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.

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?


I have not heard anything about the challenge to TWISTED in Kentucky yet.

This week’s entries at A.Word.A.Day all deal with censorship. (Thanks to a friend in Maine for the tip!)

And this was sort of buried in Tuesday’s post. "The Kids’ Right to Read project is a collaboration of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which offers support, education, and advocacy to people facing book challenges or bans and engages local activists in promoting the freedom to read."  [text from their website]

If you are a reader upset with a censorship issue in your school, an educator who knows of a book being challenged, or anyone else who has to deal with attempts to ban books, check out the KRRP website.

Off to try and write now.

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?

Secret journeys

I’ve been AWOL from blogging for a week, but it has been for the best of all possible reasons.

Last weekend I was at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Saw all kinds of kidlit people like,

   Mo Willems and

  Chris Myers.

A couple of my blog readers showed up armed with life-sustaining popcorn for me, like Rebecca from Austin and these girls,

, who just totally made my whole day.

As promised, I signed their shoes.

While waiting for my panel to start with Gayle Forman and Greg Neri, I tweeted and twittered. I tried not to twerp.

Later I enjoyed watching Bookavore (on the far right) moderate a panel that included the ever-fun Libba Bray (second from right).

The next day Bookavore and I played tourist.

  We crossed the Williamsburg Bridge to the

Lower East Side where we checked out the Tenement Museum (really, you should go) and ate astonishingly good pizza.

Other highlights of the weekend including running into someone who knew me when I was in elementary school, someone who knew me in junior high, and hanging out with Jerry, who went to high school with me. Small world moments constantly.

And then…. and then…

BH and I snuck off to Montreal for a loooooooooooooooooooong overdue rest. But I’ve already posted too many pics today. Look for Montreal tomorrow!

I think instead of Montreal tomorrow, I need to post about a couple of absurd and dangerous attempts to ban my books in high schools. Stay tuned.