One Writer’s Journey

April 13, 2017

Most Challenged Books of 2016

I’m betting that 99.99% of you have probably already figured out that I’m kind of wild for intellectual freedom.  Book banning drives me nuts.

That isn’t to say that I’m against a parent saying “No, that book is a bit much for you” if the content is too emotionally advanced for their child.  After all, that’s part of a parent’s job.  But challenging a book because it has gay characters or transgender characters or the teens in the book are portrayed in a realistic way?  Umm . . . no.

The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom put together this graphic about the 10 most challenged books of 2016.  I have to admit that there two books on the list that I know nothing about — Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk.

But there are other books on this list that I’ve read and highly recommend — depending on your child’s age, both physically and emotionally.  Intellectual freedom is one of our most important building blocks and one that you should be concerned with if you are a writer.

My son’s biggest regret?  That I haven’t managed to get banned yet and he’s about to graduate.  Gotta love ’em.



October 4, 2016

Censorship and the School Library

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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slj_selfcensorship_infographic_2016Do you ever worry that what you write will keep your books out of school libraries?  I have to admit that the thought has crossed my mind.  I’m not so worried about Hidden Human Computers but I was worried when I wrote Black Lives Matter.  After all, I’ve seen the racist memes changing the popular slogan to All Lives Matter.  Forunately, this push back doesn’t seem to have effected the sales of the book. After I read School Library Journal’s “Controversial Books Survey” from Spring 2016, I had a better understanding concerning why this hadn’t been an issue.

The report is about “Self-Censorship” in school libraries.  Self-censorship, as used in this report, means that a librarian decided not to buy a book, thus censoring content available to students.  Why did they pass on books?

From 75% (high school) to 93% (elementary) said it was because of “not-age appropriate content.”  This content was sexual in nature from 57% (high school) to 79% (elementary) of the time.  Vulgar language was given as the reason from 38% (high school) to 69% (elementary) of the time. I’m guess since these add up to over 100% that the two categories frequently overlapped.  To my surprise, racial content was given as a reason from 8% (high school) to 14% (elementary) of the time.

The librarian who answered the survey said that they are having to make these decisions more and more. Some said that this was because more books with potentially controversial content are being published.  Others said that the decision is also fueled by fear that school libraries may not be covered under freedom of speech laws.  Because so many people are offended by so much, some librarians are imagining having to defend a book before they even purchase it.

I don’t know that this is ultimately going to impact what I write.  My nonfiction is may push some people’s button racially but that doesn’t seem to be a big problem with school librarians.  When I write fiction, it is pretty tame at least in terms of controversial content.  Still, this is food for thought.  Even you want to read the survey results (less than 20 pages), you can find it here.





September 28, 2016

Suitable for Young Readers?

surprise-one-handedMaybe this has been on my mind because this is Banned Book Week, but it seems like I’ve been hearing a lot of talk lately about what books are and are not suitable to their age level.  Most often it is because a broad topic is just “too much” for that age group.  And sometimes that may be the case.  Toddlers and preschoolers just aren’t ready for certain topics.

But for the most part it isn’t books for toddlers and preschooler that stir people up.  It is books for kids 8 and older.

Certainly it is easier to tailor some subjects to young adults.  I’m thinking especially topics that have to do with sex, gender, violence, and drugs.  But then I’m reminded about the surprises I’ve encountered as a book reviewer.

When I heard that Gary Golio had written a picture book biography about Jimi Hendrix, I just wasn’t sure.  How do you handle Jimi Hendrix for a picture book crowd?  Answer — you narrow the topic.  Golio wrote about his art, painting pictures with sound.  He led into this with Hendrix love of drawing as a boy.  His death and drug use are only mentioned in the author’s note.  The book is totally age appropriate and it works really well.

Because of this, I’m always a little hesitant to say NO that book is inappropriate.  That said, some topics are going to be harder to carry out than others.  Today, I was skimming MSWL posts on twitter.  Jennifer Azantian would love to see YA similar to the true story about the Netherlands teen who seduced and killed Nazi officers.  Lauren Spieller is on the lookout for MG that deals with sexual abuse.

I’m not saying that I’d want to write either of these books (okay, maybe the YA), but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be done.  And honestly tough books need to be written.  For various reasons, there are kids who need these books.  Neither of these topics would be easy to pull off but sometimes I think the difficult books are the ones most needed in this world.  After all, when it is easy, everyone is ready to give it a try.



September 23, 2016

Banned Book Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:03 am
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banned-book-weekA public service out there for all you writer types.  Next week (September 25–October 1, 2016) is Banned Book Week.

Book banning isn’t when someone doesn’t want their child to read a book.  That’s called parenting.  Maybe not parenting well, but parenting.  Book banning is when someone doesn’t want my kid, your kid or any kid to read a book and they get it pulled from class or the library.  For my kid this wouldn’t be a huge deal.  We have more books than grains of rice (and I have two big bags of rice).  For some young readers school is the only access to books that they have.

Why not celebrate our right to choose what we read by reading a banned book next week?  Here is a list that might help you pick out a book.

The 10 Most Challenged Books of 2015 (from least challenged to most challenged).

10.  Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

8.  Habibi by Craig Thompson

7.  Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

6.  The Holy Bible

5.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

3. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

1. Looking for Alaska by John Green

Honestly, I’ve usually read more of them than I have this year.  This is almost embarrasing.  That said, I loved Looking for Alaska.  I’m not sure how I missed Nasreen’s Secret School since I’m a huge Winter fan but I’ve already requested that one from the library.  Habibi is a graphic novel about child slavery.  I’ve requested that, too.  Fun Home is both a graphic novel and a memoir.  Yep.  I have a request in for that too. I have to say that I wasn’t surprised to see I am Jazz on this list since it is a picture book about a trangender girl.  That said, I requested that too.  I want to see how the author explains it to this young audience.  50 Shades of Grey can stay on the list for a long, long time and I still won’t read it.  My mother-in-law and I have a pact.  I’d hate to disappoint her.

Joking aside, book banning is a huge issue because it is an attempt to control what we think.  Please take the time to read a banned book. As you read, think about who might benefit from picking up a copy.  When you realize who it is, you’ll know what book banning cannot be permitted.


January 29, 2016

Portrayals and Prejudice

Yesterday, I read an article about the controversy surrounding The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz.  Admittedly, I haven’t read the book yet although it is on my list.  The Hired Girl is set in 1911.  The main character, fourteen-year-old Joan, is desperate to get off the farm.  She takes on a variety of hired jobs and in one interview she’s asked if she is Jewish.  Her response stirred up the controversy.

“I was as taken aback as if she’d asked me if I was an Indian. It seemed to me—I mean, it doesn’t now, but it did then—as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there are Indians out West, but they’re civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.”

The controversy stems from this alleged negative portrayal of Native Americans.  I say alleged because it seems more like negative thoughts than an honest-to-goodness portrayal.

The book’s defenders point out that Joan’s attitude is accurate for the time. Furthermore, she apparently grows beyond this belief in the course of the book.

Questions were asked.  Answers were given.  Dialogue insued.

Birthday CakeContrast this to the controversy over A Birthday Cake for George Washington.  It is about George Washington’s slave and chef, Hercules, and his work to bake a birthday cake for Washington.  In one of the illustrations, Hercules and his daughter smile at each other.  Critics claim that this misrepresents slavery. “Slavery is bad!”

Not surprisingly, no one argued against that point although they did point out that the book doesn’t say slavery is good. The controversy continued and those involved with the bookself clammed up. No dialogue.  Just accusations.  I get the complaints because this is a portrayal, but I would really have loved to talk to the editor and gotten her view of things. But I also understand why she chose not to argue with people.

The protest grew and Scholastic pulled the book.  This makes me almost queasy. Like Mitali Perkins, I wish they had added to their book list instead of subtracting.  Additional books could create a dialogue.  Removing a book?  That’s just censorship.

I also wonder what will happen with future books, or books that might have been. I suspect that there are a lot of stories out there that will never be told.  Publishers will be too reluctant to take the risk even if the stories could broaden our view.

I hope my concern is misplaced. The problem is that I can’t think of a single case where censorship has led to greater intellectual freedom.




September 19, 2014

Book Banning

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey for offensive language, unsuitability for age group, and violence.  These books have been around since my son was of the inappropriate age group.  He was never interested.  
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sex, unsuitability for age group, and violence.
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie for substance abuse, offensive language, racism, sex, unsuitability for age group.  I adore this book for the honest portrayal of the characters.  No, they aren’t always spotless, but they are real.  Honestly, this should be required reading for . . . people.  I mean it. 
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James for nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sex, unsuitability to age group.  Have I read this?  No.  Did I read an excerpt?  Only part of it.  I simply was not impressed.  I did have to laugh when I saw “nudity” on the list.  Seriously?  Every time a character takes a shower, the reader can assume there is nudity.  I did see a student carrying this book at the high school today.  Would she have voluntarilly picked up Tom Sawyer?  Probably not.
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins for religious viewpoint and unsuitability for age group.  Again, loved them.  Loved.  Them.  I can’t decide.  Do people who want to ban this book not get the statement it makes about the world we live in?  
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone for substance abuse, nudity, offensive language, and sex.  Honestly, I don’t remember seeing nudity before this year.  
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green for substance abuse, sex, and unsuitability for age group.  Another truly amazing book.  Why don’t they ever ban the boring books?  Oh, wait.  They do if someone is nekked.  
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky for substance abuse, homosexuality, sex, and unsuitability for age group.
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya for occult, offensive language, religious viewpoint, and sex.  Makes me wonder how “offensive language” differs from “swearing.”  
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith for political viewpoint, racism, and violence.

If there is something on the list that I haven’t read yet, I always try to get ahold of it.  Off to search my library for Bless Me Ultima or Bones.  


May 8, 2014

Book Banning

I have one more retreat related post for the week, but I’ll save that until Friday.  I just had to share this book banning story that came my way.  As you know, I’m vocal in my objections to book banning but this one takes the cake.  Not only did they ban one of my all time favorite books, Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, they actually called the police.

I’m sorry, but what the heck do you say when you call the police for something like that?  I’m against freedom of speech?  I’d like to burn books but I haven’t filled out the right paperwork?   What ever they said, I suspect it had something to do with encouraging sex and minors, the police came out to see what was what.  I would love to have heard what those officers said on the radio about that…

Do we haul them in for distributing fiction in a nonfiction zone?

This was simply too strange not to share.


September 13, 2013

Banned Book Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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Did you know that Sept. 21 to the 27th is banned book week?   I hope you will celebrate by reading a banned book.  Which books have been banned?  Here is the American Library Association List for 2012 (the most recent year for which data was available when I wrote this post).  In 2012, there were 464 challenges reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom.  The top ten most challenged books for that year from most to least were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.  Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. 
  3. Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  4. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher.  
  5. Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  6. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
  8. Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
  10. Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  11. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  12. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz.  Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  13. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  14. Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

I can’t say that I’ve read all of these books.  But I have read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Thirteen Reasons Why, And Tango Makes Three, The Kite Runner, and Looking for Alaska.  I’m not saying that every reading choice I make is brilliant but these books, one and all, were amazing.  Yes, some of them deal with harsh realities but there are kids dealing with harsh realities.

I’m not going to get up on a soapbox here, mostly because I can’t decide which one to favor, but I’d like to encourage you all to support the freedom to pick up a book that is sharp and potentially amazing.


April 22, 2013

Most Challenged Books

alexieThe American Library Association recently published their lists of most challenged books for 2012.  The list is compiled from “464 reports on attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves.”  This year’s winners are:

  • Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  This is one of my all-time favorites and should be required reading in my not-so-humble opinion.  The banning issue usually comes down to the fact that Alexie unflinchingly portrays real teen age boys.  Want to ban the book?  Then you probably can’t handle teen-boy-unfiltered either.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  This too is an amazing book and I can see why it would make people squirm but sometimes squirmy is a good thing especially when we are forced to examine the implications of letting certain things take place.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.  
  • And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.  Another thought provoking favorite of mine.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  This one is an adult book so I can see it being inappropriate for younger readers but I would have no problem with my son reading it in a highschool lit class.  
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

I’m not saying that all book challenges are unfounded.  If someone was requiring my 12 year-old to read The Kite Runner, I’d have something to say about it, but that’s a curriculum issue because it is an adult book and not a get-this-book-out-of-the-library issue.

For those of you who may not have figured it out, I’m against book banning.  Yes, some of these books are about bad things, but sometimes a kid needs to read about another kid who survived something bad.  That way, they’ll see that they too can survive.  Not all of these books are those kinds of books.  Some are simply irreverent and silly.  I may not like the individual books, but kids need to laugh and they often laugh at things I find disgusting.  That’s life.

How many of these books have you read?  If the answer is zero, I’d definitely encourage you to pick up a few of them.  See what is setting people off.  If you are writing for kids, you need to know.  Me?  I’ve requested Looking for Alaska.  It’s a book I’ve heard great things about but simply haven’t gotten to yet.  I think it’s about time that I did.


June 20, 2012

Not Quite a Banning

What do you call it when a school district doesn’t remove a book from the library?  No, no.  That would be banning.  Instead they relocate it to a special shelf behind the librarian’s desk.  Only children who bring in a special permission slip will be allowed to check out and read this title.

And what book has garnered this attention?  None other than Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House.  Note the punctuation in the title and you’ll figure out what the problem is.  In case you need a little more help, here is the description my library has posted for the book:

“Marmee, Meema, and the kids are just like any other family on the block. In their beautiful house, they cook dinner together, they laugh together, and they dance together. But some of the other families don’t accept them. They say they are different. How can a family have two moms and no dad? But Marmee and Meema’s house is full of love. And they teach their children that different doesn’t mean wrong. And no matter how many moms or dads they have, they are everything a family is meant to be. Here is a true Polacco story of a family, living by their own rules, and the strength they gain by the love they feel.”

What a pity that someone saw this book and refused to accept it.

This banning came about after a student in Utah’s Davis School District checked the book out from her school library.  The mother of the kindergarten student complained and the book was moved from the K-2 section to the 3rd to 6th grade section.  This wasn’t good enough and the mother along with 24 others each filled out reconsideration of library materials forms.

No objections were made to the content of the book.  Instead, they claimed that it wasn’t age appropriate.

Polacco was inspired to write this book by a Texas girl who wanted to read an essay about her family and same-sex parents but was told by a teacher that she couldn’t because she wasn’t from a real family.

Here is what the SLJ had to say about the book when they reviewed it:

“The story serves as a model of inclusiveness for children who have same-sex parents, as well as for children who may have questions about a “different” family in their neighborhood. A lovely book that can help youngsters better understand their world.”

Why not check this book out today?  Or better yet, go buy a copy.

Thank you to Patricia Polacco for taking on the narrow minded.



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