Sunday, October 2, 2011

Banned Book Week: When Authors Speak Out

I've always wondered - what do authors do when someone tears their book apart? Not, how do they handle it emotionally. I'm pretty sure there aren't that many ways that can go. But what do authors do to fight back, without making themselves look foolish for doing so in the process?

I figure, it must take an awful lot of guts to stand up for their right to publish their stories as well as the rights for their readership's right to read what they want. That's why today I want to feature 3 different authors who have done so in a manner which, I really enjoyed. These videos and the one article I am featuring made me want to shout at my computer screen, "Yay! Good for you! I agree!"

Author #1: John Green

John Green's book Looking For Alaska (a Printz winner, by the way) was challenged in 2008. This video comes shortly after he found out what was happening in the public school which wanted to feature it as a unit in a class. (Note: since this video is from 2008, you don't have to send a letter to his email for him to forward on).

Author #2: Judy Blume

This video comes from the Banned Books Week channel on YouTube for 2011. Judy Blume's books have been frequently challenged. I love what she says here about how adult don't know they should be weary about a book until they are aware that many children across the board are enjoying it. A few other points, well said too.

Author #3: Sarah Ockler

Sarah Ockler's book Twenty Boy Summer was challenged last year (2010) and this is the article she wrote on her blog in response. I love what she says here because it shows just how much most reasonings for banning books are also attacks on the author's integrety and personality. That her book could be seen as pornographic is absurd, because obviously, she didn't set out to write a pornographic book for teens. The article is reprinted here with the permission of the author (Sarah Ockler). Thanks to Sarah for allowing me this opportunity to share some of her thoughts with my own readers. You can see the original post on her blog.

"I woke up this morning to the news that TWENTY BOY SUMMER, along with Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, has been officially banned from the Republic, Missouri school district.
That’s right, the crazy train has finally derailed. You all might remember the SpeakLoudly issue from last fall, as it took up lots of blog space here after the book was initially challenged in the district by Wesley Scroggins, a parent whose own kids don’t even go to the public school, along with Vonnegut’s book and Laurie Halse Anderon’s beautiful novel, SPEAK.

Not surprisingly, the whole thing caused a major uproar (particularly among the great citizens of Republic, most of whom find Scroggins’ actions as deplorable as I do). But that was just a challenge. Last night, nearly a year after the challenge was issued, after convening committees and discussion groups and who knows what else, the board made their decision. SPEAK stays (thankfully!), but Vonnegut and I are out. You can read the whole article in the News-Leader, but here are a few juicy tidbits:
“We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues. Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness,” [Superintendent Vern Minor] said.
Minor also stated:
“Most schools stay away from this and they get on this rampage, the whole book-banning thing, and that’s not the issue here. We’re looking at it from a curriculum point of view.”
Um, okay. Let’s just get this on the record right now: Twenty Boy Summer was never part of the curriculum. It was simply available in the school library for students to check out and read on their own time. So clearly, this wasn’t about the curriculum.
The article goes on:
Minor said feedback [from the committee] for “Twenty Boy Summer,” available in the library, focused on “sensationalizing sexual promiscuity.” He said questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents and a lack of remorse by the characters led to the recommendation.
“I just don’t think it’s a good book. I don’t think it’s consistent with these standards and the kind of message that we want to send,” he said. “…If the book had ended on a different note, I might have thought differently.”
So… just so I’m clear on this (forgive me for not catching on right away — I’m a little slow, since my brain is so addled by the long hard hours it puts in each day devising ways to sensationalize sexual promiscuity and questionable language and whatnot), you’re staying out of a discussion about moral issues, yet stating that if the characters in Twenty Boy Summer had been remorseful about sex, language, or lying to parents, then you might have thought differently? That it’s not consistent with messages you want to send?

Again, I’m a little fuzzy on how morals work, obviously, since I’m so busy making sure my books influence teens not to have any morals, but… how is that not a moral discussion? How is that not a moral judgment?

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more. I get that my book isn’t appropriate for all teens, and that some parents are opposed to the content. That’s fine. Read it and decide for your own family. I wish more parents would do that — get involved in their kids’ reading and discuss the issues the books portray. But don’t make that decision for everyone else’s family by limiting a book’s availability and burying the issue under guise of a “curriculum discussion.”

But you all know my views on banning books — any books. What I really want to say today is this (close your eyes, Dr. Scroggins, as you’ll likely find this content alarming):

Not every teen who has sex or experiments with drinking feels remorseful about it. Not every teen who has sex gets pregnant, gets someone pregnant, or contracts an STD. Not every teen who has sex does so while in a serious relationship. Not every teen who has sex outside of a relationship feels guilty, shameful, or regretful later on. And you can ban my books from every damn district in the country — I’m still not going to write to send messages or make teens feel guilty because they’ve made choices that some people want to pretend don’t exist.

That’s my choice. And I’ll never be ashamed of my choice to write about real issues."

So tell me, what are some other articles or videos by authors that you feel did a particularly good job at discussing the issue of their books being challenged? What do you think of the one's which I've presented you here?

Just a note: I will be calculating the winner of this week's Banned Books Giveaway Hop today and will be announcing the tommorrow along with a note on how I feel in general about banning books. So please stay tuned for one last Banned Books post!

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