23 September 2009

First They Came for the Guinea Pigs

Jan Gardner’s “Shelf Life” column in last Sunday’s Boston Globe highlighted how Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by local author-illustrator Sarah S. Brannen, has the unlucky distinction of being among the ten most frequently “challenged” books of 2008. Because it depicts two guinea pigs doing something that’s legal and actually encouraged for people in this state: getting married. Apparently there are a lot of anti-marriage (or anti-guinea pig) people out there.

Printz Award winner Laurie Halse Anderson just learned about new challenges to her novels Twisted and Speak. One of those situations was quickly resolved, but two more are going on. To one committee she’s written:

I suspect the roots of the parental concern about Twisted are the scenes in which teenagers make stupid, dangerous, and occasionally horrifying decisions.

Why on earth would someone like me put things like that in a book?

Because readers who can experience those decisions – by reading about them – and appreciate the consequences of those actions - by seeing those consequences affect the lives of a book’s characters - are less likely to do the stupid, dangerous and occasionally horrifying things themselves.
Verse novelist Ellen Hopkins just got disinvited from a school visit in Oklahoma because one parent challenged one of her young adult books about addiction, Glass. Hopkins wrote that series after helping her own daughter with a drug problem. Already having her plane tickets, Hopkins flew to Norman and spoke in that community last night.

I’ve met all three authors, and many more, through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Obviously, these three were exploring some of our society’s fault lines and tender areas, and that’s made people nervous. But that’s what good authors often do. And even material as seemingly innocuous as Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo? can produce a challenge (because of this detail in one crowded picture).

All of which is a lead-in to Banned Books Week starting this Saturday, 26 September.

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