One of my favorite times of year is Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week is an annual event, much of it library driven, celebrating the freedom to read. Every year librarians collate of list of the books that are most commonly “challenged” (that is, there has been an attempt to ban them from a particular library or school). For many authors, making this list is almost like winning an Oscar both in term of sales and readership (books on the list almost always see an increase in sales) but also in terms of adding their name to a prominent list of authors who publicly speak out about censorship and free speech.
As discussed in a recent post, verse novels seem particularly well suited to the type of material that is likely to be questioned by parents and library patrons. So in honor of Banned Books Week I’m excited to invite verse novelist Sonya Sones to share her thoughts about being “banned” for “nudity, offensive language; sexually explicit, sexism, and unsuited to age group” (NUDITY? That always cracks me up).
Here’s what she had to say:
FTWK: Sonya, you’ve appeared on the “Most Challenged Books List” several times. How did you react when you first learned you’d made the list?
SS: I was shocked, because there is nothing in What My Mother Doesn’t Know that is even very racy—no drugs, no alcohol, no bad language, and only a little bit of kissing!
What My Mother Doesn’t Know was on the American Library Association’s list of the top 10 most banned books in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011. I dance a happy little jig every time my book makes the list again. Not because this will increase sales (though it does) and not because it will lead to more teens discovering and reading my book (though it will). The reason I love being on the list is that when I am, I get invited to speak at schools about why books shouldn’t be banned. Which is wonderful, because there is still the possibility that I can lead a child in the right direction, before they’ve been dragged too far down the wrong path by a misguided parent.
The last time I spoke on this topic, at the Pegasus School, I told the students about the controversy that arose in Texas when Ellen Hopkins was uninvited to their young adult literature festival after a parent complained about the content of one of her books. I explained that some of the other authors who were asked to speak at the festival decided to stay home, in order to show their solidarity with Ellen. Then, I asked the students what they would have done, if they’d been one of those other authors. A student instantly raised her hand and said, “ I would have accepted the invitation, but when I got there, instead of reading from my own book, I would have read from Ellen’s.” How magnificently devious!
But if being devious is what it takes to protect our right to read the books we choose to read, then so be it. We are, after all, living in a country where people have even tried to ban the dictionary!
FTWK: According to the ALA there are nearly three times as many challenges for “sexually explicit” as for “violence” What do you think this says about our society?
SS: That they are more uptight about sex, than they are about violence. It’s a shame too. If all those people who are trying to get books banned would expend all that energy trying to get gun control laws enacted, this country would be headed in a much healthier direction all around.
FTWK: Most challenges come from parents and are aimed at schools or school libraries. What is a parents role in determining what their child reads at school? How old would your own children need to be before you’d want them to read your books?
SS: I didn’t allow my own children to read my books until they were twelve, which is the recommended age label in all of my YA books.
I think it’s an excellent thing that parents are concerned with what their children are reading. It’s their right to determine what their own child is allowed to read. But it is not their right to attempt to dictate what everyone else’s children should be allowed to read. Because, as the 2010 United States Ambassador of Children’s Books, Katherine Paterson, once said, “All of us can think of a book…that we hope none of our children or any other children have taken off the shelf. But if I have the right to remove that book from the shelf—that work I abhor—then you also have exactly the same right and so does everyone else. And then, we have no books left on the shelf for any of us.”
FTWK: Bonus Question! I once complained to a librarian about a book called ‘My First Book of Science’ which was shelved in the kids’ science section but was blatantly a religious/creationist text. I didn’t want it removed, only re-shelved. Under what circumstance might you feel like challenging a book?
SS: I would never challenge a book. I would just make sure that my own child didn’t read it, if I didn’t think it was appropriate for them.
Thanks so much Sonya, for giving us your insight. To celebrate Banned Books Week I’m also participating in a Blog Hop Giveaway. Comment below about any “banned” book you’ve read or would like to read and you’ll be entered to win Sonya’s challenged novel WHAT MY MOTHER DOESN’T KNOW. Following this blog, or me on Twitter, tweeting this giveaway, or adding one of my books to your Goodreads shelves doubles your entry. Let me know if you’ve done it! You will find a list of challenged books here. And don’t forget to visit other participating blogs.