Yesterday, I made a foray onto FB (ick) and came across a story about an author I admire a great deal visiting his local library. During the course of the visit, he came across one of his books shelved in the children’s section. Puzzled and little concerned, he took the book to the desk and asked if they were aware where it had been shelved. The answer was “yes”. The author then asked the librarian if she was aware of its content, specifically the mistreatment (mass rape) of female POWs and more. Over the course of the conversation, he was basically asked if his daughter had been upset by reading the book. He said no (he didn’t have a daughter at the time) and the general response by the librarian was to ask why he was worried about the book then. When he explained he wrote the book, so he knew first-hand what was in it, the librarian backed down some and said she would bring it to her boss’ attention. That story, as well as a story I read in Publisher’s Weekly, about another author and her very different reaction to having her book removed from the curriculum of a TX school district, sparked this post.
The first author, David Weber, did what any responsible author would do. Knowing the contents of his book, he raised appropriate questions about where it was shelved in the public library. I’ve been known to raise concerns when I’ve found books I’ve read shelved in the wrong age-group in our public library, specifically finding Laurel K. Hamilton’s books in the middle school section at one time. I applaud Weber for his actions, both as a writer and as a father.
The second author, Nikki Grimes, I have questions for. Her book, Ordinary Hazards, had been part of the curriculum of the school district in Leander, TX. The book is an award winner (sorry, that usually is a warning light for me) that Grimes calls “a story of triumph over darkness, and, as such, is ultimately a story of hope.” So why did the district remove the book?
According to Grimes, the school district removed the book for what it called “inappropriate content”.
I’m assuming the content in question in Ordinary Hazards is difficult subject matter, namely alcoholism, sexual assault, and mental illness. Difficulty, though, is no reason to remove a book from an age-appropriate reader’s easy reach.
I agree–sort of. Age-appropriate doesn’t always mean intellectually and emotionally appropriate. So I wanted to know more about the removal and went looking for more information. The first thing that struck me when I did a search was how the first group of returns were all from literary groups complaining about the action the district took. It seems Leander ISD removed more than just Grimes’ book from its curriculum. So why remove the books?
As for the why, the district said it was because of “inappropriate literature for the assigned students’ ages.” Unfortunately, there’s not much more said there. However, of interest is that this story from March confirms that the books were removed from the curriculum, specifically from a “reading club” within the classrooms, not from the school library (and I’m assuming the school has one). Reading on, this so-called reading club reminds me of the summer reading lists my son used to get when he was in school. These lists consisted of a number of books he had to read over the summer. Sometimes, he had the choice of reading 10 out of 12 (or whatever the number was). The problem was there was little descriptive language about the books. You had to make the decision based on the title and what little you might be able to find via Amazon.
And, I learned first-hand, that wasn’t enough. So many of the books on these lists were NOT age appropriate. A fourth and fifth grader should not be reading about drug abuse, forced drug abuse, or rape. At least not without the parents knowing these topics were included in the book so they could be prepared to discuss the situations with him. I’ll say the same for some of the depictions of mental health displayed by some of the books.
Further investigation of Grimes’ complaint shows her book was removed by Leander in a second round of review.
Here’s the thing. I still want more information. Were these books merely removed from the curriculum but allowed to remain in the library? If so, then the complaints by the various groups and individuals complaining that the district is censoring what their students can read fall flat. However, if the books were removed from the school library as well, I have a problem. That is especially true for those books the district removed even though their own review process said the books were appropriate.
The latter is too close to the demands to remove the Harry Potter books when they first came out because they advocated using witchcraft.
Here’s the problem with articles like the one in PW and with the calls to action by the various groups condemning the school district. They don’t give us enough information. If you want to convince me your position is right, show me the district has completely removed the book from the school library. Show me how the book was being taught in the classroom before it was removed. Show me the review process by the district for the book in question and what the result was for that particular book. Then show me what the school district did in response to that report.
And remember, there is a big difference between removing something from the curriculum and removing it from the library.
For now, I’m skeptical of both sides. As a writer, as a reader and as a parent, I do not–absolutely do NOT–approve of censorship of reading material. I was lucky growing up in that my parents pretty much let me read anything I wanted. If they thought something might be inappropriate, they read it first and we discussed then whether or not I would be allowed to read it and why. I followed the same philosophy with my son.
But I also remember the inappropriate books my son had to read as a student, especially in the middle school grades. I get parents objecting to books on the list. I learned then that these lists were not made by the teacher or even the district but were drawn up by a committee made up of politicians, librarians and a few educators, none of whom happened to live in my district. So, yeah, I tend to look at reading lists and “book clubs” with a jaundiced eye.
That said, I also do not believe a book should be pulled over one or two complaints. You are never going to be able to please everyone and it is past time our politicians and educators learn that particular lesson.
All I know for sure is Leander is once again in the news and this is a story we should all be following.