By: Rebecca Slocum
Imagine you’re an author, in the middle of writing an international bestselling YA book series about vampires, when you find out that that same book series has been banned from one school district. Banned in its entirety.
But wait. You’re not finished with the series yet. Is this school district really banning books…before they are even published?
That’s the situation best selling author Richelle Mead found herself in when her series Vampire Academy was banned in Stephenville ISD in Texas in 2009. Four books had already been published and were hugely popular; books five and six were slated to be released in May and December of 2010, respectively. Henderson Junior High School, however, banned all six books, on the claim of “sexual content or nudity”.
Censorship, in general, is extremely infuriating. It violates our First Amendment rights and undermines the voices of authors that, often times, are sharing a much-needed perspective of the human experience. Censorship in children’s books (and here, I am referring to elementary, middle grade, and YA), however, is especially frustrating. Children, in all of these grade levels, are trying to navigate reading for school in conjunction with learning to read for pleasure. They are learning who they are and where they fit in, and they often first discover these things through a character in a book. As a society, we often spread that message that reading is for learning purposes only, that frivolous fantasy novels or graphic novels are not worth their time. School districts and parents are cutting off access to books, like Vampire Academy, that explore the complex themes of sexuality, religion, and even just the normal teenage experience, through the lens of mythological and fantastical characters; and yet parents are confused when their children lose interest in reading books altogether. We need to be encouraging our kids to read for enjoyment and to read widely, diversely, and, most importantly, often.
Should we be allowing our kids to read whatever they want, without any monitoring whatsoever? No, of course not. There are certainly age appropriate boundaries to consider when a student picks up a book. However, that decision is not up to a single parent, school district, or library to make. It is a multi -layered decision that falls to the librarian, to select books for the collection that will serve the widest variety of their student population, and to the parents, to communicate with their children and be involved in what they are reading.
Richelle Mead, in a 2009 blog response to the book banning, said,
“As a former teacher, I absolutely respect and encourage parents to be a part of what their children are reading. However, banning books outright from schools and libraries takes this right away from families and denies them the chance to make their own decisions. It also flies in the face of the rights our country has always prided itself on, freedom of speech being the biggest. In my experience, many banned books are some of the greatest and most thought-provoking pieces of literature out there. Being in the company of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Cormier is an honor.”
Happy Birthday, Richelle Mead!
Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.