On Censorship

When I was a little girl I attended a private Hebrew day school. There were many things about it that were probably really good, but there were a lot of things, unfortunately, that were not. One of the things that was not, was the arbitrary decision by the school librarian to not carry certain books because they weren’t appropriate for the school. The reasons that were given was because the author, in this case Roald Dahl, was anti-semetic. Other cases, I think Judy Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, was because of its content. I had to find out about her through my public library. Thank goodness for public libraries. They saved me in my what would now be called “tween years” as I combed it for books week after week. Those books saved me.

Perhaps that is why whenever I see anything about censorship, my stomach begins to growl and I turn into a lion ready to defend those who have been silenced. Whether it is a human rights activist or a teen author, it is part of the same circle.

It is probably why I was so active with Amnesty International in my teen years and why I continue to speak up against injustice. Whether that means the importance of a break during work hours, or, inappropriate demands that encroach on personal freedoms. It is all part of the same thing. Starting at the things around you can only expand to the greater world.

Why do I speak about this today? I went to get my fifteen-minute writing assignment on Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog this morning and she spoke about how YA author Ellen Hopkins (Crank, tricks) was uninvited to a YA book event in Houston. This is unfortunately not the first time Hopkins has been uninvited to events. I read her blog off and on and a few months ago, she was uninvited from another event because of the things she writes about, namely, drugs, teen prostitution, incest and other difficult subjects. And good for her for not only choosing to write in poetic prose (which tends not to be the first choice among teens or adults,) but to also pick topics that are probably not easy to write about.

Anderson talked about some of the authors decision to boycott the event and others who choose to attend in the hopes of talking about censorship while they are there. Is silence the answer, or, is speaking up for those whose voices have been silenced by a larger conglomerate? I can see both sides and how both are equally important ways of taking action.

I ask myself what I would do if called upon to boycott or would I have the courage to attend and speak up against censorship?

I can only think about what I did in Grade 4 or 5 when I asked the librarian why we didn’t have the books that I was looking for. I told her that it was stupid and I don’t think that I used the school library again. So, boycott with a verbal response? The choice of boycotting with a letter explaining why you are, is not an act of silence. You are screaming with words and with action that this is wrong. And, with the internet the way it is now, you are guaranteed, to let your voice be heard.

In the U.S. there is this organization called Common Sense Media whose goal is to help parents and librarians choose books that are appropriate for their children. This came up in the media back in February when Sarah Dessen was surprised at the rating of her novel Along For The Ride (one of my favourites) on Barnes and Noble’s website. The organization was recently written about in Booklist. Pat Scales provides in her article some great examples of the misleading nature of the rating system.

FYI, if you ever want to see me completely loose my shit, watch me surf B&N’s website for these ratings. It makes me wonder how common sense this really is.

Although, the religious school I went to made some decisions about what books they are carrying, I find in general, that as Canadians, we don’t hear a lot about YA books being banned. There was the case with Philip Pullman’s books at a school a few years ago, and I also know from a few friends that they come across issues of censorship trying to get books with TBLGAY content across the border because it could be considered pornography. Yet, I don’t hear a lot from YA authors in Canada about their books being pulled from libraries or being uninvited to events.

We also have something called The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And I am thankful for that, for it allows me to write about censorship without being censored.

And in the end, isn’t our voice the only thing that is truly ours. May we use it wisely and positively and with insight and integrity. And give credence to younger people to make wise decisions about not only what they read, but what they take from the things that they do.

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About Melanie J. Fishbane

MAUD, my YA novel based on the teen life of author L.M. Montgomery will be published by Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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5 Responses to On Censorship

  1. This is excellent! Thanks for sharing the link to it!Laurie

  2. Thank you! You are so welcome.

  3. Morgan says:

    This was so interesting for me to read especially as I just wrapped up my School Libraries course. We had a unit on censorship and the role of the school librarian in this process. Here's a great link on the ALA website regarding the school librarian's duty to have a collection which represents a range of thoughts and perspectives. http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/accessresources.cfmKeep it up Mel!

  4. Melanie,Great post! I enjoyed reading through, as it touched on every article that I too have recently read on the topic. After the Sarah Dessen/B & N discussion, Meg Cabot chimed in with her thoughts on my website (www.storysnoops.com) as an example of a non-judmental alternative to CSM, for children's book reviews. While we loved the great plug from Meg, we were just happy to enter the discussion about a topic that is near and dear to our hearts. The StorySnoops website was founded on the principle that book ratings are both limiting and subjective, particularly when taken out of context. Our ultimate goal, like so many of the participants in this discussion, is to ensure that young readers have unlimited access to books and an enriching, life-long relationship with literature.

  5. Thanks so much for your positive feedback Morgan and EdenStorySnoop. I'm so glad that you enjoyed reading the post. I will certainly check out those links.

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