TWISTED banning update

I now have the specifics of the challenge to TWISTED in Montgomery High School in Mt. Sterling, KY.

It started as an effort to remove seven books. These were all options for literature circle reads. All seven were pulled from a teacher’s classroom after a parent complained about the content of the books. The first six were pulled on August 24th.

The books in questions were:
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
The Rapture of Canaan  by Sheri Reynolds
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know  by Sonya Sones

A week later, Unwind, by Neal Shusterman, was added to the list.

Of those original seven books, the official challenge paperwork was only filed for three titles: Twisted, Lessons from a Dead Girl, and Unwind.

Many, many thanks to all of you who took the time to write to the schoolin support of the books. I suspect it made a big difference.

The people at the Kids’ Right to Read Project wrote an awesome letter that cites case law explaining why this attempted banning was unconstitutional. You really want to read this, save a copy for your files, and get in touch with KRRP.

The challenge committee (six people) met last week. Here is the outcome:
Unwind, approved,  5-1
Twisted, approved,  4-2
Lessons from a Dead Girl, approved, 3-3 (tie broken by an assistant principal in favor of the book)

An appeal has been filed by the parent about Unwind. It seems that appeals were not filed for Twisted or Lessons from a Dead Girl.

Please note: as of yesterday, September 25, NONE of the originally challenged seven books had been returned to the teacher’s classroom by the administration. None.

I think this is a cautious victory. I won’t be surprised if there are more challenges coming from the parent or parents who spearheaded this one. I wish there was a way to help promote some conversation with them about their notion that books like these lead to dangerous behavior.

At the same time last week, Ellen Hopkins was dealing with her own book banning nightmare. A parent in Norman, OK who objects to Ellen’s books was able to have Ellen’s school visit there cancelled.

Ellen blogs about the background of the conflict. It did not seem to be covered widely in the American press. The UPI ran a story, but I don’t know how many papers picked up on it. They were talking about the controversy in England, though. Though disinvited from the school, Ellen went through with her trip and spoke at a church in Moore, OK.

All of this in the week before Banned Books Week.

The number of attempts to remove books from schools and libraries is growing. This is not a thing of the past, sadly. It is a thing of today.

What do you say to people who believe that one parent can dictate curriculum? How can we talk to people who view books that reflect the realities of society as dangerous objects that need to hidden away?

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33 Comments

  1. Posted September 26, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    An english teacher has been educated to understand literature. Even if the actions that characters do, or words they say are offensive in some way the teacher understands that this is effective to the overall story. Parents don’t have this understanding. For the most part I feel that they look at passages and not the book as a whole.

    Whoever this parent is in KY, I really want to read UNWIND now. I bet there are a lot of students at that school who wouldn’t have cared about that book, but the mear fact that she is going to all this effort (really isn’t there something more useful she could be doing?) really makes me want to know why it is so “bad”.

    • Posted September 26, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      UNWIND is a really good book. It’s dark, don’t get me wrong. There is one scene in particular that left me unable to form words for about a minute. But it’s a really fabulous book that kept me reading like a madwoman even though I had rather a large chunk of ALL THE KING’S MEN to read for one of my college classes.

      This review basically reflects all of the reviews I read before finally reading the book itself:
      http://bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com/bookshelves_of_doom/2009/03/unwind-neal-shusterman.html

      I’d definitely recommend it.

    • Posted September 27, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Exactly. I felt the same way and went right to Amazon to see what UNWIND was all about. I mean, if it’s the worst of the worst…

      That’s the ironic thing about banning books – it’s actually doing all the work for kids, saying, “Of all the thousands of books out there, these are the ones I don’t want you to read.” And so they go right to them, thinking there really has to be something remarkable about them if they’ve gotten that much attention.

      Like in that map of banned books Laurie posted a while back. For Louisville, Kentucky: “Toni Morrison’s Beloved was removed and banned from AP English classrooms at Eastern High School because of parental complaints on the book’s racial and sexual content. Students were told to stop reading the book 30 pages from the end of the novel.”

      We all know that every student in that class (and even students not in the class) read those thirty pages, and most probably read them first.

      As Ovid put it two thousand years ago, “We always strive after what is forbidden, and desire the things refused us.”

  2. Posted September 26, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I’d be curious to know how many of those involved in all of this actually READ the books vs just the jacket cover/hype.

    I agree that by bringing these books into this light has now made them must reads by the students.

    • Posted April 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      oh, this books’s really usefull

  3. Posted September 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    The review committee do all have to read the books before the meetings.

    However, in a lovely oversight of justice, the parent who challenged the books is on the review committee, which likely accounts for the one vote against Unwind. And none of the books are safe yet, because the parent is now trying to change the policy on HOW books are challenged, probably to make it easier to get them removed.

    The students really don’t know what is going on, outside of the few in that specific English class. There hasn’t been a lot of publicity for this in the school or the community.

  4. Posted September 26, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Banned books make me crazy. I keep hoping that we’ll reach a point where we don’t need to worry about it anymore. Every year we build a display of banned books at our store (BookPeople – we love you here, Laurie!) and for the past two years I’ve been involved with this. People are always SHOCKED by the classics that are on the list.

    What I don’t see is shock at some of the newer titles. Or just shock in general that books are being challenged or banned at all (except for one old lady from England last week who accosted a staff member about the crazy American government banning books. Ha!) – I think that’s where the shock should be. That people think it’s their right to suppress kids’ right to read.

    Keep on with your warrior ways! I’ll add Twisted (one of my favorite books, actually) to my display today.

  5. Posted September 26, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Banned books should be an issue of the past. I think that the reason some parents and groups are still in favor of banning books is due to the trend in our society of blaming a teen’s destructive actions on outside influences. It is far easier to think it was the violent video game, the dark lyrics, and the angst filled books that corrupt our youth rather than looking to less than stellar parenting skills. It’s the classic blame game.

    My parents, conservative enough at times to make Glenn Beck seem moderate, never put boundaries on what I was allowed to read as they were both heavy readers. My parents laid down the strong foundation of my morals, and books only added layers to that. Books like Go Ask Alice, and even the Sweet Valley High books, illustrated the dangers of taking drugs, the horrible outcomes. Reading for me was a way of safely experiencing the world around me. I can’t imagine what my life would be without the novels of my youth.

    I understand that there are some books that parent find inappropriate for their children, I really do. But banning them isn’t the answer. For those books that stir up controversy perhaps their should be alternate selections. To appease the few by taking books off the shelves is to punish the many. The better solution would be for the parents to read the books in question and discuss them with their children, but rare is the case of the book banner who has actually read the book they are wanting banned.

    • Posted October 9, 2009 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Perhaps labeling books as being appropriate for students above a certain age would be the best solution. If parents don’t know what their students are reading (I am talking about elementary and middle school here), then the schools are not to blame for that.

      Parenting is always the first source of how kids turn out. Many parents don’t want to face that reality.

  6. Posted September 26, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Hey!
    I’m a reader from Germany and I have a question: what are the reasons (may they be logical or not) for parents of US pupils to ask that books are banned from a library or classroom? I can’t imagine that they find (YA) literature offending in any way. Literature tells storys that we can learn from and think about.

    During all my years as a german pupil in elementary and high school I NEVER heard of a parent who try to ban books from our school library and we had all kinds of books in there. My mother let me read everything I wanted to read and trusted me that I’m able to distinguish between good and bad, mostly bc I talked to her all the time about the books I read (and really developed a passion for it).

    Because of my great love of books (of all kinds) which was established in my childhood and teen years I decided to study literature, earn my M.A. and work in a little publishing company now.

    I think it is highly alarming that parents limit their children’s possibilities of learning, reading and thinking by trying to ban books.

    • Posted September 26, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Paperwitch, usually it is related to sexual content, bad language (sexual, crude, vulgar), illegal drug and alcohol use, content such as rape or incest that these parents think kids aren’t old enough to think about (!), language perceived to be racist, or things that the parents perceive as being offensive to Christianity. Many people in the US are very strict Christians who believe that everyone (not just their own families or even just other Christians) should live by that own moral code, and most of the book challenges come from those kinds of people. Or sometimes, especially with “racist” content, they might come from parents who consider themselves left-wing, but this is less common. Or a parent might hear that a book has a particular racist word in it and object, not knowing the context of the word and that the book is actually anti-racist.

      My (limited) experiences in Germany have led me to believe that due to your history, there’s a reluctance to do things like ban books or try to dictate too much what is taught in schools. Unfortunately, in the US some people believe that controlling what books children read is a very moral thing to do.

      I hope this is helpful. It’s kind of a hard thing to explain, considering the differences in culture and in educational systems.

      • Posted September 26, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        thanks for explaining :)

        It’s a pity that they base their decision only on single words or scenes without putting the whole book/story into a wider context and think about what these books are really about. I’m catholic myself (but not that ultra-strict) and open-minded/tolerant to other religious (or non-religious) believes and read many things that could be considered offensive or too sexual or too rude etc. but I don’t adapt but THINK about it. I’m sure if children grow up with an open mind and a good education (in school AND social knowledge) books mostly do good to them.

        That very strict Christian moral code that many US citizens seem live by (don’t want to judge, everyone is entitled to live a life that he/she feels appropriate!) is sth that is not found very often in Europe. Of course we have many Christians here who life after a christian moral code but their attitude seems to be more relaxed and open-minded.

        Our history of banned (and burned) books might be a reason that we have more tolerance now (which is a good thing…to learn from mistakes). I was born 38 years after war was over and I’m very grateful that my generation is more open-minded and tolerant and liberal but can combine it with ethics and moral in a balanced way.
        I’m very sure there are many intelligent, well-educated AND religious people in the US who’ll think that book banning is a bad thing to do, too.

        Crossing my fingers that book banning can be oversome in those special cases described in the post above but in general, too.

      • Posted October 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        Just to suggest something from that “Christian” side of America you’re talking about, please know that a majority of Bible-believing Christians do NOT actually support this selective ignoring of the First Amendment.

        I am a Christian parent and teacher at a Christian elementary and middle school in San Jose, California. We do not block websites (instead we teach students how to make good choices and stay safe) and we do not ban books. As I mentioned in a comment elsewhere on this blog, we have some books we don’t carry or promote, in an effort to avoid offending some families, but we do not prohibit certain books wholesale. Instead we talk about why some people may choose not to read these books.

        You may be surprised to learn that we encourage our students to read a wide range of literature and to confront the issues that they face in their lives by being open both in sharing and listening. It probably helps that our school librarian is an amazing person and advocates that kids read books that have been (or are being!) banned in this country.

        • Posted October 9, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          Why on earth would you make the assumption that I’m not a Christian myself? Never in my comment did I claim that “Christians” do or don’t do or believe anything, simply that a subset of Christians do.

          Diane, do not go looking for offense where there is none.

          • Posted October 9, 2009 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            Did I say I was offended? Who’s looking for something that isn’t there?

          • Posted October 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

            In fact, because paperwitch is writing from another country, I was adding to what you said. You spoke about some Christians in America. I added something to clarify so that she wouldn’t think we are all like that.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted September 26, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Kentucky challenges

    Lori, I wish we’d known about this challenge at Camp Crutcher. You KNOW we would have been standing right beside you to fight this nonsense, had anyone given us a head’s up. DEADLINE was on the block, so it’s specific to CC, but even if his book wasn’t a target, we’d have helped with the battle. Is there any kind of press coverage I can read to get more specifics? Glad you knew. Glad you could kick some butt for free speech and the right to read.

    Kelly Milner Halls

  8. Posted September 26, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    You know, when I read ‘Unwind,’ my first thought beyond “wow…” was “It’s only a matter of time until somebody tries to get this thing banned.” It is unfortunate that I was right.

    But congrats on having your book approved. I’m miffed at the fact that none of the books have returned to the shelves, but the approval is still progress.

    I know these parents are trying to protect their children from the “evils of the world,” but the evils of the world will catch up to them sooner or later, and I think it’s better if they are trusted with some glimpse of that before they actually have to face it themselves.

    ~E

    PS Thanks for keeping us updated on this. I know that the more reminders I have that book banning is still alive and kicking, the more I try to make my voice heard on the subject.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted September 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Oh what grounds does this parent want Unwind banned? It creeped me out a lot, but that was the point, and it’s an excellent book besides. Sure, it mentions abortion, but it doesn’t advocate it. It just discusses a terrible solution to the problem.

    Students should be given alternative options to books with content they (or, I suppose, their parents) object to, but a single parent or small group of parents has no right to dictate what other people’s children should read. And before they attempt to get a book banned, they should actually read the book and see if they still find it objectionable.

  10. Posted September 27, 2009 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    I think these challenges give people the illusion of control. As if by removing a book, they could eliminate from the world whatever makes them uncomfortable about that book.

    But it doesn’t eliminate the reality–be it homosexuality, teen sexuality, abortion, sexual assault, suicide, drinking, drug use, profanity, etc. It only removes a channel through which people have been able to consider the issue, to ponder its origins and consequences.

    And I think banning contributes to repression and shame, reinforcing the idea that some things are not okay to even talk about, to even think about. And then anyone who does think or talk about those things may end up feeling guilty and isolated.

  11. Posted September 27, 2009 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Since Neal got one more vote than you, does that mean he’s president?

  12. Posted September 27, 2009 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    That is unfortunate that the parent was doing a full on challenge of literature circle options. While many are against any type of censorship, this seems even worse since it was just an option, not a whole class read.

    In my own classroom I try to be careful that the books I have are appropriate for middle schoolers. I often struggle on where to draw the line. I have a box full of books that are intended for high school readers that I just can’t get rid of because some day I hope that I will be in a situation where I can utilize them, even if it is lending them to former students when they are in high school.

    I try to honor parent wishes. There are some books in my classroom library that not every parent would agree is appropriate for middle schoolers. I would respect such parents’ wishes in regard to their children, but I would never want one parent to decide for all 51 of my middle schoolers. That is why this challenge bothers me so much. It is reasonable to say that the parent would prefer his/her child reads a different selection for literature circles. The parent could even talk to other parents if he/she felt so compelled to do so in order for each parent to make the decision for his/her own child.

    However, it is unfortunate that the parent felt it was up to him/her to take the book out of all the students’ hands. Every student is different and the books may very well have been exactly what some of them needed.

    • Anonymous
      Posted September 29, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      This echoes my feelings

      As an English teacher, I respect that it is a parent’s right (and child’s right) to opt out of reading something. I always have an alternative ready to go. I’ve had parents and students object to Ender’s Game, The Crucible and The Great Gatsby.
      However, I don’t think that one parent, or even a group of parents should be able to determine what other people’s children are choosing to read for literary circles-or independent reading. I agree that banned books become an object of curiosity for students and they are more likely to read them. I live in a very conservative area, so I choose books for full class reading that I don’t think would offend, but I have a wide and varied selection in my classroom library. I send home a disclaimer saying that if students or parents object to a book: stop reading it! Usually that solves the problem.

  13. Posted September 27, 2009 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Thought people might be interested in an article a friend of mine who used to work for the Newberry just found: 11 Most Ironically Banned Books of All Time.

    As for your question, Laurie, I haven’t run into anyone who feels the need to ban books. I suppose I’d do what you have done and explain what the books are actually about and show how they have helped people who have read them.

  14. Posted September 27, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Book banning is completely ridiculous. It really irritates me how someone thinks they can stop kids from reading something inappropiate. Adolescence is marked by the inappropiate. How are they supposed to deal when every example or relatable character is taken off the shelf?

  15. Posted September 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Fan

    I am a huge fan of your books. From the minute I walked by and they were on a table down the center aisles of Barnes and Noble. All of them are on my wish list for Christmas! Thank you for writing the thoughts I had when I was in high school, but would never say outloud!

  16. Anonymous
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Sadly (in my opinion) there are dozens and dozens of books out there openly available on library shelves that, while not having offensive words or scenes, are just so badly written that they are a waste of time to read. And yet, THEY have just as much right to be available to be read as these few books that DO challenge the reader (both in word usage as well as thought process)

    Ironically, if you were to go into some of these folk’s homes (the ones behind these banning attempts) and sit them down and tell them that YOU are going through the motions of getting something that THEY love, (be it a favorite television show or favorite book, like perhaps say, The Bible (!!!) banned, they would be infuriated.

    The dumbing down of America (and it’s youth) continues…

    • Anonymous
      Posted October 2, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

      Just the Facts

      I am a mother of a student involved at this school and I feel that there are several facts that need to be clarified because they are being misrepresented. First, these books are not being used in AP English but in the regular Sophomore English classes taken by all students. Second, the request is not to remove them from student access, only as required reading assignments. They are still allowed to be in the library and can still be used by the book club. In several posts, it was stated that if a parent objected to content that an alternative assignment was given, however, that is not correct either. If you feel this is an honorable cause, please don’t distort the facts.

  17. Posted September 28, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to see the official challenge paperwork. Is this a universal document? I wonder because a school board here recently updated the form for challenged books and it seems to be bent in their favor now. Convenient.

    These parents irritate me. I have no problem if they don’t allow their OWN kids to read certain things until they’re older but don’t make rules for every kid! Meanwhile, many of those kids are watching MTV reality shows and blowing up stuff on XBox. (end of rant)

  18. Posted September 28, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    If the http://www.kylibasn.org/ has not been notified, then they should be. As the state arm of the ALA, they may (or SHOULD) have in place mechanisms to alert the ALA of book challenges. And having the ALA on your side with Book Challenges is something you want.

  19. Posted September 29, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to yenniemonster for the Ironically Banned Books link – it’s an entertaining list, and the mention about Harry Potter books actually getting kids to read reminded me of the reaction to Tom Swift books a hundred years ago.

    Here’s an excerpt from a Smithsonian article on Stratemeyer’s series, which also included The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew:

    As adolescence matured in the public imagination of the early l900s, so did its flip side – juvenile delinquency… many concerned educators and clergy blamed the emerging adolescent culture – and Stratemeyer. As Stratemeyer’s syndicate flourished, some librarians banned series fiction from their shelves.

    Every year more books came out. Teachers grumbled. Parents got together. And into the thick rode the chief librarian of the Boy Scouts of America… All books had thrills, Mathiews wrote, but in subversive works like The Rover Boys, “no effort is made to confine or control these highly explosive elements. The result is that, as some boys read such books, their imaginations are literally ‘blown out,’ and they go into life as terribly crippled as though by some material explosion they had lost a hand or foot.”

    Mathiews’ widely read article, “Blowing Out The Boy’s Brains,” closed by citing a letter from a parent of a runaway: “He has a good home, and his parents seem quiet but thrifty. The only possible clue I can find is ‘cheap reading.’”

  20. Posted October 9, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I work at a Christian elementary and middle school in San Jose, California. While there are some books we don’t promote or carry (Harry Potter, Goosebumps, dark occult-like or witchcraft related stuff), we don’t BAN anything. Our students can take Accelerated Reader quizzes on Harry Potter books if they want.

    Maybe I live and work in an especially “enlightened” part of the country, but why on earth are we still dealing with books being banned in the year 2009 in America?

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