November 9, 2010
Lauren Myracle and Ellen Hopkins spoke at the closing session about censorship. Lauren took a more humorous approach with touches of seriousness, reading letters from parents that included phrases like “peddle your trash to eleven-year-olds,” but also reminding us of the importance of the work librarians do to keep books on shelves (“fighting for books, even if they suck, is part of the librarian’s creed and soul”). She said that people who want to censor literature for young people have usually lost touch with how it really felt to be a teen, and that they’re operating from positions of fear. So when those angry would-be censors come to us wanting to challenge a book, we need to see them not as adversaries, but as people giving us the opportunity for dialogue. To drive this point home, she read us a series of emails she exchanged with a parent who started out angry, then confessed that her anger came from fear, and eventually found common ground with Lauren as a parent and a reader.
Oh, Lauren also mentioned that all of the girls from the Flower Power series (which starts with Luv Ya Bunches and continues with Violet in Bloom) have Facebook fan pages, and that if you were to rank them by number of fans, the white girl would come first, then the Asian girl, then the black girl, and then–after a huge drop-off–the Middle Eastern Muslim girl. So go, be friends with Yasaman.
Ellen Hopkins’s talk was more serious, in part because of the subject matter of her books. She reflected on how she was disinvited not only from the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas but three other times. She recognizes that her books take on really tough things, but reminded us that teens are absolutely dealing with exactly those things (bluntly saying, “Kids have been forced into prostitution at six years old, so my books are totally appropriate for thirteen-year-olds.”) and then read us letter after letter she’s received from readers telling her that her books saved them. These teens have gone through absolutely hellish experiences, but they found comfort in reading Ellen’s books, even if it just let them know that they weren’t alone (“I pick up one of your books and know I am OK,” wrote one reader), and it brought them back from destructive behaviors, from suicide, from despair. There were people in the audience who were moved to tears by these stories. And Ellen said that if any of us were ever fighting a challenge to her books, she’ll provide copies of these letters and emails–which she receives daily–to help us make our case for her books to stay on the shelves.
I was surprised while Ellen was speaking that when she mentioned her disinvitation from the Humble Teen Lit Fest and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak being referred to as pornography that there were people in the crowd who gasped, having not heard about those incidents. While it may seem like “everyone” in the YA library world knew about these controversies, that’s clearly not true. We need to keep spreading the word about things like this–and finding new ways to get the news to people who don’t read or watch or listen to the channels for dissemination that we are using.
Lauren Myracle and Ellen Hopkins both did a great job of showing us the perils of censorship, the need for teens to have literature that reflects their worlds, and how we can fight to keep those books on our shelves and in teens’ hands. We can draw on resources like Ellen’s reader letters and the Office for Intellectual Freedom and we need to make sure to see challenges as chances for conversation and not as conflicts between adversaries. It’s encouraging to hear from the very authors who have been banned that librarians and libraries make a difference.
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