Judy Blume for Banned Books Week: “Children are the real losers”

23 09 2011

. . .when anyone tries to control what they can read, and know, and ask and talk about. Are you ready to read a banned book tomorrow to help kick off the 30th anniversary of the ALA’s Banned Books Week? We sure are!

See other author and book-champion videos on the dedicated Banned Books Week youtube channel. Play with the interactive “censorship” map of the US here. (Show your kids it’s not just YOUR backward town or state! It’s everywhere!)

Snook posts for Banned Books Week every year — this makes six because the blog started just in time for the 2006 celebration, which was the silver anniversary. Last year’s posts are here: Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same and If I Had a Robot, Would I Hammer in the Morning?

And there are lots of book-burning related posts through the years, most notoriously this and maybe this from 9/11 last year:

On this notorious day as Americans remember, reconstruct and reject both the best and worst of our national identity all at once — because whatever else we the people may be, we’re never easy! — the images of hate in my mind aren’t of burning towers but burning books, burning flags, burning bigotry and yes, burning flesh.

See a more comprehensive collection of links to explore here: Ideas Are Incombustible! (that means you can’t burn ’em up no matter how big your bonfire.)

But I think the most fun we had discussing Banned Books Week probably was in 2007:

. . . a Maine woman and an Alabama granny-girl combo using the eerily similar publicity stunt of kidnapping a book that shocks them and holding it hostage, supposedly so no one else can ever read it.

LOL – Southern ladies used to be so much more clever with their public manners, to solve such problems with devastating yet impeccably polite little social gambits.

If I were the shocked Granny, I might’ve returned the book immediately to the library desk, wrapped in my crocheted afghan (blushing if possible) to whisper I was sure some awful mistake had been made, probably due to my granddaughter’s innocence and total trust for the school — thank goodness I personally unpack and inspect her school things every day to keep our home tidy between the maid’s afternoons, because her virginal young eyes hadn’t yet opened up the “thing” to behold such unsuitable reading material. As a daughter of the confederacy, I knew what I had to do to protect her, and took it upon myself to get it OUT of the house. I will stand here while you blot her name from the borrowing record for this book at once, and assure me of your discretion!

IN Alabama, that would be so much classier than branding the girl for the world to gawk at, as having been sullied by sexual exposure!

OTOH, if I were the southern school librarian in this story, I could tell the newspaper that I am delighted the whole family cherishes the book and can’t part with it! Why, poor Lysa must’ve been so starved for knowledge of the real world . . .

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION Brainstorm
The Burning of the Dangerously Bookish
March 29, 2011, 11:13 am
By David Barash

Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “The Burning of the Books”:

When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned and on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power ,
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me! Haven’t my books
Always reported the truth ? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you!
Burn me

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32 responses

23 09 2011
bpbproadrunner

It still blows my mind that there are still attempts to ban and to censor books to this very day. Often important literature, that transmit ideas and memories that need to be in their original context.

25 09 2011
Team Suzanne

To me the most troubling aspect is the ALA saying most challenges go unreported. This suggests the folks doing the challenging and responding either don’t see potentially banning a book as a big deal, or think they alone can make the decision and no one else needs to be involved. This reasoning grossly downplays the gravity of restricting access to a book. It IS a big deal, should be reported, and decided on by more than an upset parent and a single principal or librarian. The reported challenges are where somebody did the right thing–they reorted it. The real problem are books that are quietly pulled by single individuals that erroneously think they know best and have the situation under control.

That said–I looked at the map, and at the details of some of the reported challanges in my area. Some were clearly ill-advised and infringements on a child’s right to read. Others were less clear.

For example–The Joy of Sex series being restricted from a library. A public library? Or a high school library? To me, which library matters. It certainly should not ever be restricted from a public library. But I wouldn’t have a problem restricting it from a high school library. Public schools have a narrower mission regarding books than public libraries do. Providing access to books is only part of what a high school does, and the Joy of Sex series, for example, may not be relevant to their library holdings. Whereas for a public library, it is relevant. As always, the devil is in the details and knee jerk reactions are ill-advised.

25 09 2011
JJ

Knee-jerk reactions to — books? Attempts to restrict or remove a book almost always are knee-jerk, most often from challengers who haven’t even read the book (and don’t actually represent the larger reading community served by that library) before complaining and/or taking some action against the book at issue. Or did you mean knee-jerk reactions when a book is challenged? Apparently that does happen, I agree, whenever the material is automatically restricted or removed on the strength of a complaint, without careful review.

OTOH, the whole challenge process in school and public libraries has been designed and subsequently shown to be a protection against either of those knee-jerk reactions, and also to protect against stonewalling the public so all complaints fall on deaf ears. Library/information science is a master’s level profession with its own ethical standards that are the very opposite of knee-jerk both in selecting materials suitable for each community of readers and in responding to challenges when someone in that community calls for a serious, non-knee-jerk review of their concerns about anything in that collection. One of the first steps is to see if the challengers will take their own complaint seriously enough to read the book. So that wouldn’t be what you mean, surely?

The reason I ask is to be careful not to be knee-jerk in responding to the knee-jerk comment. 😉

25 09 2011
JJ

Favorite Daughter is in her master’s LIS program now, and this term one of her courses is “juvenile literature” (what we called “kiddie lit” in the olden days of the 1970s, when I was getting my master’s with school librarian certification.)

She’s up to her well-read eyeballs in Newberry and Caldecott medalists and honor books, learning about how to determine the needs of different age groups in different communities in different times, all about the controversies of diversity especially at the youngest ages, etc. She was just describing her first paper to me (because she had to interview me and her grandmother for it) which centered on several questions about daily life as children when we were using children’s books from school and public libraries. Her dad’s mom was born in 1931. I was born in 1954. FavD was born in 1990. One of the tangents we went off toward in our conversation — although it didn’t belong in this particular paper — was the way children’s authors were writing for children in the books each of the three of us were reading AS children. Some were the same issues, even the exact same books, and some very different. Lots to think about.

At the same time she’s working in the university music library part-time and dealing directly with patrons and collections. She thinks some of the students she sees aren’t as mature as young children, either in choosing their own materials for their own good reasons nor in valuing (cherishing!) their free access to a wonderfully diverse, professionally maintained library collection presided over by true champions of same. I know as a child I loved most of my teachers and certainly my parents, but worshiped my school and public librarians! FavD I suspect is the same, except that because we homeschooled, I had the distinct advantage of getting credit as all three . . .

25 09 2011
JJ

Btw, did you know that oft-challenged children’s book author Maurice Sendak has a new book out?? Hurray! Where the Wild Things Are was the first favorite book of both our kids and I wrote up what it meant to us somewhere (I’ll poke around later, see if I can find it. I think it was in a long comment, so it won’t be easy.)

Sendak’s latest is said by those who know about such things to be both dark and brilliant, his professional power of story once again reflecting his personal power of story — his own childhood was illustrated with vivid reality during the Holocaust and his adulthood as a gay man writing children’s books, lived quietly in self-protection from homophobic times. No doubt it will annoy and stir to denial, those who prefer to deny the realities of his whole life.

Bumble-ardy, the latest from author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, is dark and deeply imaginative, much like his classic works Where the Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen.

Bumble-ardy is an orphaned pig, who has reached the age of 9 without ever having a birthday party. . .

26 09 2011
Nance Confer

I was just at our local library and had to smile at their big display of “banned” books. Those librarians! 🙂

26 09 2011
JJ

Love it.
Did you happen to notice anything on display that surprised you as having been challenged? I stand ready to mock!

27 09 2011
Nance Confer

Oh, they had the usual — Grapes of Wrath, Brave New World, etc. Really, before I looked up and read the sign, I thought it was a display for high school students — get your required reading here! 🙂

27 09 2011
bpbproadrunner

I thought all those fans of Ann Rand would love Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Just goes to show us, there is no pleasing some people.

29 09 2011
JJ

Historian and keen observer of the human mind Steven Pinker explains with graphs and charts how dark times really do get better. Nope, not from money or might or “the religious right” but from, wait for it, reading!

Why should literacy matter? A number of the causes are summed up by the term “Enlightenment.”

For one thing, knowledge replaced superstition and ignorance: beliefs such as that Jews poisoned wells, heretics go to hell, witches cause crop failures, children are possessed, and Africans are brutish. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Also, literacy gives rise to cosmopolitanism. It is plausible that the reading of history, journalism, and fiction puts people into the habit of inhabiting other peoples’ minds, which could increase empathy and therefore make cruelty less appealing.

So celebrate Banned Books Week as if all our lives depended on it, because they pretty much do!

A History Of Violence Edge Master Class 2011 | Conversation

29 09 2011
bpbproadrunner

I really like your point JJ and I think that the last comment should be a blog entry of it’s own.

29 09 2011
JJ

Thanks Beep. 🙂
I’ll think about how to do it.

29 09 2011
Team Suzanne

I’m late replying here.

I agree the process, conducted by professionals in a careful manner is the critical part. Like I said the true menace are all the books that are quietly removed because somebody doesn’t feel like that process is necessary. And primarily–of course, any knee jerking is done by the people who stumble across one word or a paragraph and flip out–without ever reading for context.

That said, I personally would not immediately consider a parent who questioned why “The Joy of Sex” was in a high school library a book banner. But it was on the “attempts to ban books” map for the state next to me. I think I encountered that book in my 20’s and my hazy memory is that the audience for it is well above high school age.

If a parent in our district raised that concern–you could immediately label that parent a book banner (technically true, but kind of knee-jerk). Or say–“Good question, why DO we have that book in a high school (or middle school)? Let’s discuss and find out…”

29 09 2011
JJ

I doubt “Joy of Sex” books show up in middle school library collections, and I personally don’t picture it as fitting high school collections, either, can’t imagine the librarian and principal bold enough to go there — although thinking back, I believe I first encountered it when I was 17 (in college but still high school-aged.) Btw they sold full-nude color-cover Penthouse magazines in the dormitory gift shop on my public university campus! 😉

I know many high schools that have teen pregnancy programs for girls who discovered the joy of sex for themselves, and the price the hard way . . .

Favorite Daughter at age 15 or 16, discovered that teen pregnancy programs unfortunately enroll girls as young as the sixth grade, apparently not usually well-read:

I work with pregnant teenage girls.” She announces in the lobby, entirely too loudly.

I mentally add yet another item to my list of Reasons For Not Getting Pregnant For Ten To Fifteen More Years. Right after “I Do Not Want or Need Children At This Point In My Life”, “Abortions Are Sometimes Difficult to Obtain”, “It Would Be Unfortunate to Have to Kill Myself”, and “I Am Not Stupid” I figuratively wrote “So I Will Not Have to Interact With You”.

“The oldest I work with are about eighteen,” she says, although I can’t recall anyone asking. Then somebody does ask a question, apparently fascinated, although, if you ask me, she looked old enough to have heard the phrase “Florence Crittendom” applied with all of its original terror, and therefore shouldn’t need to ask anything at all.

“What’s the youngest you work with?” she asks.

“Sixth graders!” I mutter to myself in the office. I was flippantly applying sarcasm to illustrate a point – however, my quip became less amusing when the answer actually turned out to be “sixth graders”.

“So the other day I helped them make a quilt, and they were just so cute…..” the woman went on, and I’m sure there was more, but my brain could no longer follow, because it had become focused upon the phrase “so the other day I helped them make a quilt.” A quilt? Really? Couldn’t these girls be learning something else? Perhaps something useful? I understand the concept of sex education would be a little belated, but surely it couldn’t hurt to teach them how to care for these children they had apparently decided to keep?

And turning 17 she wrote: Ruminations on Olive Oil

Then at age 19 pushing 20: Let’s Talk About Sex

29 09 2011
bpbproadrunner

I would rather see something like Our Bodies Ourselves than the Joy of Sex. I have read the latter and it really isn’t for young audiences in a public school setting. And I question the legality of showing it to anyone under the age of 18. [just a thought]. BUT. Spiritual Midwifery by Ina Mae Gaskins would also be a good book for older teens to read. Just because it talks so much about pregnancy, and birth and birth control [different methods] and all the important things like that.

Personally I think that one of the biggest issues we have with sex education is that it is treated as something separate from the rest of your life. It’s so forbidden, it’s so dirty, shameful that your sexual identity, your sexual habits, your past and future, etc., are not all intertwined.

Sex education should be as much about teaching young adults critical thinking skills regarding personal life decisions as anything else. Sex is affected culturally via religion, through class-economics, through gender roles, and the state of one’s health–mental and physical.

But instead we only focus on penis and vagina and fear.

So the really big stuff never gets discussed.

Pregnancy, AIDs and Rape are the hard lessons regarding sex–and gay bashing. But there are so many more hard lessons to learn.

So much of girl on girl bullying revolves around sexual rumors, and character assassination.

There is just so much more to this. The mechanical act of sex is only the beginning of the discussion. And only the first few steps into the adult world of sexual activity. But most people traverse that through a veritable mine field of ignorance.

29 09 2011
Team Suzanne

Banned books week is a smashing success, because I’m going to go out and read the Joy of Sex. I’m 37 but I’m sure I will learn more than a thing or two.

Sixth graders and sex. Aw lawdy. I’ve got two girls.

29 09 2011
JJ

Hurray! What a trouper! [big cheesy grin for Suzanne getting sucked into the spirit of the thing and also because I recall those illustrations were cheesy]

And I’ll shudder right along with you. No sex for sixth graders in my power of story. But certainly sex education for sixth graders. And books. Girls have the best shot in my humble (librarian-principal-mom) opinion when we respect them, wish them well and help them do their reading for years before they get to that point. . .

I was thinking back on some of the many, many books I read about sex and pregnancy as a girl/teen. I think the most memorable of all — never mind Our Bodies Ourselves and the Joy of Sex — might have been a paperback called Mr. and Mrs. Bojo Jones. Oh and the sexy, sultry Scarlett O’Hara of course!

GWTW was my first real love affair with a work of romantic fiction, a book that took a whole summer to read and that I savored word for word like an epic poem, until its juices ran from my mouth and dripped down my chin. I don’t try to defend it intellectually or historically but I still bristle up just like a lover to hear it mocked or messed with. My best friend and I memorized most of it and quoted it to each other for years, like a secret language.

And Romeo and Juliet which we read in junior high English about the same time Zeffirelli’s movie came out in theatres, oh my was that hot . . . if something needs to be banned and they don’t start with Shakespeare, they don’t deserve to be the Deciders for all of us. Just sayin’.

30 09 2011
JJ

Y’all will think this is lame (I do too) but I just remembered something else that made quite an impression on me at age 14. One of my good friends was the youngest of three sisters, so there were bridal magazines at her house. We were in her room looking at the dream dresses, when I noticed ads for honeymoon packages running vertically along the outer edge of several pages. They were for resorts in the Poconos and Paris at night, on exotic islands in nearly-not-there swimwear, and the grabber for me, they featured shots of incredible beds and heart-shaped bathtubs for two, with champagne flutes on the lip or the nightstand. That’s all I needed to create (innocently fuzzy about who I’d be with and what we would do but nevertheless obsessed) sex stories in my mind, for HOURS.

Tough to censor that. 😉

30 09 2011
Team Suzanne

Oh my word I wish we could all sit down and have coffee. There is so much to say here.

As bproadrunner says–the topic is so broad, it’s really sexuality that needs to be discussed and, if possible, understood–if that’s even possible, as mysterious as sexuality is. It is multi-pronged and hopelessly intertwined with the rest of our personhood.

Of course, it’s nascent sexuality that made those daydeams light up from just a Poconos ad with a heart shaped bed. JJ is so right–you cannot bring that down. Adolescents will find it anywhere!

And understanding how sexuality is part of yourself–the good, the bad and the ugly parts of that–is just a really big undertaking. Because of the Puritan streak that runs right down the middle of our culture, so many of us are walking around as adults with that “understand and appreciate my sexuality” project only about half done–if that.

I was also thinking of Our Bodies Ourselves, also. That seems like a much better choice for a high school audience. I read it in college and it seemed fresh and like it knew it was speaking to young people.

Sorry guys, for derailing the conversation into sex ed–but it’s been fun! Thanks for hearing me out. It’s almost like there’s a civil society operating here on this blog–what with the open dialogue, informed opinions and what not.

Refreshing.

30 09 2011
JJ

Thanks, Suzanne, glad you’re here whatever you bring to the coffee table. Next time, make it snook-erdoodles.:)

Beep said something I hadn’t thought about in this context: So much of girl on girl bullying revolves around sexual rumors, and character assassination.

It was like that in my high school and I suffered some of it. More to this week’s point, it was in several morality tale books I remember reading, about schools and also in the larger society (Scarlet Letter of course but also at-that-time contemporary young adult novels. I read everything.) And there were movies on that theme even back then — I was terrified by one called Blue Denin starring a pretty, young, very blonde Carol Lynley.

Oh and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was sex at school and all the more terrifying for being not overt about it. The girls suffered.

But to Suzanne’s last point, there’s even more to thoughtful book selection for teens than “sex” in all its incarnations and allusions. Something this conversation is doing for me is making me remember all sorts of exposure to ideas and ways of behaving and living, that someone would find significant and perhaps be concerned about, and it showed up somehow in everything I read and saw at tender ages when I couldn’t fully understand it! Power of story. If you can’t beat it, celebrate it. 🙂

1 10 2011
bpbproadrunner

I highly recommend the following books on the subject of girls and sexuality:
Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons
Promiscuities, The Secret Struggle for Womanhood by N. Wolf
and
Slut, Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation by Leora Tanenbaum

Any one of the three books alone is good. But all three together will blow your mind!

Take the Slut Book for instance. A study was quoted in that book that indicated that many young women will not pack prophylactics such as condoms, even if they plan to have sex, because if they do, then that planning–that acknowledgement of desire makes them a slut. Whereas if they are not prepared, then they are still considered demure by their peers/societal standards.

Just picture me gasping and sputtering and blowing hot espresso out my nose when I read that BS! That is just the beginning!

1 10 2011
COD

At the risk of intruding on the girls slumber party here.. 😉

I remember discovering The Joy of Sex (the book!) on the bookshelf while babysitting for friends of my parents when I was 10 or so. The book did nothing the accelerate my discovery of the real thing though 🙂 That was still quite a few years off into my future.

1 10 2011
JJ

Yup, Chris, exactly (but we’re not supposed to squeal and toss down our dainties to you now, I hope?) 😀

It must be different for kids now, as well as for libraries. Sex stuff is most likely to be stumbled upon (and/or sought out) online now, isn’t it? — I’ve read about library issues with various filtering programs for all the computers they offer. Tough to get something that blocks boob shots wherever they may be but not nursing sites or breast cancer info that women might need to access at the public library. Sometimes I wonder why the book-challenge business hasn’t shifted much more to that, which makes fussing over the printed word or some pen-and-ink drawings seem quaint.

1 10 2011
Nance Confer

No Joy of Sex in high school? Seems to me that was some of the best sex. . .

1 10 2011
JJ

😉

2 10 2011
bpbproadrunner

Think of the cultural and religious implications at the thought of us as girls being exposed to sex will end in us “tossing our dainties off”. It goes back to that idea that *morally females are supposed to be like children and therefore inferior.

Though honestly most of the religious accusations of carnality came with the accusations of Witchcraft–thinking shades of Kramer and Spranger.

2 10 2011
JJ

Clarification: about tossing down our dainties, I was playing along with the mid-20th century high school slumber party meme, not the eternal all females are madonnas or whores meme. 😉

2 10 2011
bpbproadrunner

See Once again! I jumped out of the box not realizing that I was even in one! Dang it!
😉

I thought you were referring to this idea that if girls are exposed to sex ed that they loose the ability to control themselves.

3 10 2011
JJ

Elaborating on the broader idea of censorship to filter out offensive words and sexual topics, the new Supreme Court session (wish we could censor that?!) has this on the docket:

. . . a case brought by Fox TV and backed by other broadcasters testing the constitutionality of a Federal Communications Commission ban on expletives, nudity and other “indecent content” on TV and radio.

At issue in the case are fines imposed on Fox for excretory and sexual expletives uttered by celebrities at the Billboard Awards ceremonies broadcast live by the network. A lower court ruled that the ban on indecency is so vague as to be unconstitutional, meaning nobody would know what is and isn’t legal.

Now the case is at the Supreme Court, along with a lot of other cases with sex appeal, both real and figurative.

3 10 2011
bpbproadrunner

Well it seems to be the Decade of Censorship all the way around.

Shocking that FOX though with their weird little conservatron backers would be fighting this. But that just goes to show us that all that harping on family values is bunk. Otherwise they would pay the fines and then get it out of the stars in question.

Yep.

But I have been exploring other forms of censorship. The censoring of internet research. Not always by governments or big internet companies, but by well funded political “activists”.

So like I said–It’s everywhere.

20 10 2011
JJ

This might be the strangest “book burning” I’ve seen, how about you?

The book in question was “Pinheads and Patriots,” which O’Reilly has sent to Afghanistan through a charity group.

“Some jerk sent us two boxes of this awful book instead of anything soldiers at a remote outpost in Afghanistan might need, like, say, food or soap,” the soldier said.

. . .”Extra space is scarce and alternatives that a few mentioned, like recycling, are nonexistent…I’m aware of the historical implications of book-burning. I won’t say I didn’t take pleasure in removing a few copies of this bigoted twerp’s writings from circulation, but the reason for doing so was military necessity.”

20 10 2011
JJ

There are so many political ideologue books out right now, that this might happen again. Favorite Daughter was disgusted to be in a Books-a-Million the other day seeing an end-cap display headed “News and politics” or some such, and realizing every single title was conservative, from Ann Coulter to current candidates. And we know the Ayn Rand Objectivists are sending out free books to indoctrinate public school kids. Why not soldiers?

What would they do with a big charity shipment of bibles, do you think? Dare to burn them with the same rationale? Bet not.

Getting what you want and believe in is great, but can you eat your philosophy and have it too? When what you want and believe in is respect and self-determination for each individual, can you possibly achieve it by seducing conscripted masses, privileging your view over others and stacking the intellectual deck against reason?

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