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Okay, here's the story. A few months ago I donated a school visit (complete with travel) to an auction benefiting a Phoenix bookseller who needed some help to pay for her cancer-related medical bills. The winning bidder was Karin Perry, a middle school librarian from Norman, OK. Karin is a fabulous librarian and real champion for her kids. I was thrilled to be going. The visit was scheduled for this coming Tuesday. Airline tickets/hotel were paid for. I was on my way.

Day before yesterday, a parent stormed the school, demanding Crank and Glass be pulled from the middle school shelves for review. Not sure what it was about the content that concerned her. If you've never read them (what? seriously?), the books are loosely based on my daughter's struggle with methamphetamine addiction. There is some language (not a lot, actually). Drug use? Check. Um. The books are about addiction, and they offer an honest look at that dark path. Surely, they are cautionary tales. And yes, one of the cautions is that when you live as an addict, bad things (like rape and pregnancy) can happen to you. Those scenes, while feeling very real, are most definitely written with a young adult audience in mind. They are not sensationalized nor particularly graphic.

However, I can see a parent's concern. So fine. Don't let YOUR child read them. However, NO ONE PERSON should be able to tell other people what their children can or can't read. I have received thousands of messages from readers (and yes, many are middle grade), thanking me for: turning them away from drugs; insight into their parents'/other family members' addictions; allowing them to live vicariously through my characters, so they don't actually have to experience those things; literally saving their lives. Who has the right to keep books that do these things off the shelves? And the bigger question, who has the right to keep ANY books off the shelves? Who gets to decide? One parent and a misguided school superintendent?

Because the school superintendent not only pulled the books for review, he CANCELED my author visit. Wouldn't even allow me to move to the high school. Seriously? What did that parent and he expect me to do? Go in with a live demonstration? Use the f-word? Talk about sex? I mean, you've got to be kidding. I've done hundreds of school visits. Pretty positive I've never corrupted a student. In fact, my talks inspire them. Arm them. Inform them. Yes, I tell my daughter's story. Her cautionary tale. On the middle school level, I am totally sure I have stopped kids from ever considering drug use. What are these people really afraid of? That their kids will want to read my books? That must be it. Why not instead, parents, read the books with your kids, open the lines of communication, and TALK TO THEM!

Banned Books Week is coming soon. If you haven't already heard, Simon & Schuster asked me to write a poem, which they produced as a broadside. It's called Manifesto, and while I won't put the whole thing here, I will quote the last stanza when I wrap this up. The broadside will be on Banned Books Week tables across the country. I'll be taking a fistful to OK when I go Tuesday because Karin Perry cared enough about my message to make sure I'll appear Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., at Hillsdale Baptist College in Moore OK. I hope that room is full, because I will have lots to say. There and everywhere I go from here on out. Blanket censorship has no place in this country.

In celebration of the First Amendment, here is the last stanza of my Manifesto:

Torch every book.
Burn every page.
Char every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
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Sep. 17th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
Reading this actually brings tears to my eyes. How can anyone tell me what my child is or isn't allowed to read? What if she needed that book? What if she happened to flip that book to the back at JUST the right moment in her life and it spoke to her in some way?

I am so frustrated that all these parents are acting like complete tools in regards to the YA genre right now. Don't they understand that we're just trying to write about the things they've been watching since 90210 and Dawson's Creek?

For as long as there are great books there will be book banners, but that doesn't stop me from hating them less.
Sep. 17th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
It is sad, but not surprising, that this has happened. It seems to be happening more and more often.

Your visit to the Baptist College will be stuffed full, and I'm sure many will be children and parents who were angered that one ignorant, fearful and lazy parent ruined it for the rest of them.

Thank goodness there are writers like you who face the challenge.
Sep. 17th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
Dear Ellen,
I cannot believe that they could do this to you! It makes me so angry that these people dont realize how special your books are. Sure some of the scenes are a little harsh (rape scene imparticularly)but these parents aren't realizing that their child could very well be a victim of that someday...or perhaps they already have been and this book could help them talk to someone about it. Why are parents so affraid to let their children learn about things that are real life and in fact not made up stories. Books like crank and glass have helped me in more ways than one. Many of my friends did drugs and i always wondered what it would be like...they said it was such an amazing sensastion. And me (being the quiet shy girl) wanted to feel that rush. I never did try anything but it was all because of your books. After i read them i feared for my friends and i was so glad that i didn't make the mistake of trying it just once. I'm sorry for what they have done to you...it truly is a poor judgement on their part but i do want to thank you for helping me, it means alot. Your books are proudly displayed on the book shelves of my highschool and i'm so happy that i can say my highschool is so open minded about books. We have so many drug problems and pregnancy problems at our school (not that you would know by looking at people) but the huge deal is precription drugs...it's defintely on the rise. And the teens that get pregnant either drop out or get an abortion (can't believe they could do something like that). I would love if you could come to my highschool and talk to all of us...it is a rather large school...but it would have such a great effect on everyone. My highschool is Traverse City West Senior Highschool in Traverse City Michigan. Quite a ways for you i know but it would mean so much to those who are in dire need of advice and real life experiences. If you'd like to contact me my email is Askme_please23@yahoo.com
Sep. 17th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
This makes me so sad. I can't help but think of all those kids who need to hear your message. Uh, yes, even so-called good kids have drug problems and that one parent deciding what all kids can't read is a shame.

I wish books like yours had been out when I was a teen. I grew up in a very abusive family. If I'd read your books I wouldn't have felt as if I was alone. And I know that if I feel this way, there has to be other teens out there who do too.
Sep. 17th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
Good for you! I'm sure your OK talk will be packed and you'll get your point acrossed in a big way. Great poem, too! You continue to amaze and impress me and I'm glad we're friends (g).
Sep. 17th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Ellen, thank you for standing up and making sure you are heard. This is so important and pretending a problem doesn't exist or assuming kids are incapable of handling this kind of subject matter is naive and counterproductive. Parents need to talk to their kids about these things and if anything, your books give them a starting point.

I wish I lived near so I could come out and show my HUGE support of you and what you stand for!
Sep. 17th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
Just to clarify
Just to be clear. The book Glass is the one under review. The district is following the policy for reconsideration of materials. I'm so sad that my 8th graders won't get to see Ellen in person.
Sep. 17th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
Ugh. Definitely a teeth gnashing moment. You're right, though; these kind of people are afraid of ideas, of teens thinking about the taboo. I believe having taboos in the first place can be much more dangerous than knowing the truth.
Sep. 17th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)
Is this event free? I checked the college's website and no information. Might have to round up a group of local writers and come see you.
Sep. 17th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
National Hogwash Week
The Manifesto is excellent. I agree with you. Keeping inappropriate material from children is not the same as censorship, thank goodness. Partly as a result, no books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century. See "National Hogwash Week," which is about so-called Banned Books Week.

Also see "US Libraries Hit Back Over Challenges to Kids Books," by Sara Hussein, Agence France-Presse [AFP], 6 September 2009.
Sep. 18th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
That's ridiculous. I can't believe they did that to you. I'm doing a whole month of banned books fun on my blog and Mari Mancusi was the person that told me about what had happened to you and it's like, what decade are we living in? Seriously? Some people hurt my brain. They really do.

Donna at Bites
Sep. 19th, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
Sadly, I can believe they did this to you. A superintendent in Alabama did the same thing to Chris Crutcher a couple of years ago.

I hope you had a huge kill fee in your contract with the school board.
Sep. 19th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that Karin will still get help on her cancer bills.
What is worse than the book-banner is that the person in authority (the superintendent) immediately backed the book-banner.
Every time I hear of things like this, I want to dress them in a Nazi uniform & march them down the center of town so everyone could see them as they are.
Love & Best Wishes to you,
Sep. 20th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC)
It is a sad day indeed when something like this would happen in Norman. The School of Library and Information Studies is there at the University of Oklahoma and the current director is a champion of literature for young people. I am glad that you are going there anyway.
Sep. 21st, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
I liive in Norman and have a child in NPS
Thankfully, my child is still in elementary school. I actually went to Whittier Middle School. The upsetting part about this is that Norman is a college town. The University of Oklahoma is here. I used to take pride in that Norman was one of the very few liberal towns in Oklahoma. I'm glad that the librarian is awesome and has made arrangements for you to speak. To pull books that spread the horizons on a person's already existing environment has become a classic part of living in Oklahoma. Especially concerning meth, where most kids already know something about it, a situation book may help the kids dodge that bullet. Hopefully her child won't fall to such a lifestyle. However, we know without the knowledge, it often becomes the reality.
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