Books and Teachers Under Attack

Last week I reported on efforts to ban SPEAK in CA, and TWISTED in KY and PA. Thankfully, all of the attempts to remove the books were defeated.

This week, things are worse.

Teachers at Montgomery High School in Mt. Sterling, KY have been banned from wearing Banned Books Week tee-shirts that feature a quote from To Kill A Mockingbird. 6pm update: after a meeting today that included an Educational Association representative (which I think means union) at the table, the tee-shirt ban was lifted.


The rationale for the ban was that wearing the shirts constituted political activity.

God, I wish I was making this up. But I am not. I will post a link to news coverage of this horrifying nightmare as soon as it is available.

Other book banning notes:

John Green blogged about parent demands in Leesburg, FL, that tighter restrictions be put on 40 books in the public library, included LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Be sure to watch the replay of John’s vlog, "I Am Not A Pornographer." Genius.

Lee Wind has an EXCELLENT roundtable discussion with Ellen Hopkins, E. Lockhart, Jo Knowles, Jacqui Robbins, Sarah Brannan, and Frank Portman about challenges to their books. Read Part 1 now!

What can we do to protect books and readers and teachers and librarians?

If you live in Central New York, you can go to the Onondaga County Public Library at 5:30-7:30pm tonight to listen to Sonya Sones talk about her experience with book banning.

Read this wonderful interview with Chris Crutcher. Heed his advice about how to deal with censorship: "Never be intimidated.  The loud voices for censorship actually represent a very small number of people.  Judge yourself by your enemies as much as you judge yourself by your friends."

YALSA has some great suggestions on its blog.

If you don’t have book banning attempts in your community, take the time to thank your local school superintendent and library board for their intelligent understanding of the Constitution. If you do have challenges to books in your community, speak out loudly.

And last, some wonderful news for a change: attendance records at the National Book Festival were shattered as more than 130,000 book lovers turned out to listen to authors in Washington, DC.

Autumn, with the smell of book banning in the air

(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. UPDATE: I just received a note saying the parents in Downingtown and the teacher were able to work through the issues. Yay for the good and reasonable people of Downingtown!

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


Tammy Haydon
Review Committee chair

Dr. Daniel Freeman
Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools

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, CA. 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 atthese 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 prevent book banning?

to the jerk who trespassed in the Forest

Over the weekend someone slashed our “Obama for President” sign with a knife. Sliced it into ribbons.

In honor of that person, I’ve decided to make another contribution to Sen. Obama’s campaign.

I am actually a more conservative person than most people might guess. I am a registered Republican, although the leadership of both parties makes me weep. You have to be a registered something around here. My husband and I own guns and we hunt. I believe in balanced budgets, personal accountability, small government that stays the heck out of people’s lives, and in the old-fashioned concept of Americans caring for each other. I believe that the Bush administration is the worst thing that has ever happened to America, and that under Bush’s leadership our country has been sold out to the interests of major corporations. I want my country back.

I support Sen. Obama’s position on energy use, healthcare, education, and getting us out of Iraq.

I have read Sen. McCain’s position papers. I don’t agree with most of them. If he is elected, I don’t think the country will be in as dangerous a position as we have been under the Bush administration, but I don’t think Sen. McCain really grasps the situation of working people in America. He seems out of touch and his proposals lack vision and depth.

So the Obama signs are going back up on the trees that face the road. They will be hung so that they can be seen by passers-by, but anyone who wants to destroy them is going to have to hike a little to get to them.

Along with the “Obama for President” signs, we’re going to post the following message, to anyone violates our Constitutionally-protected private property and destroys our Constitutionally-protected right to free speech by ruining our statement of political support.

The extra sign will say this:

“God Bless America!
If you are standing close enough to read this, you need to know three things:

1. You are trespassing on private property.

2. You have already been photographed. (by a scouting camera)

3. You are standing in a sea of poison ivy.

Three cheers for the First Amendment!”