This week Quimby’s Bookstore is honoring Banned Books Week. Challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities, and all manner of titles, everything from classics to contemporary. This annual event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.For more info about challenged and banned books, click here. feature our first guest blogger, Julie Halpern, the writer behind the books Get Well Soon (which was originally a zine sold here at Quimby’s!) and Into The Wild Nerd Yonder.
Thanks so much for having me on the Quimby’s blog! My career as an author really started at Quimby’s, when Liz Mason (then Saidel) and I used to sell our zine, cul-de-sac. Writing zines turned into me writing books! Here’s a (sorry, a little long) post about being an author during Banned Books Week:
As an author of young adult books, one of the coolest things that can happen to you is to have your book challenged by an angry parent or concerned member of the community. This year, my novel GET WELL SOON (a pretty funny book about a girl in a mental hospital) was challenged in an over the top effort by an individual parent in a middle school in Fond-du-lac, Wisconsin. Lucky for me, the Fond-du-lac Reporter, their local newspaper, has a strangely active online group of readers. Every time an article was written about the challenge (which took place, along with the challenges of books by two other YA authors, Sonya Sones and Ann Brasheres, over the course of several months, as the school board allowed this parent to bring the books up, one by one, to the chopping block), the FDL Reporter readers would share their two cents about how that parent had no right to tell THEIR children what to read. Occasionally, someone who agreed with this parent would attempt to defend her, but then the rest of the readers would bite the commenter’s head off, leading to hilariously absurd arguments, complete with poopoohead-like name-calling. Sadly, all of those articles are only now accessible through the FDL Reporter’s archives, which means you’d have to pay money to read them. Like an idiot, I didn’t print them when they were originally up, so I will have to shell out some cash if I want the hardcopy proof that my book was challenged, retained, APPEALED, and, yes, huzzah, retained. It all ended well, but it was a process that had me contacting the administration and my fellow challenged authors to see if I could help the cause. I even wrote a very grown-up letter to the school board, read aloud when it was GET WELL SOON’s turn at bat.
That experience had me feeling pretty good about the majority of parents who actually believe in their children’s abilities to select books they are comfortable with, appropriate or not. However, soon after, a blogger posted about GET WELL SOON being brought back into a public library in Indiana by an angry parent. There are swears in the book, you see, and this parent thought that was WRONG. Instead of going through the process—libraries should have a process for dealing with challenged books, the hopeful outcome being that the books will remain in the library for ALL readers to enjoy—the book was looked at by the library director and promptly removed from the system, then dumped in the garbage. Because this was blogged about by an intern at the library, one who doesn’t want to get involved, well after the fact, and because the librarian working there at the time was a substitute, and the library director is now a different director, NOTHING will happen about this. I’ve talked to people. I’ve tried to appeal to the new teen librarian. Apparently, she wants to keep her job. Sad and sick. Know this, readers: there are people out there who may be removing books from your libraries that you didn’t even know you wanted to read. THAT is why Banned Books Week is so important.
I’ll leave you with this, my first taste of the world of challenges. Several years ago, a father (yes, a father. People always assume this email was written by a woman. Look what that says about you, people.) emailed me this note about GET WELL SOON:
Dear Ms. Halpern,
My daughter aged 15 was reading your book. She is quite a reader and reads all of the time. From time to time she will set down her current book and I will usually check out what she is reading. The other day I picked up a yellow covered book entitled “Get Well Soon”. I started reading the first page and could not believe my eyes when I saw the “f” word there. I started paging through the book and could not believe the curse words strung throughout. I looked at the cover and saw that it is labeled for youth. To be honest with you, I cannot understand how a book for youth and teens can be riddled with so much profanity. I am not going to attack you or assassinate your character but I will say that, in my mind, it is totally inappropriate and lacking proper judgment to write a book like this and label it for youth. It makes “The Godfather” look tame for crying out loud. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how I feel about your book.
I think this letter speaks volumes about the way a book challenger’s mind works. Try talking to your kids. Because then you’ll realize that their reading books with swears and sex does not make them bad people. It makes them readers.