Censorship Story Conclusion & Censorship Discussion (Part 2)

When it comes to banning and censoring things, it’s a tough issue (duh).

I just listened to the most banned YA author in the country, Lauren Myracle, in an interview she did yesterday on Louisville’s NPR station (click here for the interview—it’s the edition titled “Is your government doing enough in the recession?“, and the part on book banning is 2/3 into the podcast), where she went head-to-head with a school board member trying to get Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian banned from his school system for vulgarity.  Exciting stuff.

Yesterday, I told this story of censorship from my teaching days. Go check it out, and then come back!


My principal saw my point and didn’t have too much else to say on the matter.  I knew she still wanted me to do it, but I went back to my classroom asserting I would not.

I was never asked to write the letter I offered to draft, the subject was never brought up again, and no one ever blackened out anything in the books.

As for my part, I did my best not to choose stories with certain four-letter words in them (but, as I mentioned in my previous post, the point of the Great Books program was to stir the pot a bit, so it’s not like the stories from which I had to choose were about unicorns and teddy bears), and no parent ever complained to me about any of my choices.

This told me was that it was probably only one parent who’d complained in the first place.


I think you, as a parent, reserve the right to decide what books you introduce to your children, but I also think you should trust schools to know what, developmentally, your kids are ready to handle.  They are supposed to be experts in the field of teaching kids.  Not to diminish your mad skillz, but schools aren’t full of a bunch of rabble-rousers who want to corrupt your kids.

You must agree, right?  That’s why you’re sending them to school and not homeschooling them, right?

Going along with that, you should also trust that teachers know how to handle these subjects in their classrooms, should they come up, in a thoughtful way.  They are professionals.  And if you don’t feel that way about the school . . . then I say MOVE to a different school district.

But I’d be willing to bet the parents of my class of sixth graders—the ones who’d complained anyway—had no idea their kids were capable of such maturity and insight with regard to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” and the countless other selections in those Junior Great Books.  We really had fantastic discussions—regardless of whether or not the kids always wore deodorant.  (While we’re at it, could you have that discussion with your kids??)  We got to the core of why the authors had made the choices they did in terms of putting something in and what that meant—it was never gratuitous language or violence.

To me, when you hide words with a Sharpie or cover a kids’ ears (earmuffs!) or ban books, it’s probably going to work against you.  It highlights that there’s something “naughty” or “bad” about whatever you’re censoring—and that’s going to pique interest.

Look at how this situation in Missouri has escalated. It has prompted many people to start giving away the books this professor spoke against—just to get the word out about them.  About half the people I follow on Twitter have put “Speak Loudly” on their gravatars in support of Laurie Halse Anderson and her 2000 Printz Honor book Speak as well as the two other books being protested: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Fivepoor Vonnegut just couldn’t catch a break, could he?—and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer.

Also?  I’m pretty sure, by the time your kid is in the fifth grade, unless you don’t allow him to ever watch TV, your kid is going to know what kissing is.  And that people get shot.  And swear.  I’d be willing to bet your kid knew who Snooki was before you did.

It’s if you’re not there to discuss it with him—if he’s watching Jersey Shore unsupervised—that’s the time to panic.  (Not that I think 5th and 6th graders should be watching that show, but I bet there are kids who do . . . )

What I’m saying is, communication is key in all of this.


Also, a few words, taken out of context, don’t necessarily give an accurate picture of author intent or even reader perception.

I mean, at one point in that BBC interview, the school board member sparring with Myracle asked if it should be okay for Hustler magazine to be in schools then, if we are to have books like Alexie’s book.

Taken out of context, he sounds like quite a lunatic, doesn’t he? Within the context?  Well, that’s for you to decide.

But that’s my argument.  You miss the point of what someone is saying when you take out the most “offensive” or outrageous passages and use them to serve your agenda.  Without looking at something as a whole, there can’t be intelligent discussion—nor can informed decisions be made.


When school boards try to get books banned, how many of those people do you think have read the whole book?  Or even more than the page the “offensive” part is on?  I would be willing to bet zero.

So, this is why I think banning books is wrong.  I think, as parents, you have the right to decide what your children will read—particularly outside the classroom.  You don’t need to be a democracy at home—I totally get that.  Although I don’t think you should go along with it if your school puts Hustler in its summer reading, I highly doubt that would ever happen.

It's not that hard, people. And if you start young, it won't be so awkward to keep having these discussions when they're older.

At the same time, I don’t think it’s right to get a book banned from a school library or any library for that matter.  Myracle makes the point in the interview very similar to the one I made above: school media specialists are trained and hired to make good choices.

If there’s a particular book your child is reading in school that gets you a bit fired up, I would urge you to read it yourself.  Have discussions with your kids about it.  This is where learning and growth take place.

And if there’s no discussion about these things?  If you just put a black mark over the bad words?  Well, I’m sure your kids will find out what’s under there eventually and they WILL discuss it with someone.

Wouldn’t you rather they discussed it with you first?

*gets down off her soapbox*

Myracle & me last year, after I interviewed her in Cleveland. 🙂

In the Blogosphere: 9/5-9/10

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

I’m admittedly behind with my Blogosphere posts—I have about 50 links saved, dating all the way back to June (oh noes!)—but they are all still worth a look.  I’ll catch up eventually, right?


Agents are inundated with stuff pretty much year-round, which means a lot of their time is dedicated to clearing out their inboxes and whittling down the slush pile alone!  So, when they give advice on how to get their attention, it’s best to listen up.

Here, Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary Agency offers six tips on things you can do to make September rock—and, surprisingly, they’re not “revise” or “don’t contact me”—she says you shouldn’t be afraid to use a little shame.

Here, Getting Past the Gatekeeper says it’s basically a no-no to revise and resubmit a manuscript to an agent (meaning, you’ve revised it since they requested pages and you’d like them to look at the new pages instead)—but it *can* be done well.


Here, Editorial Anonymous answers the question of whether or not children’s books should take into account entertaining the adults who will be reading them to their kids.

Here, Tahereh makes me feel a lot better about being almost 29 and always going straight to the YA/teen section of the bookstore.  Solidarity! 🙂


I have been telling people this for *ages*, but everyone (especially my [former] students!) always thinks I’m nuts.  Or it’s like, “Yeah, yeah—you’re right,” and then you just know they didn’t do it.  Maybe you’ll listen to Heather Trese over at See Heather Write?  It’s really a MUST in terms of revision.

Here, Lydia Kang of The Word is My Oyster talks about and gives examples of character sheets—great tools to make your characters frawesome! <—word stolen from Elana Johnson, and I feel like I can’t use it without giving her a shoutout!  Is there such thing as plagiarism when it comes to Internet slang? She says “fabu,” I’ve noticed, but I have said “faboo” for years . . . (yes, I know hers makes more sense, but I can’t go back NOW!) . . . so I feel like that one’s fair game. 🙂

But I digress.

Let's bedazzle the crap out of something!


Over at Fuel Your Writing, Suzannah Freeman outlines the five mistakes you make when writing a blog postSo, stop it!

Here, Shiver and Linger author Maggie Stiefvater gives you a dose of reality in terms of the publishing industry—and she does it using a ham sandwich.

Here, Kevin Purdy of Lifehacker talks about what caffeine actually does to your brain.  I’m choosing to ignore it. Right now, actually!

I found out about this site by reading this post by Jeff Hirsch over at the League of Extraordinary Writers, where he calls it “The Greatest and Most Horrible Website Ever.”  I mean, how can you not click on something when it’s billed like that, right?

Hirsch is referring to this site, TV Tropes, which lists—in crazy number and detail—just about every trope* (narrative, character, etc.) out there . . . and it breaks them down by categories, genres, etc.  It’s just nuts.  There really isn’t an original thought to be had anymore!  Beware: The site is totally addicting!


Over on her blog, Kristen Lamb coughs up the single best way for authors to become a brand**—and it may be easier than you think.

And Jane Friedman discusses how to manage multiple (online) identities: avoid.

It can get complicated. Just ask Lana, Lois, and Chloe.


September is so back-to-school/let’s get down to business, and a lot of folks are talking about butt-in-chair-and-write time.

Here, Jody Hedlund talks about what to do when your writing routine is disrupted.

This is what I do.

Across the Universe author Beth Revis and my pal, The New Soul Trilogy author, Jodi Meadows—along with Authoress Anonymous (and probably some others) have been “word racing” on Twitter to get the words written.  Here are two great posts Revis did about their little project—what they’re doing and how it’s going.

We’ve got our own little GET WORDS WRITTEN thing going on over at The Write-Brained Network, and that’s WordWatchers.  It’s a little like NaNoWriMo, but you can tailor it to what fits in your schedule.  Details here.

Come play with us!

*Ahem—What is a “trope”?  In this sense, it’s a common or overused theme or device.

**Kyle, this is for you.

In the Blogosphere: 4/26-5/21

“In the Blogosphere” is a series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week (usually).

It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these posts.  As I’ve mentioned, it’s been busy, busy, busy.  I’ve been saving posts, but I haven’t been sharing them—how inconsiderate of me!


This oldie but goodie post is from John Robert Marlow’s Self Editing Blog, and it deals with something I’ve seen a lot of lately: bouncing eyeballs.  Many writers—especially those writing young adult lit—have eyes and jaws and stomachs (and such) doing all sorts of things they couldn’t possibly be doing.  And while expressions like “she rolled her eyes,” “his jaw fell to the floor,” “his stomach dropped to his knees” are simply that—expressions—idioms—they can sometimes be jarring to the reader, and it is recommended by many that writers avoid using such phrases.  Marlow’s post does a great job of explaining why.

I mean, this is an eye-roll according to Morfland of OpticalFantasies.com!

And, my absolute favorite example of this comes from when I attended book doctor Bobbie Christmas’s class at the 2008 Southeastern Writers Association conference.  Christmas said she was editing a romance novel, and one of the lines read, “Her eyes were glued to his crotch.”  If you think about that image—the literal image—that can definitely take you out of what I’m sure was supposed to be a hot-and-heavy moment!

But I digress. 🙂

In this post, Paulo Campos of yingle yangle suggests using film to expand your use of body language.


Since I write YA and am a recovering high school (and middle school for one year) English teacher, I have a soft spot for all things kids’-lit related.

In her guest post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, Jewel Allen offers some tips on writing middle-grade lit kids will dig.

To swear or not to swear?  Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Mary Kole discusses this very question in a few posts over at her blog, Kidlit.comHere is the first of those posts.


In the quest for representation, I have discussed queries and pitches and loglines a lot with other writers as well as here on the blog.

Over at Writer Unboxed, Kathleen Bolton explains why you need to be able to boil down your novel to one or two sentences.

Curtis Brown Ltd’s Nathan Bransford concurs.

Here, Bransford tells you just how to do that.

Perfect your pitch! (Yes, Kyle, this pic is for you. Sadly, though, I have no idea who this player is. Sorry - I'm trying, though!)


And what would the writing world be without pep talks?

Over at TotallytheBomb.com, YA author Jamie Harrington uses Rick Astley to keep us going when writing gets tough.

Sick of Nathan Bransford yet?  Get over it!  Here, he ‘splains that willpower is the greatest strength a writer can have.

Seekerville’s Camy Tang gives some ways one can balance writing and, well, everything else in life.  Stress not—it *can* be done!


What’s this whole platform thing everyone’s talking about all the time?  Well, YA author Jamie Harrington will tell you.  She did a great little series over at her blog.  A must-read/view for all writers.