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I’d really like to ban the term “self-censorship” from discourse, given that we already have a spectrum of words–from “prudence” to “cowardice”–that say more precisely what we mean, and because it causes us to be confused about what censorship actually is.
As Megan Schliesman at Reading While White posted last week, the discussion about A Birthday Cake for George Washington is not about censorship. People talking about what’s wrong with the book are not censors; people saying it will damage children are not censors; Scholastic deciding to cease the book’s distribution is not censorship. Hell, somebody buying a copy of the book only in order to consign it to a bonfire is not censorship. (I think I told you guys I did this once, with a Sidney Sheldon book whose utter disregard for logical plot construction and consistent characterization caused me to pitch it into the fireplace by which I was reading. It felt naughty.)
Censorship happens when the government–and this includes public libraries–gets into the business of restricting access to information. As far as A Birthday Cake for George Washington is concerned, it would be censorship if a library that held a copy decided to restrict readership to adults, for example, or removed it from the collection on the basis of its being “offensive” or “harmful to children.” It is also censorship if a public library decided not to purchase the book on the grounds that it is offensive or harmful, or if the library thinks it will get into trouble with those who find it so. This is of course very tricky–libraries don’t purchase more books than they do, and it’s rarely one criterion that guides that decision. Here is where we have to trust in the librarian’s integrity and the library’s book selection policy and adherence to ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. I know I’ve told the story here before about the librarian I knew who didn’t purchase a sex ed book for children on the grounds that it didn’t have an index. Yes, it did not have an index–but that wasn’t the reason she didn’t buy it.
I bring all this up because of an interesting exchange I had on Twitter last week with YA novelist Daniel José Older. Reacting in a subtweet to my post about A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake, Older wrote “Ah here’s the Horn/Sutton tut tutting on why Scholastic should’ve let kids read that book,” with a screenshot of part of the post. I replied–or barged in, depending on your views about subtweeting–that I and the Horn believe kids should be allowed to read any book they wish. Then he asked me if I was cool with kids reading Little Black Sambo, Mein Kampf and The Story of O. (I think he dated us both with that last example.) Although I’m aware that this was intended as a sort of gotcha rhetorical question, it made me realize that Mr. Older is probably not familiar with the way librarians think. I said I was perfectly fine with kids reading any or all of those three books.
A bias toward believing that people, kids included, should be able to read whatever they want is so ingrained in librarianship that we can forget that it seems like a radical stance to civilians. And as discussions about children’s books have moved, via social media, beyond the usual suspects of teachers, librarians, and publishers, it would be good for all concerned to remember that our assumptions are not necessarily shared.
Israel’s Ministry of Education has prohibited Dorit Rabinyan’s Gader Haya (which translates to Borderlife in English) from being used in the curriculum of Hebrew high schools. This novel features a love story shared between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man.
Here’s more from The New York Times: “Several bookstores said they had sold out of the novel, which tells the story of an Israeli woman from Tel Aviv who falls in love with a Palestinian born in the West Bank city of Hebron after a chance encounter in New York. Ms. Rabinyan, the author, said that the book was not meant to be provocative…The book, she said, was ‘only a mirror’ of the complexity of life in Israel.”
BuzzFeed reports that TimeOut Tel Aviv has created a video to protest this act of censorship. The piece (embedded above) features six couples (comprised of Jewish and Arab people) kissing. Thus far, it has drawn more than 123,000 views on YouTube. (via The Telegraph)
Hong Kong legislator Albert Ho believes that Chinese security officers kidnapped five publishing company/book store employees in an attempt to censor their work.
In a press conference over the weekend, Ho said that he believes that the five missing book professionals from the Mighty Current publishing house were taken for working on books critical of the Chinese government. The latest project to come under scrutiny is a book about the former love life of President Xi Jinping. Yahoo News has the scoop:
The disappearances add to growing unease that freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city are being eroded.
Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, it enjoys freedom of speech and Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.
A Wisconsin school board member is hoping to remove, For Every Child a Better World by Jim Henson, from it kindergarten class’ reading list.
Marshfield School Board member Mary Carney thinks that the content is inappropriate for the age of the children. In the book Kermit the Frog teaches young readers that some other young children lack basic necessities such as housing, water, food, and medical care. The Marshfield Herald has more:
“I just have concerns that it’s too graphic, even though these are Muppets characters,” Carney said. “Unfortunately in this world there is a lot of war and strife and poverty; I understand that. I just don’t know how appropriate that is to be teaching that to 5-year-olds.”
Carney hopes the school board will remove the title from the 2016 curriculum. School Board vice president Amber Leifheit, the person in charge of the School Board’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee, thinks that the book teaches compassion.
On November 3rd, KidLit TV was invited to the National Coalition Against Censorship to interview NCAC board members, artists, authors, and experts about up and coming books that celebrate diversity and free speech advocacy. NCAC’s mission is to promote freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms.
NCAC celebrated another year of free speech advocacy and saluted Lois Lowry, Larry Siems, Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole as 2015 Free Speech Defenders. The evening raised funds from generous sponsors, led by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to support NCAC’s mission, and featured performances from Fun Home, a tribute by Alison Bechdel, and inspiring words from each of our honorees. A special thanks to comedian Jena Friedman, who kept the audience laughing through the night as our master of ceremonies.
Comic books have long purveyed action, action, and still more action. Their plot lines do not simply progress, they are raging torrents of emotion, violence, and drama. They were a part of the mass commercialization of leisure during the twentieth century.
A Texas school district has changed its policy on selecting books taught in schools after a months long battle over David K. Shipler’s The Working Poor: Invisible in America.
The Highland Park school district has revised its policy how both how books are chosen, as well as how parent concerns are addressed. The Dallas Morning Newshas more:
Under the revised policy, staff members are required to ensure that books \"are evaluated as a whole and selected for their strengths rather than rejected for their weaknesses.\" Selections \"shall not contain excessive or gratuitous explicit sexuality, excessive or gratuitous profanity, or excessive or gratuitous graphic violence.\"
The new policy also limits how parent complaints are handled. The district will now consolidate complaints about the same work into one review. In addition, once a complaint is reviewed, the same book cannot be challenged for another three years.
“I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”
Besides various PEN executives and trustees, several high profile writers have also signed this note. Some of the participants include PEN president emeritus Salman Rushdie, novelist Neil Gaiman, children’s books illustrator Jules Feiffer, poet John Ashbery, and playwright Tony Kushner. Here’s an excerpt:
“PEN is appalled at the intrusive, criminal and profoundly menacing reprisals and threats that Sony Pictures has endured as a result of producing and planning to distribute The Interview. PEN has long stood with writers and creators who have suffered assaults aimed to suppress the dissemination of their ideas. We believe firmly that violence is never justified as a reaction to speech, no matter how offensive that speech may be to some.”
The hackers behind the Interview incident have elicited both anger and fear from American moviegoers. A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin (pictured, via) has publicly expressed great fury towards Sony for pulling the film from theaters.
Here’s an excerpt from Martin’s blog post: “I haven’t seen The Interview. I have no idea how good or bad a film it is…That’s not the point, though. Whether it’s the next Citizen Kane or the next Plan 9 From Outer Space, it astonishes me that a major Hollywood film could be killed before release by threats from a foreign power and anonymous hackers.”
Should The Interview ever become available, Martin has offered to showcase it at his own independent theater. Martin owns the Jean Cocteau Cinema which is based in Santa Fe, NM. What do you think? (via comicbook.com)
A government ban on which prohibited prisoners in England and Wales from having family and friends send them books, has been ruled unlawful.
BBC News has more: “Mr Justice Collins said he could see “no good reason” to restrict access to books for prisoners.The Prison Service said it was a surprising judgement, and would look at how it would deal with the ruling. The legal challenge was brought by inmate Barbara Gordon-Jones, who is serving part of her life sentence at Send prison near Woking in Surrey.”
The ban began last November. Supporters of the law argued that prisoners can earn the right to buy books through the prison’s book selling program through a new ”incentives and earned privileges” regime. Authors spoke out against the ban calling it “loathsome,” and launching a Change.org petition to overturn the ban.
The town council of Tuszyn, Poland have banned Winnie-the-Pooh from a local playground. The politicians who made this censorious decree first examined A.A. Milne’sfamous bear when they were trying to appoint a famous character as the face of this public space.
This group found Pooh’s lack of pants and questionable gender to be offensive and “wholly inappropriate for children.” All four Winnie-the-Pooh short story collections feature illustrations by artist E. H. Shepard; Shepard’s artwork consistently depicts Pooh not wearing pants.
Here’s more from the The Independent: “The meeting of officials was sneakily recorded a councillor and leaked to local press, according to The Croatian Times. One unnamed councillor can be heard discussing Pooh’s sexuality, arguing that ‘it doesn’t wear underpants because it doesn’t have a sex’ before another, Hanna Jachimska starts criticising Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne.” (via Jezebel)
The American Booksellers Association (ABA) will handle the operations of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).
Here’s more from the press release: “As was the case when the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) voted to become part of ABA in 2010 as the ABC Children’s Group, ABFFE will become a distinct group within ABA, the American Booksellers for Free Expression Group at ABA (ABFE), beginning January 1. The ABFFE board will be reconstituted as the ABFE Advisory Council.”
According to this new agreement, ABFFE President Chris Finan will be appointed group director for the ABFE. The ABA has designated all of its members as official supporters of the ABFE. Every single indie bookstore with an ABA membership will receive a sticker advocating for free speech and a subscription to a new monthly newsletter called “Free Speech Report.”
According to the editor’s letter, an assortment of writers, scholars, and public figures have been brought on to examine “the list of books that are reportedly banned from GTMO—including their own—and tried to figure out why.” Some of the titles that can’t be accessed at this institution include The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass, and The Diary of a Young Girlby Anne Frank. The New Yorker staffer Ariel Levy looked into Frank’s famous Holocaust memoir; here’s an excerpt from her article:
“The starkest difference between the captivity of Anne Frank and those in Guantánamo Bay is that Anne Frank and her family were in hiding. It must be so surreal for those in Gitmo to know that the whole world knows they’re there. We all know and it doesn’t seem to matter. Anne and her family’s whole plight is to remain invisible, to remain secret. In that sense it’s confounding that the book is banned at Guantánamo—the family couldn’t be making any less trouble. What more could you want from a prisoner than invisibility and silence?”
If it’s time for Banned Books Week it’s also time for my annual bucket ‘o scorn for ALA’s cynical exercise in spin. Like Bette Davis in Storm Center, “I’m tired. I’m tired and beaten. There’s no use pretending.” Now Davis, playing a beleaguered librarian trying to uphold the freedom to read in McCarthy’s America, was truly fighting the good fight (too bad she didn’t have a good script, though; the young boy driven mad by Red-baiters and setting fire to the library was a Bit Much). ALA, on the other hand, has simply set up its usual straw men in the form of its dramatic list of “top ten most frequently challenged books.” (The Association recorded 307 challenges in all but does not say how many challenges each book had.)
What bothers me most is the conflation of “banned” and “challenged.” Banned means the book has been removed from a library (or restricted therein), or–and less definitively to my mind–from a required or suggested reading list. Challenged means a citizen or group has ASKED a library in a “formal, written complaint” to restrict or remove a book from a library (or from a required or suggested reading list). There’s a big difference. Wouldn’t you like to know how many of these challenges resulted in banning? Beyond anecdotal evidence about some of them, ALA doesn’t tell us.
These “formal, written complaints” are generally done at the library’s behest on a form issued by that library as directed by its collection policy. Why do we get so bent out of shape when people actually use it? The answer is–and here’s the cynical part–that we don’t get bent out of shape at all, instead using these challenges to revel in our sense of cultural superiority and to raise a fund-raising alarum. No wonder ALA finds book banning something to “celebrate.”
“The worst part about my book being banned is that I hate to think of what would have happened if those Peanuts books that inspired me to become a cartoonist were taken away from me when I was a kid. I’m so grateful to have been inspired by those comics, and I’m so very lucky that I’ve had the chance to inspire other young people to try making comics of their own too.”
Children’s books author Josh Funk wants to celebrated Banned Books Week by speaking out against censorship. In the video embedded above, Funk (pictured, via) endorses both “band books” and “banned books.” What are your favorite books that have received either challenges or bannings?
Over the last few days, the #TeachBannedBooks hashtag has swept Twitter. In honor of Banned Books Week, The Huffington Post asked educators to explain why they introduce their students to certain banned books using the social media platform.
Some of the titles mentioned include The Hunger Games, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (embedded below), and The Giver. What do you think?
Title: Rumble Written by: Ellen Hopkins Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books, Sept. 2014 Ages: 14+ Novel in verse Themes: bullying, gay teens, faith, religion, forgiveness, hypocrisy, ptsd, suicide, gun management Reviewed from an ARC. All opinions are my own. Opening … Continue reading →
John Green’sThe Fault in Our Stars has been banned in the middle schools within the Riverside Unified School District (based in California).
Vanity Fair reports that a parent named Karen Krueger raised a complaint against the popular young adult novel because she “felt the morbid plot, crude language, and sexual content was inappropriate for her children.” Krueger convinced a committee of educators and guardians put it to a vote which resulted in this act of censorship.
Green shared his reaction to this situation on Tumblr. He claims to feel both happy and sad; the sadness comes from a desire “to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.” What do you think?