Friday, October 2, 2009

Scary Penguins

Okay, so here's what sometimes happens:

A writer writes a book that takes many years. She writes a book like the one she would have wanted to read when she was a teenager. She wants a book that speaks to the real lives of children and teens. She knows there are holes out there on bookshelves and children and teens who are like she was are desperate for the Truth, desperate for someone to tell them what's really going on and maybe show them ways to look at it, ways to be in it, or to get out of it . . . but mostly show them that they are not alone or weird or alien.

She spends another few years finding an agent who connects with her work. They work together to find a perfect editor and publisher fit for both the book and the author. The book gets acquired by an editor and publisher who believe in the book and think it's an important addition to their list. Everyone celebrates. Much hard work goes into creating the cover, finding the perfect artist and designer, choosing the font, designing the pages, editing, editing again, proof-reading, copy-editing . . .

And just before you turn completely gray, the book makes it out into the world. There is more celebrating. You get great reviews, readers email you telling you how amazing it is to see a reflection of their realities within the pages of a book. That they know SOOO many others who will be relieved/grateful that a book like this exists. That we need more depictions out there of what REALLY EXISTS IN OUR WORLD for readers to see. That there are kids and teens out there who are desperate to know that they are natural, normal, beautiful, love-able, important, worthy, and deserving, JUST AS THEY ARE. And that they are not alone, even if their parents won't talk to them about anything, or if their parents aren't around, or if they simply have nowhere to turn to.

And then, someone, somewhere in a part of the country, decides that your book is immoral. That it could damage their kids and other people's kids. And, instead of making sure they keep the book away from their kids, they launch a campaign to keep the book away FROM ALL KIDS. They work hard to make sure the book is taken off library shelves, out of schools, and that authors who write those kinds of books are not allowed anywhere in the vicinity of the school or the library. They cancel school and library visits from these authors because they are "protecting the children."

At this point, you might be wondering why this post is entitled Scary Penguins. It is because of this story I read in the BBC News about a children's book, And Tango Makes Three, that has had the most ban requests. It is a book based on the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who partnered together to hatch a baby penguin. The book has been banned because it is "anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group." (Aside: Excuse me, but anti-ethnic??? Could someone please tell me what ethnicity penguins usually are?)

This has nothing to do with protecting anyone. It is about fear. As Ellen Hopkins put it so beautifully in her manifesto, it is about fear of ideas. Fear of opening doors and asking questions and challenging status quos. Why not talk to your kids? Why not have a discussion? Why not use these books as starting points to actually interact with children and teens about important issues that they see all the time, all around them? Our kids know far more than we think they know. And if they're not talking to us about things, they're getting their information from other sources. Wouldn't you want to be part of that conversation?

Other books that have been banned in previous years are:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

There are more titles here.

Go buy a banned book today. And, even better, invite the author of a banned book to speak at your school or library.

ETA: More of my thoughts on book banning, as well as other Simon and Schuster authors such as Ellen Hopkins, are up here.


Janet Gurtler said...

As always, Neesha, a wonderful post! Hope you are doing well!

Doret said...

Over at Colleen's blog I was sad to find out that author Lauren Myracle had a school visit canceled recently because someone thought something inappropriate for the students in her new MG Lua Ya Bunches.

Luv Ya Bunches features four girls- Black, Chinese, White and Muslim.

I really enjoyed Lua Ya Bunches. The author does a great job with the characters. How many just for fun MG books feature a Muslim girl?

I wonder if the man who said Myracle couldn't come, even considered how the diversity in Luv YA Bunches would impact the students.

Neesha Meminger said...

Thanks, J.E.! I am doing well :). Hope we get to connect live one of these days.

Doret, I know. It's crushing and downright shameful that in a democracy, and "free country" (a phrase my 8-yr-old hears at school--on a regular basis--about the US), books that candidly explore issues real children and teens are facing in their lives could be torn away from the very readers who need them most.

MissA said...

It's very frustrating that books are being banned. Oh jeez, ethnic penguins? I've heard it all now!
Books shouldn't be banned (at all) because as you say (and I agree) people 'fear ideas', they should be used to start discussions, to educate. And "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." What's so scary about being/reading about Muslim/gay/magical (excluding the fact that Muslims and gays may have to fear for their lives because of the lack of education which stems from the books about these touchy subjects being banned).
Fantastic post and title especially (defintely caught my attention!)

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