As long as there are books and other means of creative expression, there will always be those who think they know best what others should read—or how they should express themselves. Because our nation is founded on certain inalienable rights, it would be impossible to insure that the tastes and moral concerns of every citizen were addressed in every book that comes off the printing press. What offends one person liberates another. What excites one person may disgust or disturb another. So it goes in a democracy.
I recently read a report from the National Coalition against Censorship discussing the recent case of This One Summer, which was a Caldecott Honor Medalist and a Printz Honor Medalist in 2015. The controversy occurred in February in a Florida school district where parental complaints resulted in its being pulled from three elementary schools and three high schools. The graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki is a coming of age story in which two friends learn truths about one another, their families, and those around them. Sadly, the book’s being pulled by one school district in Florida had repercussions for other nearby school districts, which followed suit, also removing the book from their library. Apparently, the districts have decided to examine their book adoption policies as well as how to handle book challenges from the community.
While I might not deem this book to be appropriate for a third grader, the age of the child whose parent first questioned the book’s inclusion on the library shelves, I would certainly argue that it is appropriate for many ten, eleven, and twelve year-olds. There would be no doubt in my mind that it belongs on high school shelves. It is unfortunate that many potential readers have now lost access to a book that I think deserves to be read. Undoubtedly, there are words, illustrations, and even ideas in This One Summer that might offend others, but there are also words, illustrations, and ideas that are relatable, inspire thought or change lives. While parents have every right to protect or shield their children from texts that might be problematic for them, they should not have the right to deny the right of access to those materials for a larger community. Well-read and well-informed librarians and teachers should be able to make those decisions about what materials to place in the hands of youngsters and teens. In my experience, most librarians and teachers read and review many materials before deciding which books to purchase for their school or classroom library. As Teri Lesesne, our own Goddess of YA Literature, has pointed out in her blog, it is likely that whoever ordered This One Summer simply looked to a list of award-winning books, assumed that because This One Summer was on the Caldecott list, it would be great for his/her library and placed the order. It’s also possible that the library wanted a complete collection of Caldecott and Caldecott Honor books, and this one was part of that collection.
While the challenging and removal of this book is disturbing on many levels, the incident serves as a good reminder for all of us—teachers, librarians, and academics—to be familiar with the books we bring into our classrooms and schools. It’s pointless to second guess all the individuals involved in the Florida case, but clearly, we need to know our students and our communities, but most of all, we need to know our books. We need to be able to list the awards they’ve won but also provide evidence of their literary merit or own reasons for choosing them as part of our collections or curriculum. As we often caution our students, we need to do our homework and read widely and critically so that we will be able to make thoughtful decisions about the books we want to make available to our readers.
ALAN has a committee that provides support in the case of book challenges. Excellent resources have been compiled by former Anti-Censorship Chair Wendy Glenn and her committee on the ALAN website.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or any ALAN officer, member of the Board of Directors or the ALAN Newsletter Editors if you would like additional information.
Read on, read widely, and keep SPEAKING LOUDLY on behalf of books and thoughtful selection processes.
- Barbara A. Ward, Chair, Anti-Censorship Committee