Archive for the ‘Location: Portland’ Category

A Personal Story about a “Controversial” Book

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted on the MELIBS listserv by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on Fri, 5 Dec 2008 21:49:51 under the subject: A personal story about a “controversial” book.

I wanted to share a personal story about how I handled a situation involving a student and a “controversial” YA novel …

I work in an urban middle school library. Last month, before I went to the YA Literature Symposium in Nashville, I was approached by a student–a young man I’ll call Jay.

Jay held up the book Tyrell by Coe Booth and said, “I just read this book for the second or third time. This is my favorite book. Do you have anything else like it?”

I said that the author had a new book out, but that I knew nothing about it. I also said that I was going to a conference later in the week where the author, Coe Booth, would be speaking and that I would try to get an autographed book for him.

“Get the new one,” he said.

I was able to get a galley of “the new book”. I told the author about my student and asked her to sign it to Jay, which she did.

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The following day, I attended a panel discussion about “controversial” new YA titles and, of course, Kendra (Coe Booth’s new book) was featured.

I thought about what I was going to say to Jay when I gave him the book.

I saw Jay a few days after I returned. I asked him to come into my office and I held up the Kendra galley. “I told Coe Booth about you. I told her how much you loved Tyrell and look what she wrote … ‘Jay, I hope you like Kendra as much as you liked Tyrell.’” His eyes were huge. “I want to talk to you about the book a little first though.” I explained. “You know how there’s a lot of profanity—swearing–in Tyrell?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t bother me.”

“I figured. Well, you know how there’s also some sexual language, the way Tyrell talks about Novisha and Jasmine. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the sexuality in Kendra is more graphic and explicit than in Tyrell. Kendra is pressured to have sex by her boyfriend and I want to make sure that you have an adult that you can talk to if you have questions or if something bothers you. You are always welcome to come in and talk to me; you can ask me anything. But, I’d like you to think of an adult, a relative or family friend, that you would feel comfortable talking to. Can you think of someone?”

Jay paused and considered, “My sister-in-law,” he announced, “I can talk to her about anything.”

“Great. Your sister-in-law can also help you understand the female point-of-view. Pressuring someone to do something that they don’t want to do is very serious. It’s an important thing to think and talk about. And remember that if you read something that doesn’t make sense to you or that bothers you or makes you uncomfortable, you can always put the book down, skip that part, or talk with your sister-in-law about it, okay?”

“Right.”

“When you’re done the book, I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Oh, and one more thing …”

“What?”

“Tyrell has a cameo in Kendra, but I’m not gonna tell you where.”

Jay read the book over the past month, and every few days, he came by and told me where he was in the story.

He finished the book this week and when I saw him this afternoon he said he liked that Kendra ended happier than Tyrell. I asked him if he thought that the happier ending was less realistic; he shook his head, “No, I like happy endings. Everyone deserves a happy ending, not sadness.  You know, I wanna be a DJ like Tyrell.”

“I’m sure you will. Hey, next week, come by and see me and we can write an e-mail to Coe Booth so you can tell her what you thought of Kendra.”

“Really? Do you think she’ll write back?”

“Maybe. I’m sure she’d love to hear from you, one of her hard core fans …”

Book Challenge: Deogratias

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted on the MELIBS listserv by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on Mon, 28 Jan 2008 20:11:23  under the subject: Book Challenge.

Close to the time that I was wrapping up my fall at King Middle School, a student asked me to remove a graphic novel from the library.  After a long conversation, the student asked to make a formal complaint about the book and I supplied the appropriate forms. 

The student said, “I could name three or four other students in my house who would be offended by that book.” 

I replied, “None of those students that you name would be forced to read it.  If you don’t like the book, don’t read it.  I would only have to think of one current or future student who might benefit from access to the book, in order to justify its being here.”

The student’s complaint was racist language and violence, citing a specific illustration on one page.

I felt very badly about having to hand this intellectual freedom issue off to the librarian who came in to replace me while I was on sabbatical.

The issue is still in process and I have been thinking about it a lot lately.

I can only hope that the complainant in this case puts as much energy toward fighting racism and violence and ending genocide in real life, as s/he has put into trying to censor the depiction of racism, violence and genocide in this work of fiction.

I did collect book reviews and write up a Book Rationale, which I have included below.

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deogratiasABook Rationale for Deogratias by J.P. Stassen

prepared by Kelley McDaniel, Librarian, King Middle School

December 2007

Location: King Middle School Library

Use: free and open access; used in conjunction with studies of graphic novels, genocides, Africa, Rwanda and Paul Rusesabagina

Possible Complaints: profanity, violence (including sexual violence), racist language, genocide, inappropriate subject matter for young people

Description: This graphic novel originally published in French, in Belgium, paints an emotional picture of life in Rwanda leading up to, during, and immediately following the Rwandan genocide.  The story is told, through flashbacks, from the point-of-view of a Hutu young man, who struggles to retain his own humanity while witnessing and finally, participating in the atrocities.

This book was given to me by the publisher at an ALA Conference.  I read the book and thought that it had value in the KMS library for a number of reasons:

1)     we have students from Rwanda and we have the responsibility to represent them, their history, and their experiences in the literature that we provide;

2)     our Rwandan students’ classmates and peers who want to know about and understand the Rwandan genocide deserve access to such resources;

3)     the KMS library has books, including graphic novels and literature with graphic descriptions of horrific acts of violence, about other genocides, including Apartheid, the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Bosnian genocide, Pol Pot’s regime, and the genocide in Sudan;

4)     this is one of few books about the Rwandan genocide I have found that is accessible to young people;

5)     although this book is about the Rwandan genocide, it explores issues related to genocide in general, which has been a topic of study here.

I did not put Deogratias immediately into the KMS library collection; I considered it for a year.  In the end, I decided to add it to our collection based on the reasons enumerated above.

Although the book has not circulated extensively, it has been used meaningfully by members of the King Middle School community:

o     Two years ago, Paul Rusesabagina (the hero memorialized in the movie Hotel Rwanda), spoke at USM and that year, as well as the following year, I had requests for books and stories about Rwanda and the Rwandan genocide. 

o     Last year an eighth grade student was doing a project on Paul Rusesabagina and the Rwandan genocide and asked me for anything else I had on the subject.  Among other things, I gave that student Deogratias.

o     This fall, a teacher was taking a course and doing a project on graphic novels. Deogratias was one of the graphic novels that I gave to that teacher to use for an in class presentation.

Deogratias is for mature and sophisticated readers, but we do have students who can understand its content and appreciate its artistic and literary merits.

I do not question or argue with the fact that a student complained, or that the student was upset and offended by the book; as a matter of fact, I apologized for the offense that was experienced. 

I take issue with the student’s request that since that student was offended by the book, no current or future King Middle School student should be allowed access to it. 

No KMS student is forced to read a particular library book.  The KMS library advocates choice when it comes to student reading. 

Each year, in preparation for Summer Reading, I explain that there is no book in our library or on the reading list that is appropriate for everyone, but, “every book is appropriate for someone.” As a way of explaining intellectual freedom to students, I frequently use the example that I do not like hate language and am offended by it. 

“What if I borrow a book from the library and I find that it contains racist language?  What can I do?” I ask.

One student always replies, “Stop reading it and return it to the library.”

I also explain, “I like to know what you don’t like (and why), as it helps me help you find books you will like. But,” I say, “No one person has the right to say, ‘Because I don’t like it, YOU can’t read it.’   That right – the freedom to read – is up to each individual reader.  And I’m here to defend that right for you.”