Thursday I had the pleasure of seeing and listening to award winning and frequently challenged book author Chris Crutcher when he visited SC this week. He was in Camden for a day or so and Columbia, SC. I’m pretty sure it was a result of the summer challenge to Angry Management. I’m just glad I got to meet him in person. I’m on a mission to get every kid in my school to read Angry Management in hopes that it WINS our 2012 SC Young Adult Book Award, especially since Chris Crutcher is our featured author at the Book Awards Luncheon and there in person when the announcement is made. If only I and other librarians could vote–the win would be assured.
Banned Books Week-this week!
So this week launches Banned Books Week. It’s always interesting as we display the books that have been challenged in the library. Truly the display always starts some great conversations around books. Charleston, SC is currently talking about a book that *was* challenged by some parents, but after the challenge process, the book was kept as an optional sumer read, as the committee decided the book had merit and appeal to reluctant readers. The whole point after all for summer reading is to get our high schoolers to read so they don’t lose ground over the summer. This book was an option of eight different titles, so not really a forced book on anyone’s child. And the list was for high schoolers. The book in question then was The Hunt Club by Bret Lott. This link goes to an article that appeared yesterday. There’s another one today too, written by the Post and Courier’s Brian Hicks. The Sunday article begins like this:
Just when we think we’re out of the 19th century, they pull us back in. This week, the Charleston County School Board will meet to decide whether they actually need to ban a book.
LOL!! Tell it like it is!! And how timely? Please take time to read it.
My hope is that the book will once again be found to have merit and worth, and remain a part of the high school library as a choice for their young adult reluctant reader set. I’ll be following this story as it develops.
Online news articles draw all types!
One of the reasons I like to log in to online newspapers is to see just what the common citizen thinks of the stories ran in the paper. Most of these folks are just looking for a soapbox to air their issues, concerns, rants, or what have you. Some are just there to downright entertain or squabble. So of course as I pulled up these two articles shared with me, I had to go read the comments.
Please allow me to share one that caught my attention.
In response to the second article, a parent shares this:
My second-grader brought home from her primary school library a novel titled _America_. It is written on a third grade reading level. Here is a quote:
“I’m on the whale, and Browning’s there, with a baseball, and we’re throwing, and it’s slippery on the whale’s back . . . and the ball turns into a d!ck . . . and it’s good, and he’s smiling . . . and my d!ck is hard . . . and the d!ck gets bigger, and then it turns into Mr. B’s, and he’s not smiling . . . and then the face turns into Liza’s, and she’s got a d!ck, and it’s hot, and I want to fvck her with the d!ck and all . . .” pp. 196-97, _America_, by E.R. Frank
No one knew about it, not the school librarian, the teachers, the principal nor the people on the Board of Education. Book buyers for school systems purchase books based on reviews in _The Horn Book_ and other academic publications, and on the publishers’ summaries. None of these sources of recommendations _ever_ alludes to controversial content in the books. No book buyer, and no librarian, has the time to read all these books. Everyone outside of the professional elite is flying blind.
The view from academia? “You never want to keep a book from a child.” Any exercise of discretion (by other than the elitists who write book recommendations) is attacked as censorship. If the elite reject a book for recommendation, it’s an exercise of good taste. If anyone else rejects a book the elite have recommended, it’s censorship. Be liberal or be evil.
If you are angry that I printed the above quotation, remember that it is only something from a children’s book. It is published by, to quote the copyright page, “Atheneum Books for Young Readers, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.” It has won a boatload of awards and recommendations.
Initially I was flabbergasted. But then I began a research to check this book out. I mean, like another commenter, I didn’t believe it! So here are the results of my research:
Wikipedia lists it as Young Adult Fiction Genre, and gives a thorough summary, though asking users to substantiate what is there.
Follet’s Titlewave (login required) lists its interest level as young adult, but the subjects, one review from Publisher’s Weekly, 5th grade reading level, and a lexile of 610 wouldn’t lead me to believe it would contain any type of questionable content. (I will admit though that the interest level alone being young adult would have told me as a professional school librarian to read the book first before putting it in my primary school library.)
GoodReads didn’t really show me from the reviewers that it contained foul language so much until I really began reading down the list, but I did find its listing on 11 book lists that the target audience is teens. In their blurb about the author I also found that clearly the author is an award winning young adult author of fiction. Again, referencing young adults would have alerted me to be wary of the book, and thoroughly know the content before buying and placing on a shelf. This would have been true for me as a middle school librarian too.
So how does a book like this end up in a second grader’s hands?
I’m glad I do not know the school, and maybe the commenter is not even from Charleston, SC. But I had to wonder how a book such as this could wind up in a primary grade student’s hands. Here is what I would guess.
Library serves a wide range of grades
First, the book was not intended for a student in that grade. Hopefully the school serves a wide range of grades, even young adult, and the students all visit the same library. Read on to see another likely reason this book found its way into a young student’s hands even if the reason is because of the population served being a wide range.
No teacher input
Another possible reason is that the library is working on a fixed schedule, where the librarian is used as the teacher planning period, and the sole adult assisting students with book selection is a librarian, usually in a situation of 25+ students to one adult. When this is the case, it is not unusual for a student to leave the library with a book they cannot read. The librarian in this situation sees every student in the building in a week’s time, and doesn’t fully know the reading abilities of the children. Basically it’s a crap shoot trying to match students you see once a week with books, particularly when there is no teacher who knows the students and their abilities significantly better to assist the librarian or students in finding that “just right” book (level.) A student’s teacher is much better equipped to know the abilities of the class than the librarian who sees them once a week.
Is it because of Lexiles?
If this school is indeed a primary or elementary school, it could be that the school is emphasizing matching readers to books based on Lexile levels. Using Lexiles has become a popular method of ensuring that students are reading books that will make them grow as readers. If students are reading books below their assessed Lexile, they are not growing. If they are reading books above their Lexile, the struggle for comprehension keeps the reader from growing. But reading in the “appropriate band of Lexiles” guarantees growth because they are reading in the “zone for proximal development.” In this situation, teachers and librarians both are pressured to ensure the collection has books that match Lexile levels that have been assessed for a schools population, and a higher priority is placed on a child having the right Lexile level more so than interest and age appropriateness. If this is the case, it REALLY saddens me that the elusive quest to have superior school report cards (which are for the most part based on test scores) has outranked providing a collection that meets the readers where they are at level, interest, and enjoyment-wise. When test scores drive the collection development, we can expect many students, especially in elementary schools, to walk out of a library with books that are not appropriate in some form or fashion.
So back to the original issue: Censorship
Yes, I let this post get away from censorship. Who is right? Parents have every right to know what their child is reading. But the parent complaining about the title America goes on to attack the publisher. That’s like blaming my Mom for my overeating. I don’t know who is to blame for that book finding its way to a second grader’s hand, much less why it made its way into this storyline. But I do know the issue raises many other questions, ones we will not likely get answered, even though the book The Hunt Club by Bret Lott is once again being considered for banning in Charleston County schools.
In the long run…
Both books mentioned here will probably see a spike in sales. Nothing like the threat of a book ban to make an impact for the good in sales. Hey, wait. Maybe that commenter is really a book store business trying to revitalize sales….??? Sneaky? yes. Manipulative? yes. Effective? dang right.