Archive for the ‘Objection: Graphic Sexuality’ 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 …”

Diffusing an Angry Parent

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on the MELIBS listserv, Fri, 12 Nov 2004 20:00:28 under the subject: Dealing with a Challenge (long) 

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This afternoon, we were showing a movie in the library after school, and I received a strange phone call from the Maine State Library saying that they had received a call from a parent earlier today asking if there was a list of books that are appropriate for schools to have. 

The parent’s child had borrowed a book from school that the parent did not approve of.  The call had been referred to a couple of different people, and it was suggested that the call be referred to me, as the Intellectual Freedom Chair of the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL).  I was given the parent’s name (Let’s call her Sara.) and her phone number.

I immediately called Sara. She came to the phone and I introduced myself as a librarian and said that I had been called by the State Library because she had called there looking for a list of books that are appropriate for schools.  She told me the story of the book that her daughter had taken out of a classroom library, found very graphic and shared the graphic passages with her mother.  Sara had called the school and left a message for the teacher, saying that she thought the book was inappropriate for middle school; the teacher returned her call the following day and left a message for her, saying that the book was award-winning and perfectly appropriate for middle school.

I thanked Sara for her interest and concern. 

“You’d be surprised how few parents really take such interest in what their children read and take the time to talk with their children about what they read.”

I said, “You are to be commended on the relationship that you have with your daughter, such that when she read something that made her uncomfortable, she immediately told you about it, ‘This made me really uncomfortable.’”

Sara thanked me.

I told her that I had a suggestion.  “Does your daughter’s school have a library?

“Yes,” she replied.

“I was going to suggest that you contact the school librarian and share this story with her and ask her if she’d meet with you and your daughter.  Find out what your daughter’s interests are, what she likes to read.  Learn more about your family and the values that you have. Then the librarian could recommend some books for you and your daughter that your daughter would enjoy and that would support your values as a family.” 

I said, “I LOVE when people come to me with requests like that.  Those are my favorite moments as a librarian.  They give me the chance to get to know the students and their families, and the better I know them, the better able I am to serve them.  I love when I get requests like that.”

Sara said, “That’s a good idea.  I can do that Monday.  I did call the principal after the teacher left the message and the principal said to have my daughter return the book.”  Pause. “What do you think of the book?”

“I’ve read it.  And it’s a book that I have in our middle school library.  One of the things that makes libraries so important in our communities is that we offer a wide range of books.  No book is perfect for everyone and every book is perfect for someone.  That’s why it’s important for librarians to know their communities and the people they serve.  As educators, it’s our job to help connect young people with the right book at the right time.  I’m sure your daughter’s school library has many such books.  Ask the librarian to help connect your daughter with them.”

Sara said, “I don’t want the book to be removed so no one can read it.  I just don’t think it’s appropriate for my daughter.”

I assured her, “That’s called good parenting – knowing your daughter, having the relationship with her that you have, being involved in her growing up and learning.”

I left Sara with my name and phone number and invited her to call me if she had any other concerns, or if I could help her in any way.  She thanked me and I thanked her and we hung up.

I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons:

1) In my capacity as Intellectual Freedom Chair of MASL, I wanted to model one way of dealing with a challenge.  This method comes directly from the School Library Journal article “How the Mind of a Censor Works” by Dr. Sara Fine from  School Library Journal, January 1996, pp.23-27.

2) When I spoke with Sara, what I heard her saying was NOT, “Why is my daughter being given bad books?” but “I’m scared. My daughter was exposed to something that scared her and scared me.  Is my daughter safe at school?”  The reason I heard this was because I recently had an experience that left me feeling the exact same way.  A security guard in my building told me, “Get your homosexual a** upstairs!  You’re not welcome here!”  Ever since that experience I have felt unsafe in my building and I have been scared for the safety of my own children, especially after my five-year-old daughter asked me, “Is he just mad at you or does he hate us too?”  I wanted – needed – to know that I and my family were safe.  The greatest thing done for me right after that happened was when my colleagues listened to me, heard my fear and comforted me, BEFORE they told me what to go and do about it.  So that’s what I did for Sara.

3) I learned something very important from my conversation with Sara. I listened to her. And she knew that she was being heard.  I didn’t throw in my opinions.  I kept my opinions to myself.  I just listened. What I heard was that Sara and I are more alike than different.  

 

P.S. The book in question was What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones (Simon & Schuster, 2001)