Saturday, August 21, 2010

What are you reading?

As some of you know, YA author Ellen Hopkins was uninvited to the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, TX after a librarian and some parents went to the superintendent and asked for her to be removed from the program. In the aftermath, authors Melissa de la Cruz, Pete Hautman, Tera Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena withdrew from the festival to protest the censorship.
After hearing of this problem I thought back to an article I wrote last year for my school newspaper. We were doing an issue with all controversial topics for our final exam. It didn’t take me long to choose my topic because it was around the time Lauran Myracle’s book Luv Ya Bunches caused a problem at the Scholastic Book Fair. After two months of research, emails and awkward interviews, my story was published. The only thing was I couldn’t be bias. So this article explores both sides. (PS: It’s also my first draft. The edited copy is on the school computer.)


In this day and age, the media is constantly changing. The internet is at its high point, and newspapers and television are rapidly trying to keep up with it. Despite all of the technology the twenty-first century has brought us, books, have not changed. Books will always have that familiar smell, and there will always be somebody offended by its content.

For years, there has been controversy about what kinds of books go into schools. Many books have been pulled out of school library shelves and taken off high school reading lists. English teacher Mrs. Cynthia Brosnan voiced her opinion on book banning. “The main reason was that they [book banners] considered the material obscene or showed people in a bad light,” she stated. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned because it showed the stereotypes of racism in the 1800s. It made white people look really bad because they held slaves and used the N-word. There were con men, hucksters and vigilantes all portrayed by white people. The only noble person in the book was Jim.”

Today, the book controversy grows on. The Kite Runner, a book on the senior’s required reading list, became one of the most challenged books in 2008 for its language and sexual content.

“Most of the books that we taught at Clay High School at one point or another were banned,” Mrs. Brosnan continued. “Catcher in the Rye was banned because of its language. The F-bomb was dropped many times.”

Other than the classrooms, school libraries are another key place where books are taken off the shelves due to explicit materials. “As a school librarian, I feel that some books’ content is not appropriate for a certain age of students,” Mrs. Angie Bitner-Westen, the librarian, stated. “I am not ‘censoring’ to a point where the book is not viewed by anyone, but rather viewed but a more mature audience. I believe that if the book deals with an issue that might affect teens—example teen pregnancy, drugs, parent with relationship abuse—that is okay. However, if it is an explicit romance novel, that is something else.”

Mr. Al Large, the Director of Instructional Technology and Library Services for the South Bend Community School Corporation, had faced controversial book issues many times for different reasons. “There have been instances when a parent has objected to a book,” he said. “For example, one parent objected to the cover of the book, Monsters You Have Never Heard Of by Daniel Cohen. The parent thought that the cover resembled a beast representing the devil, which offended her religious convictions. Another parent objected to Scary Stories 3 -- More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz because of some of the illustrations and a belief that the book promoted violence. Another parent objected to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, a Newbery Award book, because of the offensive language. The story shows the racial tension in America during 1933.”

“Each parent thought that she/he was representing the best interest of her/his child,” Mr. Large stated. “The reality is that each one of us could probably walk into any library (school, public, or academic) and find books that are objectionable from our individual perspectives.”

In loco parentis is Latin for ‘in place of the parent.” This means while the student is in school, the corporation is responsible for them. “Public libraries are not bound by it [in loco parentis],” Ms. Marianne Kruppa, a librarian at the Francis Branch said. “When it comes to public libraries it falls on the parent to monitor what the child reads. It is not our responsibility to say you can and cannot read that.”

If a parent objects to a book in the public library, the librarian cannot just remove it from the shelves permanently. The patron is asked to fill out a “Patron Request for Reconsideration of Library Material Form.” The purpose of the form is a request to move the book to a section that is more appropriate for that age group. The form asks questions about the book and why the parent found it offensive. The first and most important question on the form that Ms. Kruppa pointed out was “Have you read the entire book?” If the patron has not read the book in its entirety, they may miss relevant information and misinterpret the context. After they fill out the form, the librarians will review it and decided whether or not it should stay in its designated section.

In an interview with back in November, Lauren Myracle, author of the bestselling Young Adult series The Internet Girls (one of the most challenged books for 2008 and 2009,) explained her dilemma with Scholastic Book Club and Book Fair about her Middle Grade novel Luv Ya Bunches. They had a problem with some of the content in the book. “They mentioned wanting us to address the fact that one of the characters, Mila, has two moms,” Mrs. Myracle explained. “I said we’d do the other stuff, but not that. The whole point was to have a cast of main characters that reflect the diversity of today’s elementary schools. The moms’ lesbianism is incidental. It's not a plot point or the source of some big lesson in the book. Just like there's a half Asian girl, an African-American girl who lives just with her dad, and a Muslim girl who wears a headscarf, there's a girl with two moms.”

Eventually, the Book Club accepted Luv Ya Bunches after some of the slightly crude language was changed, but the Book Fair would not take it if the sex of one of the parents was not changed.

“This isn't censorship, per se,” Mrs. Myracle stated. “This is a private company deciding what can and can't be included among the products they decide to sell.”

Throughout the halls, students carry books of all genres from class to class, ranging from Teen Vampire Romances such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight to spiritual books like The Shack by William P. Young. Is there a book in the mix that someone finds too inappropriate or controversial? Junior Betsy Cook gave her thoughts on what she would do if she started reading one. “I would probably just stop reading it,” she said. “But sometimes it depends on how inappropriate it is. I don’t think it is a good idea to let your child read a book like that if it’s against the parent’s morals.”

Kaitlyn Miner, a junior, explained her experience with books and its mature content. “In the sixth grade I read Empress of the World. It’s a book about a girl who goes to summer camp, sees a pretty girl and becomes a lesbian,” Kaitlyn said. “In the sixth grade of course I thought that was controversial. But when I re-read it in eighth grade I was MUCH more accepting.”

“I feel like books can’t corrupt people,” Kaitlyn continued. “Books are meant to make you feel, so if Harry Potter makes you want to become a Wiccan, so be it!”

Whether you object to certain content in book or the author that wrote it, everyone has the First Amendment-right of freedom of speech.

This article was published in The Colonial in January 2010.


  1. Awesome article, even if it's your first draft. I don't get how people can judge a book by it's cover, when really the cover is designed to grab attention. Even if that attention is bad - it's still getting attention. Which is the point of design really.

  2. Thank you. I completely agree. Like the form said, if you have not read the entire book you could misinterpret the context of the book

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