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Autumn, with the smell of book banning in the air
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(Yes, I know this is a long post. With no pictures. It's important. Please read through to the end. And then pass it on.)

While I was out of town last week, I received word of three attempts to remove two of my books from high school classrooms, Twisted and Speak.

The challenge I have the least information on is apparently taking place at Downingtown West High School in Downingtown, PA. Twisted is on the 9th grade summer reading list there. Some parents object to the book because of the description of sexual behavior in it.

The second Twisted challenge is taking place this week at Montgomery High School in Mt. Sterling, Ky. A parent there feels the book is inappropriate.

Here is a quote from the draft of the letter I am sending to the Mt. Sterling superintendent:

"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.

Jesus knew this. He did not simply reiterate the Ten Commandments, or tell us to love one another and walk back into the desert. He told stories that made his listeners think. They make us think two thousand years later.

Storytelling is the traditional vehicle mankind uses to pass wisdom from one generation to the next. Twisted contains a lot of bad decisions, hard consequences, and wisdom.

In an addendum to this letter, you will find a listing of the state and national awards Twisted has received. They were all very flattering, but none of them mean nearly as much to me as the email I get from readers. Here are a few quotes from them.

“I just wanted to say thank you for writing this book. I have been considering killing myself for many years and now i am entering my junior year of high school and about 10 minutes ago finished this book. It has given me a new perspective on life and that death isn’t the easy way out. I can relate to Tyler in many ways… I greatly appreciate this book because now I know that there is hope in my life and that death is not the answer. And one more thing this is the only book I have been able to pick up and not put down from start to finish. I finished it in one day.”

“… I read Twisted today. I started around 4, and I couldn't stop, I finished at 9:40. This book, was so eerily similar to my life, not completely, because I haven't done any "Foul Deeds" (haha), and I don't have the same "Bethany" situation, but my father is so much like Tyler's, it sounded like he was based off him. He yells about grades constantly, to the point of making my house unhappy. I've considered suicide before and told no one, just buried it. I know this sounds strange, but I connected to this book in a very strange way. I can't explain it, I just did. I've never sat down and read a book cover to cover, but for some reason, I couldn't stop… But, I mean, this sounds silly, but I just want to thank you for writing that book. I feel different now, I know it may not make perfect sense, but this book changed part of me. So, thank you.”

"...Twisted really got to me. I've had 3 suicide attempts and the way you wrote the way he was feeling, and the hopelessness and complete unhappiness he had to deal with really hit home with me. You really nailed it... After finishing twisted I realized how much of a miracle life is, and how problems are only temporary. I could honestly bore you with a 3 page email explaining to you all I've learned and connected with from your writing. Basically I really appreciate and look up to you and your work."

 

Those emails, sir, are the reason I write hard, true, literary books for teenagers."

If you are looking to get a head start on observing Banned Books Week, feel free to write to the schools involoved with these challenges. PLEASE, I BEG YOU: be civilized and polite!! Our country is suffering an influenza of rudeness. Calling names and heaping scorn does not further discussions or change attitudes. It just builds the barricades higher.

If you have personal experience with Twisted, as a reader, a parent, an educator, or a librarian, please share those experiences (in a positive, constructive way) with these people:

DOWNINGTOWN WEST HIGH SCHOOL, DOWNINGTOWN PA

Nancy Robinson
English Dept. Chairperson
Downingtown High School, West
nrobinson@dasd.org

John Nodecker
Principal
Downingtown High School, West
jnodecker@dasd.org

Dr. Lawrence J. Mussoline
Superintendent
Downingtown Area School District
I was unable to find a direct email for Dr. Mussoline. Try info@dasd.org. Maybe lmussoline@dasd.org might work.

MONTGOMERY HIGH SCHOOL, MT. STERLING, KY

Tammy Haydon
Review Committee chair
tammy.haydon@montgomery.kyschools.us

Dr. Daniel Freeman
Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools
daniel.freeman@montgomery.kyschool.us

Please also remember to send prayers and support to the teachers forced to deal with these challenges. Being a teacher is one of the most important, and one of the hardest jobs in the world. Having your professional integrity called out by an attempt to ban books in your classroom is a devastating attack. My heart goes out to all of the students, teachers, staff, and community members who are standing up to the attempts of a vocal minority to impose their will and their taste in literature upon an entire school.

In the Good News column, Speak has survived a book banning attempt in Temecula, California. The complaining parent in Temecula said SPEAK was "smutty" and "pornographic." The LA Times newspaper did a great job covering the controversy; it published an article about the background of the challenge, and another one after the school board voted to keep the book in curriculum.

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the National Coalition against Censorship have joined forces to create the Kids' Right to Read Project (KRRP). It is a brilliant, powerful, and much-appreciated collaboration. KRRP wrote to the Temecula Valley Unified School District to protest the attempt to ban SPEAK.

I love the KRRP letter.

I used to get really angry at these things because I felt they were a personal attack on me. Then I grew up.

Now I get angry because book banning is bad for my country. It is an attack on the Constitution and about the core ideals of America. It is the tool of people who want to control and manipulate our children.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1953 that the “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

What do you think? What are you doing to fight book banning?

Comments
8 Comment count
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At Red Room, we're hoping...

to show we can stop book banning in several events next week. Stay tuned!

Jennifer Gibbons, Red Room

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Hear hear

I am re-posting what I said in my comment on Ellen Hopkins Manifesto post http://www.redroom.com/blog/ellen-hopkins/manifesto

I have been trying to follow my three teens this summer—the summer I let them have their freedom. I did not interfere with their choices nor ask them what they were up to. I was worried and yet there was a redeeming feeling that overcame me as the summer went on: my teens talked to me.

I had to listen to their stories without judgment and keep to my plan. What happened was they trusted me to tell me anything and the things I feared in my head did not happen. In fact my teens matured very quickly and made choices that really surprised me.

At the end of the day it all boils down to trusting in the idea that your teens inherit your values. Trust me teens will make mistakes but they will make much more good choices than bad.

Great post!

And I am one lucky parent let me tell you! Proud of my teens and proud that somewhere along the way they did learn like baby birds do who one day have to learn to fly in order to leave the nest.

Kindest,
Michael Pokocky

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Lucky Parents

I agree with this plan.  I have twin boys that entered a public high school with every fear possible coming from a catholic school environment.  In my mind, I knew they'd be fine but all summer long I listened to them complain about getting in shape physically so that they'd be ready "mentally" for high school.  Funny, now they're talking very openly about new friends, new encounters and being in the top ten in at least 3 of their classes.  My husband and I have been scrutinized by his family for not being very "structured" in our child rearing methods...funny, it seems the more freedoms that have been allowed to them, the more maturity and respect that we've witnessed.  Don't get me wrong, they've messed up a few times but more often than not, they've made good choices over bad and have inherited values that I know they picked up right here under our little roof!

Thanks for your post on this...it helps.

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Twisted

After reading this, I went online to order this book to be read by my three teens. I have twin boys that are 15 and a daughter 18. My daughter has confessed thoughts of suicide but never to act out on it, thankfully. I'm not sure what stopped her but hopefully something my husband and I have said or have taught through example. What I find interesting about this post are the ways that schools are so ready to "hush hush" anything like this. Education certainly is a commodity right now and is something that I've always told the kids, is a way to prevent poverty. As a parent who loves to read, I've always told the kids that the best way to travel and live is to pick up a book. The worlds that are visited via a book can be quite transforming of one's perspective.

They've all come to me and have thanked me on more than one occasion to tell me that they were glad to have had the chance to read certain titles. This will be one of them, I am certain.

Thanks so much for your insight.

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Children know everything

Or at least they think they do. By making something off limits in order to keep them from certain experiences--as opposed to simply screening them from adult eyes--we undermine our relationships with our own kids, with all kids.

I talk to my kids about death, religion, and war. How do I make sure I don't terrify and overwhelm them? Simple. I don't bring these things up--they bring them to me. I follow their lead, and their level of interest.

In books and printed matter especially, children screen out what is too much for them. (Audio/visual media aren't filtered as well. That's why you often see kids with nightmares after a movie, but only rarely after being read a story.) If a child is angling for a book, it's because that material means something to him or her, and s/he needs it. We keep it from them at their detriment and ours.

Sorry for the long comment! Just wanted to add these thoughts to the many wise reasons listed for banning book banning...

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You've made a wonderful contribution to teen lit.

I found SPEAK to be one of the best books I've read for young adults. And you're right--Jesus told stories rather than giving lectures. Your stories are an enormous contribution to the wellbeing of young people, and as someone who also occasionally writes for young adults, and teaches writing to young adults, I thank you. They need us, and they need us to stand up for their right to read what they choose.

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The problem with Twisted

In a break from the other writers I am going to repsectfully disagree with your blog. I have not read your book outside of the outline given to me by your blog so I can make this statements with the utmost confidence.
Before your book none of these problems faced by your characters existed. Teenagers had never had to face difficult choices and the gut wrenching, and often permanent, consequences that these characters made. In fact I can provide ample evidence that there were never any teenage pregnancies and not a single teenager commited suicide before the publication of this book.
You know now that I think of it I don't even think sex existed before the publication of this book.
I think we only need to look at countries like Iran to realize the benefits of banning books. In Iran their are no books that talk about HIV and thus Iran by default has no HIV. By putting our heads in the proverbial hole, although for me it is a literal hole, we are protecting the upcoming generation from all the bad things we wish would go away because it makes us uncomfortable talking about.

Comment Bubble Tip

The problem with Twisted

In a break from the other writers I am going to repsectfully disagree with your blog. I have not read your book outside of the outline given to me by your blog so I can make this statements with the utmost confidence.
Before your book none of these problems faced by your characters existed. Teenagers had never had to face difficult choices and the gut wrenching, and often permanent, consequences that these characters made. In fact I can provide ample evidence that there were never any teenage pregnancies and not a single teenager commited suicide before the publication of this book.
You know now that I think of it I don't even think sex existed before the publication of this book.
I think we only need to look at countries like Iran to realize the benefits of banning books. In Iran their are no books that talk about HIV and thus Iran by default has no HIV. By putting our heads in the proverbial hole, although for me it is a literal hole, we are protecting the upcoming generation from all the bad things we wish would go away because it makes us uncomfortable talking about.