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When parents panic

“I’m fine with book banning.”

After my co-worker uttered those words, I stared at her in such stupefaction that she added, as if to clarify: “I think parents should decide what their kids can read.”

But they shouldn’t decide what MY kid can read, is what I should have said.

At the time, however, I sat dumbstruck. No one had ever spoken out in support of BOOK BANNING to me before, so I was unprepared with a response.

As a reader and an author, I’m appalled when parents seek to have books removed from libraries and authors of controversial books silenced … to “protect” children. Usually, it’s one parent, or a small disgruntled faction, who want to impose their beliefs on everyone.

And let me tell you:


I am perfectly capable of using my own good brain to sift through sources of information and reach my own conclusions, thank you very much.

For fifteen minutes now, since I wrote that last sentence, I’ve been sitting here trying to analyze the reasons why a parent would wish to ban a book or protest a speaker. But I keep deleting everything I write, because it’s such a frustrating and incomprehensible mind-set, and I can’t explain what I don’t understand.

It’s fear.

It’s a narrow world-view.

It’s “I know better than you.”

Here’s an example:

“That book should be removed from the library. The subject of teen pregnancy isn’t appropriate for middle schoolers.”


With the permission of author Jo Knowles, I’m going to paste an excerpt from an email she received from a teacher in an inner city school:

“Hi Jo,

We chatted briefly at the Simmons Children's Literature Alum event this past January and I shared with you how incredibly popular JUMPING OFF SWINGS is with students at my inner-city school in Washington DC. It might jog your memory to remind you that I told you we'd had 4 pregnant 7th graders last year.”

Shocking, yes? Not just one pregnant seventh grader but four in one class.

Jo’s book spoke to those girls, and many others in the class. The complete blog post about the above email, and a related conversation Jo had with an indignant parent, is here. Jo is one of the bravest and most thoughtful writers I know, and her books are life-lines to many teens, I am sure. I am also sure that many parents would like to keep them out of teens' hands. Her first book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, has officially been challenged in Kentucky. You can read the details here.

Here’s another example of censorship:

“Ellen Hopkins should not appear at the Humble, Texas Teen Lit Festival because her books are about sad and scary topics – meth addiction, prostitution, abuse, suicide – and it might be upsetting for some teens.”

This controversy has now been thoroughly discussed in the blogosphere, so I won’t go into detail about it. If you haven’t heard about Ellen being uninvited from the book festival, you can read an article about it in Publishers Weekly here.

I especially like this comment at the end of the article:

“kimsmith says:
August 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm
Just thought I’d mention that Ellen had been at the Humble Lit Fest twice before without inciting any teen pregnancies, suicides, meth addictions, or protests of the material in her books. She had been invited since last May without anyone protesting until this week.”

Teens are YOUNG ADULTS. I think it’s hard for some parents to accept that, because of the primal parental desire to protect one’s child from sad or scary things. But knowledge is power, and our children deserve the right to read widely, think deeply, and come to their own conclusions about difficult situations.

For parents who simply cannot loosen the tight grip of protection, I say, “That’s fine. You know your child best. But one day they'll be adults, and they'll need tools for coping."

And DO NOT tell the rest of us what our kids can read or whose voice they can hear.



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Aug. 19th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Laura.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Melodye.
Aug. 19th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
Well said!

I work in a school library and a couple of years ago, we had a parent balk about a certain MG grade. The School Board got involved and I went to work wanting to scream daily. Ugh. We ended up resolving it by having parents sign a permission slip (good through 8th grade) as to whether or not they were allowed to check out YA books. Not ideal, but at least it gave parents/students control.

I was SO SO happy to see 95% came back WITH persmission!!
Aug. 19th, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
That was me above.... :-)
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Aug. 20th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 19th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
Great post! Thank you.
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jeannine.
Aug. 19th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
Nice post, Lisa!
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Jonny Angel.
Aug. 19th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :-)
Aug. 19th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this, Lisa! As a kid/teen, it was the books that were most "upsetting" to me that mattered most. They showed me the real world through the safety of a book. They made me a more compassionate person. They didn't lead me to do or become what the characters did or were. If anything, they saved me from that road. I wish more parents could get this.
Aug. 19th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
This. the real world through the safety of a book

That is the best summary of why books are so important, and why they should not be censored.
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Aug. 20th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
Sad related note: I remember reading a quote from a pedophile once, who said, "Show me a kid who knows nothing about sex, and I'll show you my next victim."

Aug. 19th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC)
"I am perfectly capable of using my own good brain to sift through sources of information and reach my own conclusions, thank you very much." Ditto. And I'm not the only one in this household capable of doing that--my husband can, and--guess what--SO CAN MY TEENAGE SON!

We have been talking about books since the day he COULD talk, about the books I read, the ones he reads, the ones we both read. He reads books now with a grimness to them--from my perspective--that is more intense than anything I read when I was his age, and HE GETS IT. Of course, I would love to protect him from this stuff happening to him in the real world, and of course I know how impossible that may be. But how can it not be better for him to have some knowledge of this BEFORE he gets hit with it in reality, to have thought about it, to have developed his own ideas about it.

Okay, there's my vent! I've been following the posts about Ellen and Texas, but apparently it's been building up more than I realized. Thanks for the chance to let it out. :)
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Becky.
Aug. 19th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
HEAR HEAR! I am vehemently anti book banning and did my college persuasive speech on it. My favorite part is always to ask the audience - if a book had murder, reape, genocide, and incest in it, would you ban it - everyone always says yes and I respond - that's all in the Bible. Since most people use religion as a reason to ban, I throw it back that way. We were always allowed to read whatever we wanted and I am the same way with my kids.
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)
Excellent point.
Aug. 19th, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)

Absolutely parents have the right to decide what their child reads. But not what MY child reads.

People who want to ban books and make that decision for everyone get my blood boiling.
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)

Thanks for commenting.
Aug. 19th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post, Lisa. I agree--that mindset is based in fear. As if it's the BOOKS that are causing terrible things to happen in the world, and if the parents can only keep their kids from reading about them, none of those bad things will happen to them.

Aug. 20th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Exactly, Chris.
Aug. 19th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
Great post, Lisa! Bravo!
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Julia.
Aug. 19th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
*clap, clap, clap*
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Aug. 20th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
...our children deserve the right to read widely, think deeply, and come to their own conclusions about difficult situations.

This should be on billboards everywhere. It is a completely true and wonderful statement.
Aug. 20th, 2010 02:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much.
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