29 August 2006

More Censorship in Lake Los Angeles

In July I delved into the history of school library restrictions in the Wilsona (California) School District. Back in 2000, school board member Sharon Toyne told the local Antelope Valley Press, "In our district we are trying to promote character with programs like Character Counts, and I don't see how the book [a little title that starts Harry Potter and the] promotes that. I think it could arouse a child's imagination and curiosity of the unknown, of the dark side."

Toyne has since become school board president, and, after a brief drop into rejecting some books arbitrarily, helped institute a policy about which book recommendations from parent-teacher committees would be acceptable.

The Book Moot blog has spread the alert about the latest development, reported in the Los Angeles Daily News. In an article titled "Wilsona scrutinizes book list", the newspaper says that the school board has removed about a dozen books from two schools' recommended lists and "sent them back to be re-evaluated in light of new book selection guidelines."

Not surprisingly, about half of the challenged titles are fantasies:

The school board also demanded reconsideration of six books about religious holidays, a series that includes Hanukkah and Kwanzaa alongside major Christian holidays. That choice is interesting since in 2002 the school district board voted narrowly to have religious invocations at the start of its monthly meetings, and the first such "nonsectarian" prayer "invoked Jesus Christ...and asked the Lord to look down upon the people's wickedness and sought forgiveness for banning prayer in public schools." Have board members objected to standalone Christmas and Easter books?

The oddball among the books sent back to the Wilsona School committee for review was Becoming Naomi León, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, a realistic contemporary novel. Here's one of the publisher's descriptions. Can you guess the objectionable content?
From the Pura Belpré and Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author of Esperanza Rising comes a riveting novel about family and identity, drawn from Pam Muñoz Ryan’s own Mexican and Oklahoman heritages. Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life.

But according to Gram's self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.
Another bit of copy says, "Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit." I suspect that phrases like "self-prophecies" and "carving to strengthen her spirit" got Toyne and her school board allies worried about "the dark side."

For the record, Becoming Naomi León is a Schneider Family Book Award winner, Parents' Choice Silver Honor, and Powells.com staff pick.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

An additional detail: the "carving" that some publisher's descriptions of Becoming Naomi León refer to is not an object, an amulet of power or superstition. It's a hobby: "soap carving," according to longer versions of the same copy.