Zombie versus Unicorns Banned in Texas

It’s Banned Books Week and today I discovered via Texas ACLU’s annual banned book report that mine and Holly Black‘s Zombies versus Unicorns has been banned there. I immediately tweeted about it. Proudly because also on the list is one of the best writers of all time: Shirley Jackson. Also I have many Texas connections, including a husband, so I kind of feel like an honorary Texan. Not to mention: I adore Texan librarians. They are seriously the best.

The responses I got were divided between Woo hoos! and people worried that the people of Texas could no longer get hold of the books on the list. So here are my quick responses.

As far as I know states in the USA no longer ban books. Nor does the government of the USA. This list of the top ten banned books in Texas is of those removed from schools in Texas. It’s also not just a top ten list it’s the list of all books that were banned in Texas in 2012-13. That’s right only ten were banned. Book bannings are actually going down in Texas. ZvU was only banned from one school. See how misleading my headline for this post is?

Don’t get me wrong though even one book banned is one book too many.

Throughout the USA I have only had my books banned from a handful of schools and from a juvenile detention centre. That I know of.

The “that I know of” is the key part. Books are banned from schools all the time in the USA but often we never hear about it. I only know about ZvU being banned because of Texas ACLU’s report on it. It’s the reason we have Banned Books Week so that the fact that books are being banned in this day and age is known about, so that we can fight back.

There’s a common misapprehension that a book being banned is a license to print money. Au contraire. A book being banned is a loss of sales. It means that book is not being stocked in that school’s library or taught at that school. So there are no sales of that book to that school.

Mostly when a book is banned it quietly disappears from the shelves without so much as a murmur. And even when a book’s banning is widely publicised it doesn’t necessarily lead to increased sales. Many of my author friends have had books banned with loads of publicity and yet they all report the banning of their books had little or no impact on sales.

So while we authors joke about wishing we were banned the sad truth is all we get out of it is disappeared books and dubious bragging rights.

One of the best things you can do to fight back is to go out and buy or borrow one of those banned books. Talk about the banning of books with your friends. Kick up a stink when you hear about a book being banned from your school.

Let books roam free!

More Book Banning Idiocy

There’s been yet another attempt to ban Maureen Johnson‘s The Bermudez Triangle. They claim the book is salacious, racy, rude, and saucy. This is flat out not true. Banning Bermudez for sexual content is utterly absurd because there is no sexual content in The Bermudez Triangle.

These banners either have a) the worst comprehension skills on the planet or b) they’re lying about why they want to ban the book.

I suspect b) though it could be both. I think the reason they really want to ban Bermudez is that in it two girls fall in love. The most these two girls do is hold hands and kiss. If they were a boy and a girl no book banner would go after The Bermudez Triangle. It would not be a blip on their radar. The same is true of many YA books with gay or lesbian protags. It doesn’t matter how clean those books are. Homophobic bookbanners still go after them.

More insidious though is the fact that many libraries in more conservative parts of the country don’t order books like The Bermudez Triangle or David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy in the first place. They’re not banned because they never make it into the library. Given the shrinking budgets libraries are facing all over the country I get why librarians would want to spend the little money they have on books that won’t set off the local bookbanners.

But it’s a huge shame. I’ve seen some of the letters Maureen and David get from teen readers of their books. Readers thanking them for showing them that they’re not alone, giving them the courage to come out, for making their lives more tolerable.

Those letters are moving and beautiful and explain why our jobs as YA writers can be so much more than writing entertaining stories.

Censorship

There’s a wonderful article over at School Library Journal by Debra Lau Whelan, which says in public what many YA writers talk about amongst themselves all the time. Namely how pervasive censorship is in our field and not just in the obvious book-challenge way:

    Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.

Self-censorship happens all along the way as a YA book wends its way into print. It starts with the author thinking long and hard about content that might set of censors. The article quotes David Levithan who

    says he intentionally wrote Boy Meets Boy as clean as possible so that if the book were ever challenged, the only logical reason would be because it features “happy gay characters in love.”

Then there’s our editors asking us to change content for various reasons such as the hope that the book will then be picked up by the Scholastic book club. I was asked not to use any swear words in Magic or Madness, which I did, not realising that “shit” is considered by some in the US to be a very bad swear word. To this Australian it’s pretty much invisible. I was asked to take it out, which I did, but crankily.1 Scholastic did not pick up the book and after that my editors were less fussed about the occasional use of the word “shit”.2

I have heard of writers being asked by editors whether certain characters really need to be gay/black/foul-mouthed/religious. As well as many other editorial changes I consider to be outside an editor’s remit. The good news is that in all those cases the writer stood by what they thought was right for their books and their editors were fine with it. Ah, the power of STET.

Then there’s national chains deciding to not take on a book. Mostly they do this for purely commercial considerations: because previous books by that author have not sold well. But I have heard of instances where books are not ordered by the chains because of “content”.3 Books can be killed stone-cold dead that way.

Then there’s the librarians not ordering the books for fear of parental complaints. As Lau Whelan points out that fear is real:

    There have been enough cases of librarians losing their jobs or facing the threat of losing employment while defending the freedom to read that ALA has created the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund to help pay for fees and expenses associated with these First Amendment clashes, says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. Although information about these grants is confidential, dozens have been awarded since the fund was created in 1970.

    During this time of severe budget cuts and job losses, media specialists are choosing their battles carefully. “Each librarian has had to reflect on his or her own situation to determine if they can afford to speak up for their beliefs,” says Vicki Palmquist, cofounder of the Children’s Literature Network, an organization that connects authors, educators, publishers, and others in the world of kid lit. “They may be sole income earners, parents, [or someone] dependent on medical insurance.”

Several friends have had their books banned. In none of those cases did it lead to increased sales of the books. As they helped the local librarians to battle the challenge to their books they dealt with a tonne of hate mail and in one case death threats. It’s stressful and awful and goes on and on and on. And it’s even worse for the librarian who’s fighting the good fight because they live in that community. They are seeing the people who want to ban that particular book almost every day. Talk about stress. Not to mention that, yes, sometimes they lose their jobs over it.

I have said many times that you can write about whatever you want to write about in YA. That’s absolutely true. But there are consequences. Writing a book where teenagers really talk the way so many of them talk, where they have sex, take drugs, fall in love with someone who’s the same sex as them etc. etc. means that it will be labelled as a 14+ book. I’ve even seen 15+ used as a label in the US. That label means that several of the big discount/supermarket chains probably won’t stock it. Not unless it gets made into a movie. It also means there are many school libraries that won’t order it. You’re reducing your books chances of success by including “content”.

The shame of it is that most teenagers and children are really good at deciding what to read. If a book is too much for them the vast majority simply put it down. Also, like John Green, I believe that many teenagers can totally cope with content their parents may think is too much for them. I’ve seen it again and again. That kids who attend a school whose library will not shelve Looking for Alaska or Tyrell because of “content” are happily letting their kids read King Lear.

I met many teens on tour last year who loved Octavian Nothing. I met two rabid Margo Lanagan fans. Both are writers adults routinely dismiss as being too much for teens. I think something that gets frequently lost in all these debates about what YA books should or shouldn’t be about is that teens aren’t all exactly the same. Just like adults, really. No YA book works for every single teen. Nor should it.

I have had many teens write and thank me for the very content that adults have objected to. I’m sorry that I’ve offended those adults but I’m thrilled that my books have been important to those teens. They’re who I write for.

  1. And not very successfully: the word appears four times in Magic or Madness. Three times in reference to the actual substance. As in bat shit and dog shit. And then Jay Tee says that Reason doesn’t know “jack about shit”. []
  2. And despite one negative review of the trilogy by an adult which claimed the books are full of swearing, “shit” remains the strongest swear word in the series. It’s used three times in Magic Lessons and ten times in Magic’s Child. Not exactly a swear fest. Especially as many of those occurrences are referring to the actual substance as produced by bats. []
  3. Don’t you find that hilarious? “Content” being used to mean stuff that might shock some people? It leads to bizarre sentences where people praise books for having no content. Er, excuse me? []

Zombies! + book divas + banned books week

It is with great sadness that I realise I haven’t posted about zombies in ages. That’s SO wrong. Fortunately, Cecil Castellucci sent me a link to this science article all about how we all have an inner zombie:

[S]tarting in the late 1960s, psychologists and neurologists began to find evidence that our self-aware part is not always in charge. Researchers discovered that we are deeply influenced by perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and desires about which we have no awareness. Their research raised the disturbing possibility that much of what we think and do is thought and done by an unconscious part of the brain—an inner zombie.

Notice that it’s not an inner uni***n; it’s an inner zombie. I think that proves once and for all time that zombies are more powerful, interesting and make for way better metaphors than smelly old uni***ns.

Take that, Holly Black!

I am now off to Michigan to talk about the glories of zombies fairies with the locals. Posting may be erratic for the next few days. Though I will, as usual, do my valiant best to post every day.

I will also be popping in to chat at Book Divas this week: 29 September through to 6 October. So if you’re a member or want to join do go check it out. I will answer any question you might have. Any question at all!

Today, or, oops, yesterday is also the first day of Banned Books Week. Maureen Johnson has a fabulous post about it over at YA for Obama, with which I agree entirely. On some topics she’s completely wrong but when it comes to banning books and zombies you can totally trust her.

Go forth and read a banned book!

John Green = pornographer? Not!

Just wanted to add my voice to the zillions declaring that John Green is not a pornographer. Well, at least, not the John Green who wrote Looking for Alaska. There may be another one somewhere who is. I can not speak for all John Greens.

Maureen says it best:

In case you have never read Looking for Alaska, I’ll tell you what happens in the scene that likely caused the drama. Pudge, the main character, has one of his first sexual experiences in the book—and it does not go well, largely because neither he nor the girl he has with really have any idea what they are doing. It is a funny scene which shows just how awkward some of these moments in life can be. But it does have some sexual interaction in it, albeit of a very poor quality. It has human body parts.

Having discussed this scene many times with John, I know he finds these complaints to be ridiculous. Because that scene in Looking for Alaska? It’s pretty much the opposite of pornographic. It’s fumbling and embarrassing and hilarious. It’s not cool. It’s not slick. You don’t read it and think, “I want to do something JUST LIKE THAT.”

John Green tells the whole story—the book is being taught to eleventh graders who need a signed permission letter from their parents and it’s the parent of a ninth graders who’s trying to stop John’s book being taught at all—and defends himself most excellently and wittily here. If you want to help here’s what you can do:

There are many supporters of the book among teachers, administrators, librarians, and the school board in Depew.1 To help them, I’m asking people to email letters of support for the book at sparksflyup–at–gmail.com.

Also, if you live in Depew, the book will be discussed at the Depew Board of Education meeting on February 5th at the Depew High School Auditorium at 7 PM.

I’m writing one right now.

  1. Where the book is being challenged. []

Sex

Certain folks are uncomfortable with books aimed at teenagers depicting them thinking about or, even worse, having sex.

Problem is many many teenagers think about sex. Quite a lot of the time. And way more of them have sex than most people are comfortable with. In the US of A a rather large percentage of teenage girls wind up pregnant. Last time I looked it was a bigger percentage than any other first world country.

Yet the US of A is the first world country most concerned about books that address these issues. More books are banned here than anywhere else in the western world. And a fair few of them are banned for “inappropriate content” which often enough boils down to sex.

This is the great dilemma of writing for teenagers: the tension between writing to reflect teenage experience or writing to be instructive and good for teenagers. I think teen books that don’t touch on sex in some way are fundamentally dishonest to the experience of being a teenager.

Afterall, even those teens who have no interest in sex are wondering why they’re not like everybody else. They’re getting hassled by their peers for not dating. Sometimes their parents are worried about them too.

Sex is inescapable. And restricting a teenager’s reading to Anne of Green Gables (which, by the way, is kind of a sexy book) and their viewing to the Disney channel is not going to stop them from thinking about it and wondering about it, but it may well keep them from useful information that could help them. And from finding books that reflect who they are.

Cause that’s one of the many fabulous things books do: reflect who we are back at us. Let us know that we’re not alone, we’re not a weirdo (or, at least, not that weird), that there are other people who look like us, think like us, and who are freaked out by the stuff that freaks us out.

The idea of sex is scary and weird and compelling and dangerous and funny—so’s the idea of becoming a grown up. There are teen books that cover almost every possible permutation of that strangeness. That is a good thing.

It seems to me that the tension I mentioned above—between writing to reflect teenage experience or writing to be instructive and good for teenagers—isn’t really a tension. Because if you write well, if you manage to reflect some teen experience and tell a compelling story—story’s key!—then odds are that the book is “good” for them and for any adult who reads it. But not good in a castor oil way. Not good in a what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-grow kind of way.

Meg Cabot’s All American Girl: Ready or Not tackles the whole when-to-have-sex thing. It’s light and funny and I raced through it. Sarah Zarr’s Story of A Girl deals with early sex (the girl is thirteen) with a manipulative older boy (seventeen) and the consequences (she’s branded a slut by her father and everyone at school; the boy goes about his life with no ill effects). In their own way both books are powerful and moving—Cabot’s made me laugh; Zarr’s made me cry—and I wish they’d been around for me to read as a teenager.

I do believe that writers for teenagers have a special duty of care, but then I believe that for all writers: we should strive to get it right, to be honest to the emotions and experiences we’re writing about. We don’t all of us manage it all of the time, but we bloody well try.

The F-bomb

USians sometimes talk about the “f-bomb”. A euphemism I heard for the very first time last year from a librarian whose full time job is to fight censorship. We were on a panel (at WisCon) discussing book banning and censorship in front of an audience of adults. I was the moderator and in my introduction I used quite a few of the words that are likely to cause a book aimed at teenagers to run into trouble. It didn’t occur to me not to given that the panel started at 10PM and was in front of an audience of adults.

For less than a second all the air went out of the room.

And then the librarian laughed and said as how she had been tiptoeing around those words for so long that she could no longer say them out loud. Everyone else laughed too.

You’ll notice I’m not using any of them in this post either. That’s because I happen to know that some of the readers of this blog would be offended and I do not wish to offend them.

Chris Crutcher in his keynote speech at the Humble Teen Literature Festival last February eloquently defended his use of “cuss words” (tee hee! Sorry, it just makes me giggle) in his books without using any, but making it clear which ones he was talking about. It made me wonder what the difference is between making it clear what the word you’re not saying is and simply saying that word. It’s obviously a huge one because I’m pretty certain that if Chris Crutcher deployed any of those words in his speeches he would not get as many speaking gigs as he gets and he would lessen his power in the fight against censorship.

Ironic, innit?

I happen to like swearing. Some of my favourite words are offensive to many people. And so are those of Chris Crutcher and Holly Black. The enjoyment comes not from the shock value. Frankly, none of my friends or family are offended by swearing. The pleasure is from—to borrow a term from the land of wine and food lovers—the mouth feel.

I love the way many rude words feel in my mouth. I love their explosiveness. I love to use them as punctuation, as intensifiers, as poetry, as song.

I love getting creative with my swearing. I love using old standards. I love the age of these words. The majority of the rudest words in English go back to the beginnings of the language. I love that feeling of longevity. Words like these have been exploding out of people’s mouths for centuries.

I would love to write a book for teens that used the kind of language that I hear them use every day. That I use every day. I would love to capture those rhythms and cadences. But such a book would probably not get published.

I’d also love to write a book that did everything I want it to: was exciting, dramatic, moving, fun, and populated with recognisably teen characters but also managed to not offend anyone. What would such a book look like?

There would be no swear words in it. Everyone would speak uncolloquially and without grammatical errors. Characters would only fall in love with people of the opposite sex and same race and religion, yet they would not have sex. They would not smoke or lie or cheat.

But I know people who are offended by books that create worlds in which the ten per cent of the population that isn’t heterosexual do not exist.

I’m not sure a book that offends no one is possible. After all, I’m deeply offended by unicorns and by books in which the heroine keeps falling over and has to be rescued by the big handsome hero. That’s right, passive heroines drive me spare. But lots of other people just gobble them up.

I do not wish to have those books banned. I just wish people wouldn’t gobble them up. I also wish never to be subjected to the foul smells of coffee, petrol and perfume ever again, but I don’t fancy my chances.

I don’t want to offend anyone but as long as I’m writing books I don’t see how I can avoid it.

Top 10 Reasons Banning Books is a Bad Idea

10. It upsets the writers what wrote the books.

9. It upsets the readers what want to read the books.

8. It makes the books cry and books are very sensitive.

7. If you really want people not to read a book, banning it will have the opposite effect.

6. If the content of a book offends you there are more effective ways to deal with your offendedness. Like, you know, engaging with it. Maureen Dowd’s columns frequently drive me spare, but I don’t try to get them banned, I argue against them.

5. Besides banning books does not make them go away. Just ask Chris Crutcher.

4. Banning books might make you feel like you’re in control, but it actually screams of lack of control. You think you can control input but you can’t. Banned books have a way of being passed around mightily and promoted during banned book week and gaining a whole other life they might not otherwise have had.

3. Banning books, you know, it kind of doesn’t encourage literacy. Last time I looked literacy was a good thing that goes hand in hand with increased life expectancy, education, living standards. Little stuff like that.

2. It’s a short step from banning books to wanting to burn ‘em. People who burn books, well that is not company you want to keep.

1. Book banning clashes with everything in your wardrobe. Every. Single. Thing.

Yes, we are in Paris

But I want to update you on the Bermudez Triangle liberation efforts. As I mentioned it was banned. Maureen Johnson, its wonderful author, has just posted about the campaign to get it put back on the library shelves with some truly excellent suggestions of what we can do to help.

And John Green has posted his letter protesting the banning. If you felt like doing the same thing, the email addresses are over here.

One of the librarians from Bartlesville’s public library, Beth Degeer, has also written a wonderful letter to the local newspaper.

I must dash—I’m about to have lunch with Scott and one of our wonderful French publishers.

My quick verdict on Paris thus far: Gorgeous! Yummy! Mmmmmm!

Paris, noon, 2 May 2007

Another book banned (updated)

Maureen Johnson‘s excellent and extremely clean (no sex or violence) book, The Bermudez Triangle has just been banned in a school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma because it is about (among many other things) two girls who fall in love.

A parent read it, hated it and complained, demanding it be removed from the shelves and suggested the bible as a replacement. I’m very fond of the bible myself, but it has way more sex and violence than Maureen’s book. There’s incest in the bible, people!

There’s also excellent bits like this:

“There is no longer male nor female, bond nor free, Jew nor Gentile, for we are all equal in Jesus Christ.”

—Galatians 3:28

I believe that includes homosexuals as well as heterosexuals.

If anyone who reads this is from Bartlesville, Oklahoma and cares about first amendment rights, you are in a position to be able to complain to the school and to the local newspapers. I really hope you will. Bermudez Triangle is a lovely warm book about the importance of friendship.

For the rest of us, I think now would be a really good time to invest in a copy of Maureen’s book. She’s a wonderful writer and it’s a wonderful book.

Update: Maryrose Wood eloquently explains what the first amendment means when a book is banned in the US of A.

Zombies, unicorns, scrotum (updated)

What have I started? Arguments about the relative merits of zombies and unicorns rage across the intramanets. And on each thread someone suggests the zombie-unicorn hybrid. Great minds think alike? Or fools seldom differ?

I was greatly distressed that lovely friends of mine like Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci, Meg McCarron and Literaticat have fallen pray to the false glittery charms of unicorns despite the fact that being virgin fascists unicorns would have nothing to do with them. I guess it falls into the whole desiring-what-you-can’t-have camp. Perhaps to resolve our issues Holly and I should collaborate on a Zombies vesus Unicorns novel? I will write the zombies and she can have the unicorns. Though I’m not sure how well that will work given that she won’t read about zombies and I won’t read about unicorns.

Some school librarians are saying that they won’t have Susan Patron’s Newbery Award-winning novel, THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, in their library because it contains the word “scrotum” (in reference to a dog). Apparently “scrotum” is an offensive word. I had no idea. I thought it was an anatomical term for a part of the male body. I’ve never heard anyone use it as a swear word and I come from a swearing people.

The New York Times also covers the story but seems to think that authors sneak words like “scrotum” into their novels solely to offend.1 Um, what now? Rosemary Graham responds eloquently to the extremely unbalanced Times coverage. The best reporting on the whole story can be found at Publishers Weekly which points out the role Jordan Sonnenblick and Asif! had in drawing attention to it.

I write novels to tell the best stories I can for teenagers. I try very hard to write characters who are believeable and I choose the language they use accordingly. I do not set out to offend anyone. I’m sorry when that happens, but I’m not going to write less believable stories in order not to offend people. That leads to the worst possible kind of censorship: When you start second-guessing yourself. Can I use the word “pom”? No, that will offend English people. Can I use the word “pink”? No, that will offend pink-haters (and possibly also pink-lovers). How about “jasmine”? No, Margo Lanagan will come gunning for me. When does it end?

Librarians and school librarians in particular have an incredibly hard job. I admire them tremendously. I just wish we were living in a world where people’s response to being offended was to talk about why, to explain the history and context of the word, and how that has made it offensive to them, rather than trying to wipe the books that contain the word off the face of the earth. I mean I am not advocating banning books about unicorns. I just won’t blurb them.

As soon as it is warm enough to go outside I’m off to buy a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky from my local children’s bookshop.

Update: Scott adds his two cents’ worth.

  1. For the record, if concerned adults can find the naughty words we wicked authors sneak into our books then we clearly haven’t been sneaky enough. []

More on banned books week

Us Asif! authors have been chatting more than a little about the whole books-being-banned situation and we don’t always agree. Some of us do think there are books that are inappropriate for kids. For instance, I would not be totally wild about a ten-year-old reading the Marquis de Sade.

On the other hand, when I was ten I picked up Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (I blame my parents!) and promptly put it back down ’cause it was not only gross, it was really really really boring. I read it again in my late teens and had the exact same response. I imagine the ten-year-old me would have had the same response to the Marquis. As a kid, much like the kid in The Princess Bride, I skipped all the kissing bits. Boooring!

nullMost of us Asifers agree that there are books that kids shouldn’t be reading, but none of us can agree on what those books are or what the magic age of being able to read “adult” stuff is. I read and loved Alexander Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet at an early age, along with a slew of other “inappropriate” books. I think it had no ill effects on me (others may disagree).

The problem with the banning of books in the US of A is that there are different rules in every state. Hell, there are different rules in every school. In a lot of cases individual principals (head masters) and school librarians are removing books from shelves, or not ordering them in the first place.

Now, obviously school librarians need a certain amount of discretion. They have budgets. They can’t buy every book and it’s their job to buy books that are appropriate for their students. You can’t do that without making judgements.

The school librarians and principals are the ones on the frontline. They’re the ones dealing with parental complaints. They’re the ones looking at catalogues and deciding what to order. If their school is in a particularly conservative area they might see a book titled Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs fall in love listed as a middle grade book and decide that ordering it just isn’t worth the grief, no matter how tame the content.

As it happens that’s exactly what’s happened to Maryrose Wood’s book despite it being as pure as the driven snow and its title being the raunchiest thing about it. And yet the title fits the book to a tee. Should her publishers have called it something else? Should people read books before they rush to ban ‘em?

Is banning books ever a good idea? How about just limiting access? There are some kids who are horribly freaked out by books. I babysat for this one little boy and if I read him stories that were even a teeny tiny bit scary he would not be able to sleep for a few nights. When he was a little older and reading on his own, Grimm’s fairy tales deprived him of sleep for weeks. He wasn’t ready for it and was a much happier and saner kid when he stuck to sport and pony books.

But there are young kids who adore the scary stuff. Why should they be deprived of their reading pleasure cause some other kid is scared by the same books? Kids mature at different rates. One size really does not fit all. And besides, that kid I babysat for—he self-regulated. He stopped reading the fairy tales after the first two. Every time he decided a book was scary he stopped reading. I suspect a lot of kids do the same thing.

So usually it’s not a question about what a kid does or doesn’t want to read; it’s about what their parents do or don’t want them to read. And, yes, parents have every right to do that. But they do not have every right to regulate what all the kids at their child’s school can read.

And, frankly, I worry about parents who are that controlling. When I was in primary school one of my friends was not allowed to read any books her olds deemed sexist or racist. So she read those forbidden books (mostly by Enid Blyton) over at my place and we’d pretend to be members of the Famous Five (with huge fights over who got to be George) or pretend we were in boarding school at Mallory Towers and have midnight feasts (though sadly we never managed to stay up till midnight for them).

Forbidding her those books and not allowing her to watch television did not protect her from racism or sexism. It just made the forbidden items more desirable. It’s incredibly hard to control the cultural artefacts your child comes into contact with and even harder to control what they make of them.

I understand the impulse, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. (I also understand why authors feel compelled to respond to bad reviews.) I also wonder what exactly is the harm that parents think their child will contract from reading books they deem “inappropriate”. Is it a bid to put off having awkward conversations? To protect the child from how foul the world is? Is it an attempt to mould your children in your own image? (Good luck with that, by the way.)

What do you lot reckon?

Banned books week

It’s banned books week, people. Check out the following links and then go out and adopt a banned book. Bring it home, love it, read it, blog about it. Encourage others to love the many banned books.

Here are banned books links courtesy of the lovely E. Lockhart:

Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century (2000-2005)

The fabulous asif site. I’m a proud member of Asif!

Badges (buttons) and other images you can use.

The Freedom to Read foundation.

1. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee
2. GEOGRAPHY CLUB, by Brent Hartinger
3. THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry
4. THE STORY OF LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, by Helen Bannerman, Christopher H. Bing (Illus.)
5. THE BLUEST EYE, by Toni Morrison
6. BRAVE NEW WORLD, by Aldous Huxley
7. FOREVER, by Judy Blume
8. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSPHER’S STONE, by J.K. Rowling
9. WE, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
10. WHALE TALK, by Chris Crutcher

My favourite banned book at this exact moment in time is To Kill A Mockingbird if only to make Truman Capote turn in his grave.

What’s your favourite banned book? Don’t forget you can find longer lists here.

The goddesses of the CCBC

Scott and me were taken out for lunch by the lovely women of the CCBC, Hollis, Katy, Megan and Merri. We talked graphic novels, manga, YA books and censorship and much fun was had.

My favourite moment was Megan or Merri’s (I’m jetlagged and can’t remember which) anecdote about a twelve-year old asking to borrow a newly arrived library book because the cover so appealed to her. The book was M. E. Kerr’s Deliver Us From Evie. Evie of the title is a seventeen-year old lesbian; the girl wanting to borrow the book was from a very conservative rural family. So the school librarian looked at the girl desperately keen to read the book and imagined the outrage that would result when her parents found she had read such a book and hesitated. Is this worth my job? she wondered. But she gave the girl the book because it’s not her job to say what the girl can and can’t read. If the girl’s parents didn’t like it and raised a fuss the librarian would deal with it then.

Sure enough next morning when she got to work there was the girl waiting for her. “I have to talk to you about that book.”

Oh no, thought the librarian. “Well,” she said. “What did you think?”

“It was the best book about farming I’ve read in my entire life. Thank you so much!”

It’s a lovely example of what is so often forgotten in debates about what children and teenagers should and shouldn’t be allowed to read: people don’t always read books in the same way.1 Sometimes kids (and adults) don’t even notice the stuff that is outraging others. Me, I still can’t figure out how Harry Potter encourages Satan worship . . .

I left lunch with many other ace anecdotes about being on the frontlines in the battle against censorship (which I will ruthlessly exploit for Saturday’s panel on Banned & Censored books) as well as lots and lots of reading recommendations. It was very inspiring. Thank you, all. You’re goddesses!

  1. When I was still in primary school I read The Alexandrian Quartet by Alexander Lawrence [I'm jetlagged, okay?] Durrell. One of the the books is called Justine. I loved it, but whoooosh did a lot of it go soaring over my head. I certainly didn’t notice any of the sex. []

ASIF! hits PW

The newly-minted organisation ASIF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom) has just gotten coverage in the source of all publishing news , Publishers Weekly.

We also now have our mission statement:

AS IF! champions those who stand against censorship, especially of books for and about teens.

I’ve never had a mission statement before. I feel very superhero-y all of a sudden. Yay us! Maybe we need capes?