If you haven’t kept tabs on recent book challenges popping up around America, one that’s drawn a lot of discussion recently comes out of the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware. In early July, the school board made the decision to remove Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post from a reading list for incoming freshmen. The board cited language as the issue, stating it was inappropriate for the age group for which the list was intended.
Of course, this drew a lot of criticism not only because of the attempt to pull a book but also because it happened to be a book featuring a lesbian main character. It would be hard not to see that there was more to this story than meets the eye. A couple of worthwhile reads come from Jill Guccini, one over at Book Riot and one over at After Ellen.
Last week, the board went to make a final decision on the book, and after choosing to put the book back on the reading list, the list was then pulled all together. The board chose to reinstate an old summer reading system, in an exercise of power that undermined the hard work of librarian who created the book list and the educators who know how to work with students reading from it. Of course, the real losers here are the students.
There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, though, and close readers of the article will note that the ACLU became involved in this situation. It’s hard not to wonder if the board’s decision wasn’t exactly what they said. Instead, their decision was a way around a potentially bigger, messier situation. If the board really cared about the profanity issue, as they claim to, then some of the classics that are being taught to students this same age would certainly raise the same sorts of “concerns” that Cameron Post and any of the other YA titles on the list do. So, no, it’s not about the language concerns. In this instance, it isn’t ignorant to see the potential lawsuits that could have spun from this and by removing the entire list, the board absolves itself a bit from looking like the close-minded, fearful body they’ve shown themselves to be at this point.
Every year around this time, book challenges seem to dominate the book news world. Leila’s done a great job rounding up recent ones and highlighting where they’re at at this point in time. I talked a little bit about why the summer and beginning of the school year tend to be favorite times for challenges last fall over at Book Riot, too. This isn’t surprising and that might be why it’s so disheartening and aggravating as a reader, as a librarian, and as someone who cares about teens.
I applaud those who can keep writing about this topic — it’s something I tackled before but I don’t think I can keep talking about. My feelings are exactly the same, and every time a board makes a decision to take books away from kids, I can’t help but get upset about how little faith those adults have not just in the teens, but in the educators and librarians who are trained, competent, and eager to talk about these stories with those students. It’s a vote made out of fear.
I kept a particularly close eye on the outcome of the vote on Looking for Alaska in Waukesha, Wisconsin last week because it’s not far from where I live. The book will remain in the curriculum, but it got me thinking about how issues like this impact the children of parents who are bringing them up. What must it be like to be the teenager who has a mother trying to get a book pulled from the classroom? What are they thinking? What will their experiences be like in the classroom now? How will their peers treat them? There are a million questions there that I think are far more interesting and insightful than the ones about why adults choose to pursue these challenges.
So rather than continue to talk about the issues, I thought it could be interesting to create a book list of YA books that talk about censorship in education or that explore what happens when parents or a school make an effort to keep information and experiences out of the hands of students. In some of these titles, it’s the central issue. In others, it’s a secondary thread in the story. Not all of these center around book challenges, and many of the titles are older.
If you can think of other YA books where censorship — in schools or in the community — or where parents (or students!) are challenging some aspect of curriculum, I’d love to know. Most of these titles were suggested to me via Twitter, so thanks to everyone who threw an idea at me.
All descriptions are from WorldCat.
The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff: Students and faculty at a high school become embroiled in a censorship case over “Huckleberry Finn.”
Smile Like a Plastic Daisy by Sonia Levitin: A high school senior, concerned about the fight for women’s rights, finds herself suspended from school and the focus of community debate following a confrontation at a swim meet during which she removed her shirt.
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith: Austin Szerba narrates the end of humanity as he and his best friend Robby accidentally unleash an army of giant, unstoppable bugs and uncover the secrets of a decades-old experiment gone terribly wrong.
* In this one, The Chocolate War is brought up as a book that’s causing problems in the school.
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker: High school junior Lacey finds herself questioning the evangelical Christian values she has been raised with when a new boy arrives in her small town.
Evolution, Me, & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande: Following her conscience leads high school freshman Mena to clash with her parents and former friends from their conservative Christian church, but might result in better things when she stands up for a teacher who refuses to include “Intelligent Design” in lessons on evolution.
Save Halloween! by Stephanie Tolan: Is Halloween really the devil’s holiday? Joanna’s family never celebrated Halloween – her father’s minister who doesn’t like kids dressing up as witches and devils. But nobody worries about Joanna’s deep involvement in a class Halloween pageant until Uncle T.T. comes to town with his fiery crusade to abolish Satan’s own holiday.
Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler: Aaron Hartzler grew up in a home where he was taught that at any moment the Rapture could happen — that Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye and scoop Aaron and his whole family up to Heaven. As a kid, he was thrilled by the idea that every moment of every day might be his last one on Earth. But as Aaron turns sixteen, he finds himself more attached to his earthly life and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want the Rapture to happen just yet — not before he sees his first movie, stars in the school play, or has his first kiss. Eventually Aaron makes the plunge from conflicted do-gooder to full-fledged teen rebel. Whether he’s sneaking out, making out, or playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can’t be found in the Bible. He discovers that the best friends aren’t always the ones your mom and dad approve of, the girl of your dreams can just as easily be the boy of your dreams, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you. In this coming-of-age memoir, Hartzler recalls his teenage journey to become the person he wanted to be, without hurting the family that loved him.
The Trouble With Mothers by Margery Facklam: What is a boy to do when his teacher-mother’s historical novel is given as an example of the kind of “pornography” that should be banned from schools and libraries?