Banning Books Blows: Bad news in Texas

Catching up on blog reading, I came across bad book news about my old stompin’ grounds of East Texas in this Bookshelves of Doom post. Turns out that a superintendent in Quitman, Texas (not far from where I grew up), decided to pull Carolyn Mackler’s Vegan Virgin Valentine from the middle-school library shelves after a parent complained. The good news: the school board decided to buy out the superintendent’s contract (although they didn’t explicitly say that it was in response to this action). The bad news: many people in this community and beyond still think “books like” Vegan Virgin Valentine don’t belong in schools.

From trolling a few of the East Texas media items (like this one and this one), it seems like the responses that are in favor of the superintendent’s actions assume that the offended individuals are somehow speaking up for “the values of the community,” as if these were monolithic. The best response to this assumption I’ve come across is in Barbara Caridad Ferrer’s post on the exclusion of Chris Abani’s Graceland from a summer reading list based on one parent’s complaint:

if this parent objects to the material so much, then fine. Find an alternative. There were three books on that list; students were to read two of them. […] Because of this woman’s complaints, the book has been removed not only from Mandarin High’s reading lists, but the whole of Duval County […] Seriously, this woman has no business dictating that my kid cannot read this book just because she found it objectionable. That’s my decision and I would resent like hell anyone laying down that sort of dictum. My kid, my decision. Better still, since we’re talking about a teenager, My kid, our decision. 

That last bit is really important. Because difficult books (and other media) provide opportunities for families to have important discussions. This, in my opinion, is the appropriate model for involved parents: read with your teens. Speaking of which, Carolyn Mackler, the “offending” author in the Quitman case, is wonderfully supportive of parent-teen book groups as you can see here.

Another recent instance of resistance to the idea that YA fiction may contain challenging content: Ellen Hopkins was kicked out of a Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas because one middle-school librarian objected to her influence. Ellen has an excellent post about this maddening situation. Here’s what she says about the importance of books that push the envelope and address issues like drug addiction and teen prostitution:

I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day. An author who tries to dissect those problems, look for reasons, suggest solutions, show outcomes to choices through characters who walk off the page. I’m an author who cares about her readership in a very real way. I am thoughtful, respectful of my readers, and not afraid to tell the truth.

That is what censors fear. The truth. […] The truth may not always be pretty, but it is positive. What’s negative is hiding truth in a dark closet, pretending it doesn’t exist. 

Author Carrie Ryan takes a strong stance against censorship in this post on why teens need books that show broken, imperfect lives.

Maybe we need to have more faith in teens that reading a book won’t brainwash them.  That maybe instead it will expand their horizons. And maybe as the adults of the world that’s our job – to show them the world and be there to answer questions and support them.

I get it. […] It’s easier to believe that teens aren’t dealing with these difficult issues.  What parents want to introduce their precious child to all the bad things in this world?  What father wants to explain what rape is?

But I need to make this clear, and this comes from my experience and from my friends experiences and from the teens I’ve talked to: this stuff happens.  And it happens to teens and tweens far younger than any of us would ever want to contemplate.  They deal with these issues whether we want them to or not.  This is life and life can really suck and it can be messy and dangerous and sad.  And hiding from it doesn’t make it go away.

My conclusion: the books that most offend some adults may be the very ones that teens most need to be able to find on the shelves. Want more resources to battle censorship? Check out the National Coalition against Censorship and George Suttle’s page on all things related to censorship and free speech.  


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