.  I don't know if they covered any of the negative aspects of freedom of speech, or if they talked about how annoying it can be at times, but at least there is a sense of appreciation among some people, celebrating instead of taking the Amendment for granted.

Have any of you ever taken part in an event like this?  Have you ever put together anything to celebrate your right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech in America and Canada, or in other countries across the globe?  Leave a comment and let me know.

I'll try to have some more book reviews and other info up later this week.

As always, thanks for listening.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Politicians Attack Toronto Grad Student

This makes me so mad.  I try not to write posts when I am upset, but this really makes me wonder about Canadian politics (and politicians in general.)  The article being discussed comes from the CAUT Bulletin, a resource for Canadian Academics and Academic Freedom.

A Grad Student, Jenny Peto, from the University of Toronto wrote a Master's thesis entitled  "The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism, and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education."  In December, two politicians in the Ontario legislature used a question period to question her choices and denounce her research.

My first issue here is the fact that they are using time to talk about a student thesis as if they should somehow have been involved in the process of its creation.  These politicians expressed concern over the University's acceptance of the thesis.  The following is what Shurman said, in full.  It makes me cringe that this man is in a position of power:
[Shurman describes] Peto’s thesis as a “hateful and poorly researched paper attacking programs that use the horrors of the Holocaust to somehow show the dangers of discrimination and racism by Jews” and asking the minister, “Will you today speak up on behalf of Jewish groups who have been so deeply hurt by this piece of garbage and condemn it, not as an academic paper but for the hate it actually is?”
Are politicians now going to start going over all graduate research and theses during legislative assemblies?  I'm not saying there should be no accountability between Universities and Government, but this is ridiculous.  And even more so for the next reason:  These politicians didn't even read the thesis!!!!

There was no defence of academic freedom or freedom of speech.  There was no discussion of her actual project.  Instead, they took the title out of context and proceeded to call for more talk about growing feelings of anti-semitism related to immigration policy.  This may be a valid concern (I do not pretend to know about the situations and issues at play in immigration policy), but what does this have to do with the thesis?  Nothing!  This is what her thesis is about, actually:
In the thesis, Peto used critical race theory to construct an interpretive framework for examining two Holocaust education projects — the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope. Peto argued that these programs make political use of the history of Jewish martyrdom and suffering in the Shoah, thereby perpetuating claims to victimhood that “are no longer based in a reality of oppression,” but rather produce effects that benefit “the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state.”
University professor Michael Keefer spoke up about the unfairness and ridiculousness of the situation.  He wrote an open letter (which I strongly suggest you read) to Premier Dalton McGuinty.
He said, “In contrast to your colleagues in the Legislature, I have read Ms. Jenny Peto’s thesis … I believe that the language used by the two MPPs and by the Minister to characterize this thesis is very seriously misleading. It is in my opinion a well-researched study with a clearly-defined ethical focus.”
[Keefer] speculated that a lingering impact will be self-censorship with­in the academic community — causing students and faculty to avoid important research that may be controversial and may elicit political attacks. “If this happens, then we will all be the losers.”  
I sincerely hope that Universities, researchers, and graduate students do not give politicians like Steve Clark and Peter Shurman the satisfaction of self-censoring.  If anything, I hope more research is undertaken in response to and in defiance of such uneducated and ignorant remarks.

What do you think of this?  Have you ever experienced a challenge to your own work because of someone else's ignorance?  Has your work ever been degraded by someone who didn't even bother to read it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

While I have not read this particular novel by the infamous Chris Crutcher, I am sure that it is just as controversial as all of his other books.  Crutcher's novels are never comfortable to read.  There is always some aspect that is jarring or disturbing, or just seems wrong at first glance.  But there is always a redemptive aspect.  By this I do not mean that there is a happy ending.  That would ruin the narratives and make a mockery what Crutcher is trying to show.  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes appears to me no exception to the rule, being challenged like many of Crutcher's titles (see Whale Talk.)

Staying Fat was recently challenged in Wisconsin's Belleville School District for being part of the grade-nine curriculum.  Lori Beil, the mother of a student at Belleville High School, complained that the book was pornographic and full of vulgar profanity.  An article on reported part of the recorded message Beil presented to the review committee:
"I believe it would be better for the school to choose books without sex and profanity, that don't bash someone's religion.  There are more noble and aspiring choices.  Why am I doing this?  I'm motivated by love.  Love for my son, love for God and love for you, the people of my town."
Beil also stated that having an alternative reading available for her son was not a fair option:
"No child should need to leave a classroom because a book has too much offensive content when there are so many excellent books to choose from."
I think at this point it is important to note that Beil never recommended any alternative texts to the committee, nor did she seem to have any trouble talking about her religious beliefs even though others might have found her position to be offensive.  Double standards are difficult to consider seriously in situations like this.  There is, however, a silver lining to this story, in that other parents and students were very supportive of the text being part of the curriculum:
Most of the parents and students who turned out, many wearing green stickers in support of the book, said that Sarah's story has done exactly what it should.
"I think our teens today face so many issues that a lot of us adults cannot even wrap our heads around. I think it's really important that they're exposed," said parent Teresa McMahan.
"The book 'Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes,' has not only been a high-quality read but has sent positive messages to me, and I would say, without hesitation, to most of my class," said Taylor Forman, a Belleville High School freshman. 
The review committee voted unanimously to keep the book as part of the curriculum and sent their recommendation to the School Board.  I am very happy that this decision was made (and so is the Wisconsin chapter of the ACLU.)  If people are so worried about portrayals of their religion or certain moral standards, all it says to me is that they are weak in their convictions if a YA novel can shake them this deeply.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Concerns?

As always, thanks for listening.

Friday, January 21, 2011


After reading Sexy (Joyce Carol Oates) for the second time, I was reminded of how much I love Joyce Carol Oates.  Her writing, I would call raw.  Her style is abrupt, sometimes disjointed and abstracts, but that's what makes it so intriguing and real.  She does not shy away from using terminology and words that teens use.  She doesn't try to "censor" or candy-coat things.  This is exactly the type of writing style that seems to fascinate critics and academics and infuriate parents.  Parents see it as a threat to their authority and their ideas of childhood and youth as needing to remain innocent.  Academics and critics find stories like Sexy fascinating because they are incredible portals into the minds of young people in difficult and horrific situations.

Teens are complex.  They are difficult to understand.  And they do discriminate against what they do not understand (not unlike adults!)  The protagonist, Darren, in this story has difficulty in life because of his looks and an uncomfortable encounter with his English teacher, Mr. Tracy.  Darren is a diver, swimmer, and heartbreaker.  He gets okay grades, except in English where he managed to get a B, though he believes that is only because of the guilt of his teacher, who gave him a ride home one day, causing a string of events to get out of control and lead to the destruction of Mr. Tracy as a teacher and a human being.

Of course this is the exact type of writing and content that has parents and censors in a fluster, claiming explicit sexual content and inappropriate language.  What else is new?  Teens are discerning in different ways than parents, and they don't respond to things that they do not believe are sincere.  A book with "bleeped" language is not sincere, and neither is a book that says "oh, poo!"

This isn't a book for elementary students.  And perhaps it's not even that great for middle school kids.  But to attempt a ban in a High School?  Booklist magazine rates it as appropriate for grades 9-12.  Sexy was challenged at Jefferson High School in Boulder, Montana in 2007.  It was retained after review, but was challenged for the reasons stated above.  Of course, the book does start to cover slightly more than it seems to be able to handle, but that's not an issue related to the content under fire.

I think this is just bizarre, especially because it is just in the library and not even being taught in a classroom or being recommended by a teacher.  This is available to those who are interested and who want to read the book.  And honestly, should we really have to be hiding books like this from High School students?  Maybe some think so, but I don't.

Thanks for listening!  And feel free to let me know if you've read the book or what you think about the issues covered.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stolen Children

Part of me thinks that this blog is just spouting the same story over and over and over again.  But then, the stories keep showing up over and over and over again.  The only problem here is that I come to the same conclusion--you got it!--over and over and over again.  Parents, take part in what your children read and stop trying to blame the library for having the book on the shelves!  I plead with you all, stop trying to take books away from other children just because you think it's not right for your child, or your opinion is that the book isn't good at all.  I have many opinions about what I think is good and bad, but that doesn't mean I just run around trying to take those things away from others.  I don't particularly agree with certain sweets or junk food, but I don't run around trying to take them out of all the grocery stores and pulling them from your hands!

[deep breath]

Here's another story about a parent attempting to get a book (Stolen Children by Peg Kehret) taken out of the elementary school libraries in the Central York School District.  She believes the book is too violent and frightening.  The review from Booklist, however, deems the book appropriate for children starting as early as grade 4 and the School Library Journal says that it is appropriate for children starting in grade 5.  Unless I am mistaken, these grades are still considered to be in the elementary school range, and these reviewing journals are well-known and regarded for their reviews and classifications.

We'll see what happens next as the book goes under review, but I can only hope that the decision finds the book acceptable to be on library shelves.  What do you think?  Do you have any opinions on the subject of books in libraries vs. books in classrooms?  What do you think the roles of the parent/teacher/librarian are when it comes to having access to these materials in a library?

I will close with the Booklist review of Stolen Children as reproduced on

 After graduating from a babysitting course, 14-year-old Amy is filling in for a wealthy family’s nanny one afternoon when she and her three-year-old charge, Kendra, are kidnapped. Their two abductors have hatched a plan to take the little girl, send daily DVD messages to her parents, collect the ransom, and return her unharmed. They hit a snag, however, when their accomplice, Kendra’s nanny, takes off before the scheduled heist. Forced to take the unexpected Amy along, they head to a derelict secluded cabin, where they bide their time for several days. Amy’s ingenuity and child-development savvy save the day, but only after a few daring escape attempts. Plot-driven and consistently paced, this quick read has ample suspense and drama. While the bad guys have a gun, it is unused and no actual physical violence occurs, making this a worry-free recommendation for those requesting a just-thrilling-enough story. Grades 4-7. --Andrew Medlar

Monday, January 17, 2011

Now, for some good news...

'The Catcher in the Rye' won't be banned from South Fork High School, according to Eve Samples of  This decision comes in response to a complaint from a mother of five who wanted The Catcher in the Rye banned from the entire Martin County School District.  I covered this situation a short while ago (here) and wrote about the irony of this mother wanting Catcher removed from the district and allowing her child to read Huckleberry Finn as an alternative text (with it's 216 instances of "nigger.")

Samples writes, "'The Catcher in the Rye,' J.D. Salinger's provocative and sometimes crass novel about Caulfield, will remain on the school's reading list — despite protests from the mother of an 11th-grader there."
Ultimately, [the committee] decided the controversial language was outweighed by the salient points that Salinger makes. Even use of the 'F' word was justified, they agreed, because it was in context. When Caulfield sees the word scrawled on a wall, he is repulsed. He wants to conceal it from his younger sister.
"It wasn't him saying it. It was him getting angry over it," said Jennifer Salas, the Martin County Library System's youth services coordinator.
The committee decided the book "is appropriate for students at South Fork High School," and the district as a whole. For parents who disagree with it, the committee respected their rights to choose alternative books for their children.
I'm quite happy that this was the final decision and I applaud the committee for standing by the use of the book in classrooms and for understanding the meaning of context.  It's nice when I get to write a little post about a book being kept in the open rather than being treated as a toxic object of unnatural evil.  Thanks, as always, for listening.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Books for Everyone?

Now that the "new and improved" Huck Finn is coming out, there is controversy at every turn.  I looked up book challenges and bans on Google today, and the majority of hits were related to Mark Twain's classic tale of boyhood and racism.  Some people don't seem to mind the sanitization of words, while others vehemently point out the problems associated with this decision.  I have already stated my opinion, for the most part, in an earlier post, so I won't go on about it again.  There has yet to be a consensus on either side, and some schools are still having to deal with the fallout.

Florida's Westside Elementary School, recently in the news for a mother's request to ban Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz (which I covered here), is still waiting for a decision from the school board.  But they are being featured in Hernando Today in regards to book policies in their library.  The difficulty today seems to be the complete lack of consensus (I know, I just used that word in the last paragraph) on what makes a book appropriate, or inappropriate:
...definitions of inappropriate differ from reader to reader.  Lena Betancourt, who brings her daughter Destiny, 6, to the library at least every other day, said it depends on a book's topic if it should be banned from school libraries or not. But Betancourt said the language of the classics like Huck Finn should be left as written to help teach children right from wrong.  "I certainly think certain books shouldn't be in their sight or area," she said. "Kids at a younger age are starting to understand more about what's right and what's wrong. If we keep changing things how will they know?"
One problem I see here is that this mother finds censorship and book banning alright in some cases, but not others, and yet agrees that there is no set rule for what is appropriate or inappropriate because of each person's perspective.  These sorts of comments confuse me, allowing for some ability to censor and ban literature, but with no criteria under which this can be enacted.  And this has difficulties that relate to the censoring of history:
Ralph Smith said too much censorship can hinder the up and coming generations.  "That's history. They're trying to change history," he said.  Debbie Pfenning, Hernando County School District's elementary curriculum supervisor, said it wasn't the first request to have a book banned from schools, but it is the first book challenge that has made it to the district level.  "There have been challenges in the past but the decision has never been to ban a book. It usually gets worked out at the school level," she said.
Books in elementary school libraries are there to appeal to children of all ages throughout the school, whether in grade one or grade six, and some books are not going to be appropriate for the entire age span.  So how can it be said that books should not be available to younger children when the older children will then be deprived?  The books that are available have been chosen for the shelves for a reason and it is up to the children and their parents to decide what is appropriate for them.  The books are not responsible for being appropriate for every reader!!  The book can't decide this!
Pfenning said school library books are picked based on received proposals and input from the media center staff and administration at each school, but the school board doesn't necessarily have to approve every book on the shelf.
"The books put in the media centers are age appropriate. There's a difference between a book being used for instruction purposes and a book that's on media center shelves for student selection," she said.
Oh, the craziness of it all!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Youth Media Awards (January 10, 2011)

This Post is not about any book challenges.  Instead, this post is a celebration of excellent literature for young people as put forward by the American Library Association.  The following winners (not including Honor Books) are from their website.
John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature
“Moon over Manifest,” written by Clare Vanderpool, is the 2011 Newbery Medal winner. The book is published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children
“A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” illustrated by Erin E. Stead, is the 2011 Caldecott Medal winner. The book was written by Philip C. Stead, and is a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing.
Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults
“Ship Breaker,” written by Paolo Bacigalupi, is the 2011 Printz Award winner. The book is published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author of outstanding books for children and young adults
“One Crazy Summer,” written by Rita Williams-Garcia is the 2011 King Author Book winner. The book is published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Three King Author Honor Books were selected: “Lockdown,” by Walter Dean Myers and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; “Ninth Ward,” by Jewell Parker Rhodes and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.; and “Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty,” written by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke and published by Lee & Low Books Inc.
Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award recognizing an African American illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults
“Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, is the 2011 King Illustrator Book winner. The book was written by Laban Carrick Hill and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent (Author) Award
“Zora and Me,” written by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon, is the 2011 Steptoe author winner. The book is published by Candlewick Press.
Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent (Illustrator) Award
“Seeds of Change,” illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler, is the 2011 Steptoe illustrator winner. The book is written by Jen Cullerton Johnson and published by Lee & Low Books Inc.
Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime Achievement
Dr. Henrietta Mays Smith is the winner of the 2011 Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime achievement. The award pays tribute to the quality and magnitude of beloved children’s author Virginia Hamilton’s contributions through her literature and advocacy for children and youth.
Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience
“The Pirate of Kindergarten,” written by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Lynne Avril and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, wins the award for children ages 0 to 10. 
“After Ever After,” written by Jordan Sonnenblick and published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., is the winner of the middle-school (ages 11-13).
The teen (ages 13-18) award winner is “Five Flavors of Dumb,” written by Antony John and published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 
Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences
“The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel,” by Alden Bell, published by Holt Paperbacks, a division of Henry Holt and Company, LLC
“The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel,” by Aimee Bender, published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
“The House of Tomorrow,” by Peter Bognanni, published by Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of the Penguin Group
“Room: A Novel,” by Emma Donoghue, published by Little, Brown and Company a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
“The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel,” by Helen Grant, published by Delacorte, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
“The Radleys,” by Matt Haig, published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
“The Lock Artist,” by Steve Hamilton, published by Thomas Dunne Books for Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press
“Girl in Translation,” by Jean Kwok, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group
“Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard,” by Liz Murray, published by Hyperion
“The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To,” by DC Pierson, published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s video
Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly Ellard of Weston Woods, producers of “The Curious Garden,” are the Carnegie Medal winners. The video is based on the book of the same name, written and illustrated by Peter Brown, and is narrated by Katherine Kellgren, with music by David Mansfield. 
Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. The 2011 winner is Tomie dePaola, author and illustrator of over 200 books, including: “26 Fairmont Avenue” (Putnam, 1999), “The Legend of the Poinsettia” (Putnam, 1994), “Oliver Button Is a Sissy” (Harcourt, 1979) and “Strega Nona” (Prentice-Hall, 1975).
Margaret A. Edwards Award honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. 
Sir Terry Pratchett is the 2011 Edwards Award winner. His books include: “The amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents,” “The Wee Free Men,” and “A Hat Full of Sky” published by HarperCollins Children’s Books; and “The Color of Magic,” “Guards! Guards!,” “Equal Rites,” “Going Postal,” “Small Gods,” and “Mort” all published by HarperCollins Publishers.
May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children’s literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site
Peter Sís will deliver the 2012 lecture. Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1949, Sís attended the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and the Royal College of Art in London. He has lived in the United States since 1982. Sís was awarded the 2008 Robert F. Sibert Medal and has illustrated three Caldecott Honor books. Sís’ work is admired throughout the world, and in 2003 he was named MacArthur Fellow, an honor bestowed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children’s book translated from a language other than English and subsequently published in the United States
“A Time of Miracles” is the 2011 Batchelder Award winner. Originally published in French in 2009 as “Le Temps des Miracles,” the book was written by Anne-Laure Bondoux, translated by Y. Maudet, and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States
“The True Meaning of Smekday,” produced by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group, is the 2011 Odyssey Award winner. The book is written by Adam Rex and narrated by Bahni Turpin.
Pura Belpré (Author) Award honoring a Latino writer whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience
“The Dreamer,” written by Pam Muñoz Ryan, is the 2011 Belpré Author Award winner. The book is illustrated by Peter Sís and published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.
Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award honoring a Latino illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience
“Grandma’s Gift,” illustrated and written by Eric Velasquez, is the 2011 Belpré Illustrator Award winner. The book is published by Walker Publishing Company, Inc., a division of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.
Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children
“Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot,” written by Sy Montgomery, is the 2011 Sibert Award winner. The book features photographs by Nic Bishop and is published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award
“Almost Perfect,” written by Brian Katcher, published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. is the winner of the 2011 Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. The award is given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book
“Bink and Gollie,” written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee and illustrated by Tony Fucile is the 2011 Seuss Award winner. The book is published by Candlewick Press.
William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens
“The Freak Observer,” written by Blythe Woolston is the 2011 Morris Award winner. The book is published by Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group.
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults during a November 1 – October 31 publishing year.
“Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing,” written by Ann Angel, is the 2011 Excellence winner. The book is published by Amulet/Abrams. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Age appropriateness...

Christy Jordan, mother of a grade three student at Westside Elementary School in Brooksville, Florida, has challenged the appropriateness of having the novel Snakehead (Anthony Horowitz) in the school library.  Jeff Schmucker of Hernando Today writes:
After reading the back of the book, which is part of the "Alex Rider" series which focuses on a teenage spy, she said drug and weapons smuggling and gang violence is too much for any child to have access to at that age.
"I find it hard to believe that there's a book like that in an elementary school — much less allow third-graders to rent the book," Jordan said. "I thought we were trying to keep them away from all the violence and keep their innocence [for my views on childhood innocence, look here] for as long as we can. It's bad enough that us parents have to battle to keep them away from this stuff on TV, but now we have to battle with the school library?"
While I applaud Christy Jordan for taking an interest in her son's reading habits and for taking the time to find out information about the book, there are a number of issues here that I think make this challenge slightly ridiculous.  Jordan believes that the librarian should somehow be responsible for her son taking out an inappropriate book:
 "At the very least, if they're not going to take it off the shelves, I would at least like to see the librarians better check these books to see if they are appropriate," Jordan said, "and keep a better eye on what kinds of books kids are trying to check out."
But how is any librarian supposed to know what is appropriate for every student?  After the review committee met regarding the book, they brought to attention these facts about age appropriateness and the difficulties in deciding what is "good or bad" for readers of a certain age:
According to meeting notes, members noted that the book likely merits a PG-13 rating, has some "mature" content and, at the public library, is in the young adult section for ages 12 and older.
However, members also agreed that, although the book is not appropriate for children reading at a third-grade level, it is appropriate for children reading at a fifth-grade level.
Some pointed out that recommends the book for all children between 8 and 12 years old, while the School Library Journal review on recommends the book for fifth through 10th grades.
According to one review, then, Jordan's child is old enough, and according to another review, he is not. So the librarian should not be held responsible either. This is difficult, and I understand Jordan's predicament, but is this not the point at which she should talk to her son about appropriateness rather than trying to have the book removed from everyone else's grasp?

The other issue here is that the book was neither part of a classroom reading list, nor was it recommended to Jordan's son by a teacher or administrator.  He took it out of his own volition.  And why shouldn't he?  He thought it looked good.  And maybe if he'd been allowed to read it, he could have decided if he liked it or not, with his mother reading alongside.  Learning experience!  And it's not just me who thinks it this time:
"The parent, not the school, is responsible for censoring the books their child checks out from the media center," according to the meeting minutes.
So now, because Jordan was not satisfied with the review committee's decision, the book is under review by the highest levels at the school board to decide once and for all whether or not the book should remain on the library shelves.  I sincerely hope they do decide to keep it for obvious reasons (to me at least.)

I'm starting to wonder what the point of review committees are since they are so easily disregarded.  Parents in many cases don't get the answer they want, so they say there was bias, and then the case gets sent further on to the school board anyway.  Why not just have the school board form the reviewing panel to begin with?  This is starting to become a nuisance to me, so I'm going to leave it alone now.

What do you think about this one?  Whose responsibility is it to make sure a child brings home age appropriate material?  Or who should decide what is age appropriate in this case?  The mother?  The school library?  The school board?  The book reviewers?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Parents vs. Sex

When it comes to books and challenges to them, parents are the number one instigator and sex is the number one reason.  I am not making this up just for the heck of it either.  Below are two graphs from the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom in reference to Books Banned and Challenged over the last 20 years (1990-2009).  The first of these graphs shows the range of instigators that file challenges against certain books:

As you can see, the number one instigator is the parent.  In most of the post that I have written or reported on over the last year, most of them were started because a parent didn't happen to like what their child was reading.  Now let's look at the reasons for these challenges:

The top reason for challenging materials is sexuality.  If you combine sexism, sexually explicit material, sex education, nudity, and homosexuality, it accounts for 46% of all challenges over the 20 year period from 1990-2009.  And to top it off, most of these challenges (70%) are made in schools and school libraries, institutions that are supposed to teach our children about the wide scope of topics that they will encounter in life as they grow older.

What this says to me is that parents and schools have two very different agendas.  Schools, as I previously stated, are there to help children learn, which means exposing them to a plethora of ideas, topics, issues, and situations through literature, personal and historical accounts, and through the research of academics and teachers.  The role of parents is to provide a moral compass and a worldview through which children can encounter the things they will learn in school.  No teacher or school can teach all children according to all religious upbringings, or according to all different parental views on sex.  

And so, parents, please remember that schools are not trying recruit your children into lives of sexual promiscuity, or pushing a homosexual agenda, or whatever else you might believe.  They are providing examples of all the different and numerous ways in which sexuality can be lived and experienced.  And this is the same with books in general.  Don't get mad at the author for writing a book that speaks to people.  If you don't want your child reading "filth and depravity" as you might put it, then look at what they are reading first!  Or go to the library with your children.  Teach them how to look at things critically and with a good moral compass and you don't need to worry that they will get sucked into a life of debauchery because they were asked to read A Brave New World or that they will become racists because of Huckleberry Finn.

Please remember that many of these books are provocative and sexual for a reason: to teach about sex!  They are not giving examples of how to have sex (unless they are erotic novels or sex-ed materials), but are giving examples of the ways in which sex works in the lives of teenagers.  Usually there is a lesson in there (again, except for erotic novels.)

Perhaps I have ranted too much, or perhaps I have overstepped my bounds seeing as I'm not a parent.  But I know many parents and many children, and I work with young adult literature and see the ways that youth and teens react to and gain knowledge from these books.  Keep this in mind if your child brings home a book you don't approve of.  Review it.  Talk to your child about why you think it's not a particularly positive influence.  But don't--DON'T--go to the school or the school library and try to take that book from the hands of every other child there!

Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

That "N" word is at it again!

Today an article by Marc Schultz was posted on the Publishers Weekly site.  The post, titled “Upcoming NewSouth 'Huck Finn' Eliminates the 'N' Word,” has brought along a fun little storm of opinions.
I, for one, think that this is a difficult scenario to defend or attack.  On one hand, the book will become more accessible to certain classrooms and audiences that are more sensitive to the effects of words like “nigger.”  On the other hand, though, this eliminates part of the text that engages so many in conversations about these same effects on readers and society.  I can also see the appeal of a “clean” version of the book, especially with the rash of books being banned and challenged based on a single word choice.  Schultz writes:
Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of "all modern American literature." Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: "nigger."
Dr. Gribben, the man responsible for writing out this new version of the text, has decided to replace the dreaded “n” word with the much less explosive “slave.”  Many consider Twain’s work to be very much about race and it seems problematic to simply change a racial term to a term of social status, at least in some ways.
"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind," said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he's spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."
But this cleaning up has led to backlash amongst Twain scholars, including Thomas Wortham, at UCLA. 
[He] compared Gribben to Thomas Bowdler (who published expurgated versions of Shakespeare for family reading), telling [Publishers Weekly] that “a book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn't challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?' "
As I stated earlier in this post, another way of seeing this is that a wider audience might be reached because now those who would have the book disappear from the shelves may finally be willing to see their children read Mr. Twain.  The publisher of Dr. Gribben’s edition, NewShouth, takes this line of thinking:
the heart of the matter is opening up the novels to a much broader, younger, and less experienced reading audience: "Dr. Gribben recognizes that he's putting his reputation at stake as a Twain scholar," said La Rosa. "But he's so compassionate, and so believes in the value of teaching Twain, that he's committed to this major departure. I almost don't want to acknowledge this, but it feels like he's saving the books. His willingness to take this chance—I was very touched."
I have not yet decided if I fully support the idea of taking out the “n” word in order to reach a larger audience.  I like when a wide audience can be reached with literature, but I have a hard time believing that books should be changed from what they are in order to do so.  To remove or change words and language is to change meaning and understanding.  Sure some children may now be allowed to read the book, but their understanding will change with the new language, will it not?  The book will supposedly have a long and informative foreword to explain the change of words, but will this not plant the original word in people’s minds when they read the new version?  “Oh, that says ‘slave’ which means it originally said…”

What do you think about this?  Would you or will you read this new version?