Henning is a small, rural town in Minnesota where the one school houses all the grades from preschool through twelfth grade. We received a report that a parent complained about the book and wanted it removed from the school. In this situation, the parent’s opinion was shared by the school administration and decision makers. So the book was removed immediately. There are several issues that make this a unique and teachable situation.
Issue #1: No Policy
Henning School District has no policy addressing selection or reconsideration of library materials. The school district was contacted when we couldn’t find any policies online, the superintendent said that there is no policy but there is a procedure in place where a parent can complain to the principal and the principal will decide what to do. No consultation with the librarian is required. No consultation of professional reviews is required. The book doesn’t even need to be read in its entirety.
“Such policies and procedures are vital to preserving free inquiry and the First Amendment right to read within the school and its library. They establish a framework for registering a complaint and provide for a hearing so that all sides may be heard. Further, they offer important procedural and substantive protections for the student’s right to access materials, the faculty’s integrity and professional responsibilities, and the principles of free speech and freedom of information. Most importantly, written selection and reconsideration policies prevent anyone from subjectively blocking all students from access to materials simply because he or she does not like them.” Office for Intellectual Freedom Letter (the full letter is below)
Does your school have a collection development and reconsideration policy? When was your policy last reviewed? Consider planning a meeting with the principal to discuss the importance of policies and how they can protect your school.
Issue #2: Self-Censorship
The graphic novel was purchased for the school library based on reviews and awards. But a comment was made during our phone conversations that if the book had been seen, prior to purchasing, it wouldn’t have been purchased. The person I spoke to said they wouldn’t want their child to read the book and agreed with the complaining parent that no child, regardless of age or grade should be able to read the book.
I believe in and respect, with my whole heart, the professional capabilities and judgments of educators but here are some dissenting opinions.
- Publishers Weekly starred review lists the book for ages 12-up
- Kirkus starred review lists the book for ages 13 & up
- NoveList suggests grade levels 6-12
- School Library Journal lists grades 8 and up
- Booklist’s starred review lists grades 8-11
- The publisher, First Second, advertises the target audience as grade level 7 and up and age range: 12 – 18 years.
- Of 137 customer reviews on Amazon.com, This One Summer receives 3.8 out of 5 stars. Most of the 1 star ratings were given because it is a teen book that was honored with a Caldecott Honor medal.
- Common Sense Media lists the recommend age as 13+
This One Summer is a critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling graphic novel that received a Caldecott Honor for illustration and a Michael A. Printz Honor for outstanding teen book in 2015. Booklist’s starred review calls it “wistful, touching, and perfectly bittersweet.” Kirkus Reviews, in its starred review, says “Jillian and Mariko Tamaki skillfully portray the emotional ups and downs of a girl on the cusp of adolescence in this eloquent graphic novel”. It is “keenly observed and gorgeously illustrated – a triumph.”
Comic Book Resource provides an in-depth review that concludes; “Though the themes and issues of “This One Summer” are large and emotional, Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki execute the story with such precision and care that it never tips into melodrama, instead preferring to be quiet and nuanced and thus infinitely relatable, real, and emotional. “This One Summer” is a near perfect book and an example of two creators working in such perfect sync they appear more as one creator than two.”
Comic Book League Defense Fund (CBLDF) compiled an amazing resource for rationalizing the inclusion of This One Summer in libraries and classrooms. It includes praise from other authors, full-text professional reviews, and a comprehensive list of the 31 awards and recognitions this book has earned.
Author and journalist, Cory Doctorow writes in his review on BoingBoing, “This One Summer is one of those books with the power to change young peoples’ lives, to become a guidebook and a touchstone through adolescent turbulence. It’s wonderful.”
Can there really be another reason for excluding this book from a library collection? The New York Library Association has a terrific “Self-Censorship Checklist.” Review this checklist to start thinking more critically about your own work and your library’s practices.
Issue #3: First Amendment Rights of Minors
The Supreme Court held in Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” I can only hope that someone tells the students at Henning School. Or tells the newspaper. Or tells the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
At the end of May, the Office for Intellectual Freedom is collaborating with the Freedom to Read Foundation on a webinar about Intellectual Freedom and Minors. Not only will attendees hear from author, Chris Crutcher, but also from FTRF’s legal council, Theresa Chmara. She wrote an article published in American Association of School Librarians‘ Knowledge Quest journal titled “Do Minors Have First Amendment Rights in Schools?”
“Public school officials must be cognizant of the First Amendment rights of minors when these officials make decisions about library resources, the curriculum, and policies related to extra-curricular activities. Decisions to restrict access to materials that are based on the officials’ disagreement with the views expressed in the material, rather than on their educational suitability, could subject the school district to litigation and substantial costs.”
Banned from Henning School District
The Office for Intellectual Freedom wrote a letter hoping to persuade Henning School to reconsider their banning of This One Summer. If you look at google maps, you’ll see that Henning’s closest public library is about 20 miles away. These teens rely on the school library collection to meet their reading needs. Even the smallest communities should house a collection of diverse resources for all beliefs and ideologies. While stereotypes abound that small towns only have small minds, I can guarantee you that somewhere in that community are readers who believe in the freedom to read and thinking and choosing for themselves. Unfortunately the superintendent has informed us that he is standing behind the decision to remove the graphic novel for being “pervasively vulgar”. They have taken the choice of what to read out of every student’s and parent’s hands and determined that they know what other should and shouldn’t be allowed to read or think.