Category Archives: censorship

And it’s not even Banned Book or Freedom to Read Week yet…

… which are in October and February, respectively. (ETA: Banned Books Week starts Sept 25, oops…. But Freedom to Read Week is still in February.) This week, I have been talking to people upset about sexual information on our library’s shelves, especially considering its proximity to two high schools.

Somebody’s always trying to ban something. But it’s not always quite as sickening as calling the rape scenes in Speak pornographic. Laurie Halse Anderson speaks eloquently on the matter. More here from the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom blog (You know what also made me feel marginally better? A line by line grammar critique of the letter from the individual who wishes to ban the book. Contains strong language, as the situation warrants.)

Also on the slate of books-some-people-don’t-think-teens-should-read, Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. I KNOW. GAH. An editorial also has links to past articles, to give you a pretty good picture of the whole sordid affair. For some perspective on the awesomeness of the book and Sherman Alexie, From Wellpinit to Reardan: Sherman Alexie’s Journey to the National Book Award from the ALAN Review.

Over at Booklist, Pat Scales (also of SLJ’s Scales on Censorship column) takes on the Common Sense Media organization Weighing In: Three Bombs, Two Lips, and a Martini Glass

If you had asked me a year ago what bombs, lips, and martini glasses have in common, I would have answered, “A fraternity party.” Now I have a different answer. It’s called Common Sense Media. This not-for-profit Web-based organization is in the business of using a “rating” system to review all types of media that target children, but their “ratings” of books are especially disingenuous. They claim that they want to keep parents informed. Informed about what? What their children should read or what they shouldn’t read?

And for a total change of pace, you can find improv everywhere, including reenacting Star Wars scenes on a New York subway car.

Links o’ Random: cool fictional things, comics and censorship and library stuff

There’s a post on the Diana Wynne Jones community on livejournal where you can share photos of your own shelf of DWJ books, and speaking of rilly awesome bookstuff, check out the floor plan for a house for Pooh and Piglet (and make sure you click on “notes” in the navigation panel in the top-right corner), and a handmade miniature hobbit hole of truly astounding intricate detail.

Don’t forget, this Saturday, May 1 is Free Comic Book Day! And Have Book Chains Lost Their Manga Mojo? IcV2 checks the “Naruto Index” to see if bookstores are cutting back on their manga inventory…

From SLJ, Florida Mom Wants YA Library Books Labeled, Segregated, marking any books with illegal acts or the ever-nebulous “inappropriate content” in them. And Jeff Smith’s Bone comics have been challenged in a Minnesota school library.

I’ve been hearing a lot of alarming things about library budget cuts in the States. Here’s a great blog post on why libraries are important.

And I am off to the Alberta Library Conference for the rest of the week. You’ll find me presenting on cool Canadian kids’ books on Saturday!

Three sorts of unrelated links: Comic-y things, censorship and award lists

So many open browser tabs!

Archie Comics Introduces First Openly Gay Character. Bit more content from CBC here. You can’t get more mainstream than Archie comics, so that’s of the good. They’re definitely introducing a token gay character, and I don’t expect him to appear in more than one issue. On one hand, visibility, yay. It would have made much more of an impact if it had been one of the existing cast, but we can’t all be as awesome as Tamora Pierce. I consider it a step in the right direction.

I am sad to hear that Yen Plus has been cancelled. That means the only manga anthology left in our teen magazine collection is Shounen Jump. What about all the shoujo fans, huh? (Why yes, I am still bitter that Shoujo Beat was cancelled too. But I had a complicated love-hate-hate relationship with Mixxzine’s Smile anthology a decade ago, too…) In related news, Shounen Jump sends out an anti-piracy appeal.

Book on text messaging teens prompts most book challenges of 2009 “ttyl” series tops ALA’s 2009 Top Ten list of most frequently challenged books, bumping And Tango Makes Three to number two.

While we’re on the topic, Lois Lowry’s ‘Number the Stars’ is causing controversy in Turkey. The article finishes with a great quote from Lois Lowry: “My reaction to the banning is a great sadness for a beautiful country, one I have visited myself,” she says. “I remember standing once among the ruins of the library at Ephesus—one of the largest libraries of the ancient world—in awe of the history surrounding me. What a tragedy, that in modern Turkey, literature and literary freedom cannot be honored as it once was.”

The Carnegie and Greenaway medal shortlists are out! I’ve only read three of the titles on the Carnegie list so far (Chains, The Graveyard Book and Nation) and I had missed seeing that there’s a new Philip Reeve book in the Mortal Engines series! My to-read list just grew by another half-dozen titles…

Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen

Word Nerd coverAmbrose has
– a gift for scrabble
– a talent for saying the worst thing at the worst possible time
– a severe allergy to peanuts.

He also has an overprotective mother, so when the school bullies slip a peanut into his cheese sandwich, and he ends up first in anaphylactic shock and then in the hospital, his mom swoops in and decides that it will be much safer if Ambrose finishes out the school year at home through correspondence courses. Of course, Ambrose may have complicated things by telling his mother that the aforementioned bullies were his best friends. And by telling everyone at school that his family was rich, and spent weekends at their chalet in Whistler, and the only reason he was in a public school was to mix with “normal” kids… you can see why they didn’t take his peanut allergy seriously when he told them it might kill him.

Ambrose and his mother are not rich. They live in a basement apartment–their landlords are Mr and Mrs Economopolous, the elderly Greek couple who live upstairs. The Economopolouses have taken to saving Ambrose from health-food dinners alone while his mother is teaching, feeding him home-made (peanut-free) moussaka and letting him watch The Amazing Race. But then their youngest son, Cosmo, gets out of jail and comes back home to live with his parents.

Ambrose thinks Cosmo is clearly the coolest thing ever. Ambrose’s mom is less than impressed, and bans him from visiting upstairs. Ambrose figures that what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. And since she doesn’t approve of Ambrose visiting in the same house, it’s a really good thing she doesn’t know when Ambrose and Cosmo start hanging out… and playing scrabble… and join a weekly scrabble club together… and if that sounds complicated, you should see what happens when Cosmo falls in love, his pre-jail buddies track him down and the Scrabble tournament comes up….

This is not just a book for anyone who’s ever done a victory dance when they hit the triple word score with a q or x. Ambrose is a perfect mix of adolescent insecurity and social awkwardness, but ends up being sympathetic never the less. He’s a lot like the plot of the book, a discongrous mix of things (Scrabble! Ex-cons! Peanut allergies!) that come together into something quirky and oddly endearing that’s more than the sum of its separate parts.

Sidenote: Word Nerd is on this year’s Rocky Mountain Book Award shortlist, for grades four to seven and is also on the Ontario-based Red Maple Award list for grades seven and eight, and was the subject of a parent complaint in Hamilton due to, ironically, language. Here’s an account at Susin Nielsen’s blog, and a bit of follow up.

On a more positive note, here are Ten Questions With Susin Nielsen from Open Book Toronto.


It has been a bee-filled past few weeks for me. No, I’m not talking out of season honeybees and wasps, but spelling bees!

There has been a spelling bee for the eight and under set at my library, and I have been involved in judging the big, official regional bee for older kids. With all this spelling activity going on, it’s not surprising that there has been a bit of a run on dictionaries.

Which is all well and good, except if a parent in your school district decides that the DICTIONARY is inappropriate for having bad words in it.

My kneejerk reaction is…. seriously? Isn’t that the first thing almost EVERY schoolkid does with the dictionary? Look up the bad words? And it wasn’t even one of the most commonly used so-called four letter words, but the phrase “oral sex.” I highly doubt the whole dictionary was required reading, so it’s most likely any kid who came across anything thus deemed age inappropriate must have been looking for it.

Me, I’d think it was better for kids to get a dry, factual dictionary definition of a sexual act than something of dubious accuracy from their friends in the schoolyard, or the, shall we say wide and varied possibilities Google would provide. But once again, as with all challenges, I come back to the whole idea that every family is going to have their own set of standards as to what is and isn’t appropriate, and yes, that’s up to the parent. But you don’t get to push your values onto the whole class/library/community.

The dictionary is back in the classroom, but parents can opt out and request that their child use a different dictionary.

Amazon FAIL

I am Unimpressed.

You’ve all seen Amazon Rank a zillion times today, right? (And a more extensive list of affected books here.)

And the petition?

And the google-bombing?

The utter randomness of some of the titles make me wonder if part of the colossal fail is due to a search algorithm gone wrong. (ETA: ie, something like this.) But don’t get me wrong–the underlying philosophy still makes me furious.

Linkalicious: Your semi-regular “but it’s a bad book and nobody should read it” link round-up

Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?, from the New York Times. Oh no! The Junie B. Jones books contain incorrect grammar! Interestingly,

Junie B is actually following the precise rules of English. What she’s not following are the exceptions […] As adult English speakers, we know that the word ‘run’ has an exception in the past tense and is therefore ‘ran.’ But other verbs, you’d just add ‘ed,’ and she’s following that rule to the letter, even though she’s at an age where she has not yet been taught formal grammatical rules. She just knows them.

It still hasn’t stopped parents from trying to ban the books, especially since Junie has also been know to, oh shock! Misbehave!

I just don’t get this. Granted, I’m not an elementary teacher trying to teach reading, but from the sounds of things, most of the complaints are coming from parents. Oh no, books should not be fun. They should be wholesome and good for you.

Regardless that I think the Junie B. Jones series has actual literary value as books and Barbara Park has done something amazing in that they’re honestly funny to both adults and kids… are you seriously never going to let your kids read anything that’s not the equivalent of broccoli, tofu, and brown rice? (As a “grown-up,” and one who’s reasonably adventurous about food, I like all of the above. But at the age of seven, you better believe I would have picked pizza and hot dogs any time.)

If improper grammar is the worst thing you can worry about exposing your child to, um. Can I just say, maybe your priorities need some re-examining? It could be worse! They could be reading about–gasp–homosexuality, like in our next dangerous book!

YA author Maureen Johnson talks more about how The Bermudez Triangle has been labelled in the school district where it was challenged just because it has homosexual content. (By which, I mean two girls falling in love and smooching each other. Yes, the level of explicitness is, scandalously, kissing.) She says:

So I have decided that my Life Policy is zero tolerance. If you try to take one of my books off the shelf for an insane reason like this, I will come running and flailing at you like a maniac. And I just won’t stop. And I promise it will not be quiet or graceful. And I’m going to bring as many of you who want to come with me along, and we can all run flailing and screaming. Decorum is so 2006.

In this case, the running and flailing is contacting the ACLU. Go, her!

And lest anyone get the mistaken impression that it’s only our American neighbours to the South who try to ban books, an elementary school librarian in Kindersley, Saskatchewan objects strongly to a word used in Trouble on Tarragon by Nikki Tate. The book is nominated for various awards and aimed at eight to thirteen year olds.

The word? Not scrotum, this time. Bazoongas.

Here’s a response from Nikki Tate, and some press coverage in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Quill and Quire and the Globe and Mail, and an excellent response from a school library perspective from Stew Savard, a teacher-librarian on Vancouver Island.

Clearly, the lesson to be learned from all of this is that the only appropriate books for anyone under eighteen should only be about nice people who speak correctly and are also all straight. Now if you’ll excuse me, as we already have The Bermudez Triangle, I have to go order a copy of the book with the bazoongas in it, and go see if we need any replacement Junie B. paperbacks…