Friday, August 27, 2010

Censorship, youth, and a few pretentious comments

I think I've mentioned before that I don't like banning books. I don't really thing anyone who claims to truly love the written word can. I don't like the idea of censorship in high schools, and I don't like the idea of hiding bad things. So I should really hate this story, right? (via Guys Lit Wire)
Apparently, a middle school librarian saw my name on the roster and decided my presence would somehow negatively affect her students. I’m not sure how that is possible. Maybe she thinks I sweat “edgy and dark.” (Are those things catching?) Anyway, she went to a couple of parents with her concerns. I’m guessing she knew the exact ones who would raise a stink, and they did. They went to the school board, and the superintendent, Guy Sconzo, decided to uninvite me. (He says I was never invited, but I was!)

Then Mr. Sconzo went on to say that there are so many authors they could never have them all at their Teen Lit Fests. Like I’m just another author. (Oh, except one that apparently gets under people’s skin.) I am not just another author. I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day. An author who tries to dissect those problems, look for reasons, suggest solutions, show outcomes to choices through characters who walk off the page. I’m an author who cares about her readership in a very real way. I am thoughtful, respectful of my readers, and not afraid to tell the truth.
A few things. First, Ellen Hopkins is an author I've never read. Not for lack of awareness - I have long seen her fat, indeed "edgy" looking books perched on library shelves - but simply because her style did not appeal to me and I'd heard that the books were a little in-your-face, not something I typically like. Even so, all I have to do is read Hopkins' post to realize the foolishness in this situation.

But I want to focus on something else entirely that bothered. Censorship is obviously problematic and complex, but this story rubbed off me the wrong way mostly because of something Hopkins wrote. To highlight the quote that set me off: "I’m an author who is a voice for a generation that faces real problems every day."

Hold on a sec. Again, I've never read anything by Hopkins, but for an author to say something like this is taking popularity and annoyance at an injustice a little too far. Hopkins was essentially rejected by a middle school librarian, one who presumably turned to parents of middle school students, parents of children who really should not be reading Hopkins' books. Yes, the School Library Journal recommends Crank for 8th grade and up, but there's a clear distinction in what a 13-14 year old can read and what a 11-12 year old should have access to. The transition into 8th grade and a true teen mentality is surprising, even as these ages appear close to each other. Problematic, then, that 7th and 8th graders share a library. So yes, the librarian was absolutely wrong for proposing to uninvite Hopkins, but Hopkins is wrong to assume that her books are geared for that audience. And to dub yourself "the voice of a generation" is a little full of yourself.

For an interesting view on the actual matter (not my disappointment in one author's self-love), I hand the stage over to Pete Hautman, an author I quite like and admire. The matter of censorship in this case is complex and confusing, and while I don't always agree with what Hautman and Hopkins say on the matter, I think their takes are important.


  1. I have a daughter who has just gone into the 9th grade. I am not sure that I would have wanted her middle school to stock Crank and it's like in the library, though I do think she is old enough to read it now. I agree with your points, and think this author sounds like she's got a big head that's inflated with her ideas of being a very important person.

  2. AHhhhhhhhhhh lolcats! I am (likewise) against book-banning, but Hopkins makes it hard to feel outraged on her behalf. Unless you are, you know, John Milton, you ARE just another author. This tickles the part of me that is always all, Dear Famous Everyone: you are not special.

  3. These terms 'book banning' and 'censorship' are, in my humble opinion, so over and misused. A school librarian or a parent making the decision that a certain book is not appropriate for a certain age is not censorship! The government deciding a book can not be published or sold, that is censorship.

    "But who are we/they to make that decision?" They are the people you as a parent and we as a community charged with the responsibility of guiding and forming young, vulnerable minds, that's who they are. If a school feels a certain book should not be on the shelves, available for a certain age student and you, the parent disagree...well than you buy it or take it out and assume the responsibility of giving it to your own kids.

  4. Yeah. Not every writer is right for every community but having invited someone, she should not have un-invited her. Hopkins' statements are just arrogant and really don't have much bearing on the censorship issue which in my opinion doesn't have any thing much to do with her in particular and more about policy matters generally.


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