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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guest Post: Karin Perry - Censorship in YAL

Hi everyone, I want to thank Karin for stopping by to share her thoughts on Censorship in YAL.

Karin is a middle school librarian in Oklahoma and an Adjunct Professor of Comp I and II at a local college. She's currently working on her PhD in English Education.

Please welcome Karin everyone!

My name is Karin Perry a.k.a. KarinLibrarian from Karin's Book Nook. Today, it is my pleasure to provide a guest post for the Fantastic Book Reviews blog. I'm going to use my time to talk to you about censorship, in particular censorship in regard to school libraries. As a middle school librarian, it is important for me to provide a variety books, both in content and reading level, for the students in my building. This can be a challenge since my students range in age from 11-years-old to 14-years-old, but in my nine years of school librarianship, everyone seemed to have something they liked to read. The sixth-grade boys like the SHREDDERMAN SERIES by Wendelin Van Draanen and the eighth-grade girls enjoy THE HOUSE OF NIGHT series and VAMPIRE ACADEMY series.

All kids are different. They have different experiences, different emotional needs, different tastes, and the list goes on and on. While one eighth-grade boy may love reading EPIC by Conor Kostick or ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card, another may find those unique science fiction novels too complex and prefer to read ALIENS ATE MY HOMEWORK by Bruce Coville. Just because the student is an eighth grader doesn't mean they are developmentally ready for a book like CRANK by Ellen Hopkins. The flip-side is also true - just because a student is in the sixth grade doesn't mean they can't handle the intensity of a book like GO ASK ALICE.

"By suppressing materials containing ideas or themes with which they do not agree, censors produce a sterile conformity and a lack of intellectual and emotional growth in students. Freedom in the public schools is central to the quality of what and how students learn." (Reichman, 1993, p.4)

So, that being said, what motivates people to attempt book censorship? Typically, there are four main reasons:

Family Values - would-be censors may feel threatened by changes in accepted and traditional ways of life.
Political Views - a censor may view a work that is thought to advocate radical change as subversive or "un-American."
Religion - a potential censor may view explicitly sexual works and politically or socially unorthodox ideas as attacks on religious faith.
Minority Rights - some censors want their own special group recognized. For example, ethnic minorities and women struggling against long-established stereotypes may want to reject materials that challenge their cause.
(Reichman, 1993, p.16)

As an avid reader, I've always had an interest in censorship issues, but this year I had a personal experience that will remain with me for years. As some of you may know from her blog posts and twitter updates, Ellen Hopkins was scheduled to speak to my eighth graders. I won the author visit in an auction. As you can imagine, the cost of this visit was greatly reduced from her normal school-visit fee so I felt extremely lucky. I prepared the students by going into all of the eighth-grade language arts classes to share information about Ellen, her work, and the upcoming visit. We looked at excerpts and her website to learn about how she creates her National Bestselling works of fiction. The kids were excited. The teachers were excited. I was excited. I sold 45 books in a couple of days for autographing. We were ready. Until....a parent complained about one of her books. The parent didn't feel GLASS should be on the shelves of my middle school. She was given the option of filling out the reconsideration form which is our policy and she took it but, that wasn't good enough. The parent didn't want Ellen Hopkins to even speak at our school. She was given the option of having her child opt-out, but wasn't satisfied. She went to the Superintendent and an immediate meeting was scheduled. (I wasn't invited.) Later that afternoon I received word that Ellen Hopkins wouldn't be allowed to speak at my school. Over 300 kids missed out on the opportunity to hear her because of the drama stirred up by one parent. ALL THIS HAPPENED IN ONE DAY!!!!!!!

So, one week before Ellen was supposed to arrive I had to tell her she couldn't speak at my school. Understandably, she was upset. Not because of the book challenge necessarily, but because of the "uninvite." I felt embarrassed, upset, disappointed and unsupported. I had a huge chunk ripped out of my self-esteem and I feared I was going to hear, "That librarian should be fired," fly out of someone's mouth at any minute. The story spread to newspapers, blogs, news reports, and radio. It was amazing to see the story spread.

My biggest complaint about the media coverage is - everyone focused on the book challenge, which wasn't the problem. Yes, the parent challenged the book and filled out the official paperwork to take GLASS through the reconsideration process, but that is our district's policy. There is no discussion! The injustice was Ellen Hopkins not being allowed to speak to the kids. It was a terrible decision.

The good news is, Ellen Hopkins did come to Oklahoma. With the help of a great friend, I was able to secure an alternate location for her to speak. Approximately 150 teens, parents, teachers, and librarians listened intently as she went through her presentation and then stood in line to get her autograph. It was a wonderful night. Just not what I'd planned. I wanted to see the faces of the eighth graders as a National Bestselling Author talked about writing.

The reconsideration meeting to discuss GLASS hasn't taken place yet. Currently, it is scheduled for November 10th, but it has already been rescheduled once. I get to sit on the committee, but as a non-voting member. I'm interested to see how it goes. Like I said, this is my first experience with censorship.

My beliefs are:

1) One person doesn't have the right to determine what others get to read.
2) Parents should be responsible for monitoring their child's reading.
3) If there is a particular book or subject matter the parent doesn't want their child to read, they need to discuss it with the child.
4) Children need to have a variety of books to choose from in a library.
5) Not every book is right for every child.
6) Sheltering a child isn't necessarily doing them a favor.
7) Reading and discussing books with your child is beneficial.
8) A person should read the ENTIRE book before complaining about it.
9) Telling someone they can't read something only makes them want to read it more.
10) Reading for pleasure is worthwhile.

I appreciate the opportunity appear on the Fantastic Book Reviews blog and look forward to reading everyone's comments about censorship. Consider these questions:
a) Did your parents monitor what you read as a young person?
b) Have you ever been told you couldn't read something?
c) Have you ever read a book that has appeared on a banned or challenged book list?
d) Do you think kids who read books that discuss drugs or sex are more likely to participate in those types of activities in their personal life?
e) What was your experience with your school library? Did it have what you wanted to read? Did you visit it often? Did you talk to your librarian about what you were reading or what you wanted him/her to purchase?

Let's discuss!!! I can't wait to see some of your answers. If you want to get in touch with me, you can email me at or visit my blog at

Karin a.k.a. KarinLibrarian


  1. This is such a great guest post! I definitely agree with you! Thanks for posting it.

    Natalie @ Mindful Musings

  2. I always read heaps as a child/teen and my mum would get involved, helping me pick books, especially when I was younger. Only once did she take a book away from me--which was this glossy Madonna book with her in her cone bras and so on that I got from the primary school library (!) and I would have been about ten. Later as a teenager she read a book while I was reading it and told me she didn't like the ending, but didn't take the book away from me, which must have been a hard choice as it was totally not age appropriate!

    I was very disappointed about the Hopkins/school talk uproar, that one parent should have such power over other people's children. The only "censors", in my opinion, should be parents, and they should only exercise their power over their own children, as long as they actually read the book.

    I know without a doubt that reading about sex in books helped me make the right decisions at the time and later on--even the smuttier ones helped, not just the Judy Blumes and so on!

    Fantastic post, I'm so glad you wrote it! I had no idea that everything happened in one day. Let's hope that it can't happen again.

  3. I am sure Ms. Hopkins handled the whole thing with grace and did not blame you. (I'd been on a panel with her before and she seemed like a very generous and understanding person.)

    It's a shame one person had to spoil it for everyone! I'm pretty conservative and if I had a 12 year old child, there's certain things I wouldn't want them to read just yet - but that would be MY responsibility, not the school's. And I wouldn't have the right to make that determination for all of the students at the school.

  4. Thank You!!! Someone who agrees with me. I've written a post about censorship and book banning, I'd love it if you could check it out. Thanks!!!

  5. Being a librarian (albeit a college one) I find this so sad. I completely agree that there should be a way that parents and others can legally express their opinions about books in their kids' libraries (even if we don't like them to be removed). However, that is so awful that the kids lost that opportunity to hear an author - a great author - speak to them. That was wrong.

  6. I'm very disappointed that it happened that way. I really don't see how one parent's complaint is enough to shut down the entire event. I totally agree with your beliefs. I know at least a couple of people that don't read very much because their parents thought they should be doing something else with their time or had issue with what they were reading when they were little.

    My own parents never restricted what I read. Once, I slept over at a friend's house and wanted to borrow a Fear Street book from her older sister that I hadn't read yet. Her mother said I couldn't read it because it was too adult for me. I was 8 or 9 at the time and I had so many of those books at home it was ridiculous. I was shocked. No one had ever said that to me before.

    I've read lots of books that have been banned or challenged. I think people don't give kids enough credit. They have brains and common sense. They are not going to mimic whatever they read. They may be curious and books provide a glimpse into those things.

    At my school library in high school, I barely ever used it because there was really nothing there I wanted to read. A new librarian pretty much got rid of everything of interest when she came in. I never talked to her and really had no interest because her big book purge.

  7. My parents never banned me from reading anything. It makes me mad to hear when things like this happen no person should be able to tell me or otherswhat we can or cannot read (except parents). im sorry to hear about the ellen hopkins issue it shouldnt have even mattered what types of books she writes she is an author and her speaking would have been a way for student to learn about being an author in case they wanted to follow that career choice.

  8. Thanks to everyone for the comments.

  9. What a wonderful post! I think you've laid out some very important points about the possible motivations for censorship, and then intelligent responses for parents and their kids.
    I do not remember my parents ever telling me I couldn't read something. This led to a couple of interesting situations, when I felt overwhelmed by content that was beyond my emotional maturity level. But for the most part, the freedom was a very good thing. I read my way through classics lists from age 10-15 and thought nothing of it, because I was never told that some books were more appropriate than others. I learned a lot of things about the world through books that otherwise I might have been tempted to experiment with myself, and might have ended up making terrible life choices as a result.
    I've read so many banned books at this point that I couldn't count them up if I wanted to.
    And...I hate to say it, but I do think in my case if I'd read some of the YA novels I'm reading now (in my 20s), I might have thought it was necessary to have sex and experiment with drugs as a teen. I was an introvert as a kid, but I think if I'd been as aware of what was going on then (helped along by the 'normality' of such situations in some novels), I might have gone looking for it. That said, I DIDN'T read those books as a teen. I was reading classics. So maybe that's not even something that would ever come up. But there have been a couple times when I've read a YA novel and wondered at the graphic (and sometimes positive) light some of these things are painted in. That said, I would never advocate taking the books off the shelves. I just do think there's endless possibility for influence with books. Parents, librarians, teachers - they all are the failsafes, the guiding anchors who help keep young people grounded and free of dangerous behavior.
    And that is all...but really great questions, and discussion, too!

  10. Great post!! I'm so glad that my parents never banned me from reading anything. And thats has a lot to do with the fact that they just think that I'm reading and that's great.

    I'm actually doing a speech on Book censorship tomorrow. I've learned a lot about some of the statistics from the research and it's absolutely crazy and sad to think of all these books being banned. Now, I personally believe that parents have the right to tell *their* child what to read (although some of the reasons are just freakin' crazy) but they shouldn't tell a whole school, etc what to read.


  11. As someone with high personal values and beliefs, this topic of censorship is one I've thought a lot about, too. People should be VERY careful when they talk of censoring a book because it's a double-edged sword - if I wanted something censored due to religious reasons, what stops someone else from censoring religious topics for their own personal reasons? Taking away freedoms is a scary deal...

    I also agree with the idea that parents should be responsible for monitoring their child's reading. Parents have the right to censor what they want - with their OWN children. As a teacher and an author, I would LOVE it if parents would become more involved with what their kids are reading - discussing the good AND the bad of it. I have had GREAT discussions with teens over a multitude of topics brought up by their reading. And I feel like parents are missing out when they don't get to know the world their kids are in.

  12. I find this kind of hand-wringing disingenuous most of the time. I would, however, agree that this particular episode was poorly handled by the school administration.

    On the other hand, do you buy every single book published and aimed at 11-14 year old kids? Of course not. Ergo, you (or whoever handles acquisitions in your library) are making value judgments all the time. Choosing Book A over Book B is not censorship, and the rabid anti-censorship forces only protest when books THEY WANT are attacked.

    I only have one side of this story to work with, which may or may not be biased and/or inaccurate. I am not at all familiar with the books written by Ms Hopkins. But I do find librarians across the country fighting for their right to stock all kinds of inappropriate and offensive books...and routinely rejecting the idea that any parents should ever object to their choices.

    No librarian is, or should be, the final arbiter of what is stocked in a PUBLIC library. The people who pay the taxes that pay your salary do, and should, have a voice in those decisions.

    Walt Shiel
    Publisher, Slipdown Mountain Publications

  13. Just dropping by to let you know that you've been featured in my Weekly Wrap-Up!

    Natalie @ Mindful Musings


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