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Archive for the ‘Banned Books Week 2011’ Category

Banned Books Week Finale–Meet School Library Journal blogger Joyce Valenza!

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.  We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view!  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Joyce Valenza, a teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania.  She also writes a blog for School Library Journal, NeverEndingSearch, which won the Edublog Award for Best librarian/library blog of 2009.  Joyce speaks internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology.

We are extremely grateful that Joyce has taken time out of her busy schedule to join us today.  Welcome Joyce!

We understand that the ALA advocates against all forms of censorship, but do you ever feel pressure as a teacher-librarian to withhold certain books from your library or your students? If so, where does the pressure come from and how do you deal with the situation?

I suppose that I am lucky that I don’t have any stories to share with you. In twenty years as a school librarian, in three schools, I can’t remember a single book challenge.  Over the course of those years, I do remember parents questioning titles on our summer or curricular reading lists. And in most cases, when parents questioned a title, their students were assigned an alternate read. So the rest of the class continued to read the selected titles.

In my other life, as a public librarian, members of our community questioned the inclusion of James Baldwin in our collection. “Why would we need books by black authors in our white neighborhood?” It was easy to defend Baldwin. And our Materials Selection Policy process worked.

It is essential that teacher librarians be able to point to and share an up-to-date Materials Selection Policy to explain how collection development works and to inform the community about the principles of intellectual freedom upon which libraries make selections, and to establish a clear process to work through any potential challenge.

ALA offers a wonderful group of resources, a workbook for developing such a policy.

We revised ours last year

109.1 Selection Of Library Materials And Maintenance 3.15

One of the very old sayings in the library world is that you can’t really have a collection that doesn’t have something to offend anyone.  That’s likely true.

But, in my mind, however offended, no one community member, no one family should impose their individual preference to deny other community members opportunities to discover library resources selected for the larger community.

What is your greatest concern about the continued practice of banning and challenging books for young readers, particularly for your own high school students?

I worry that outside organizations might exert even greater influence on communities that might otherwise not question materials.  Libraries are now globally transparent.  You no longer need to visit a library to find that objectionable something.  You can easily search any catalog from your kitchen and make a decision to make a challenge.

But censorship reaches far beyond book issues.  Librarians who’d fight to the death to keep a well-reviewed title in their collections need to fight with the same passion for student access to web resources they believe in.  Access to the tools learners need to create and communicate is as much an intellectual freedom issue as access to books.  It’s also a serious equity issue and a banner every librarian must wave in his or her school.  No one else will take this stand.  We own this one.

AASL recently designated Wednesday, September 28, 2011, as Banned Websites Awareness Day and I am delighted about that.

Our students deserve the opportunities to ethically and productively use, communicate, create, and discover a new audience for their work with new and emerging social media tools.  The fact that we invest so heavily in hardware and block learners from tools and content is a great irony. In some schools, filtering decisions are not made by educators at all. In some schools no process exists for challenging filtering decisions.

How do you feel the school library’s role has changed for students in the digital age and how do you continue to keep those students engaged?  How has the shift to virtual learning impacted your role as a teacher-librarian?

I suppose I’ve always been into technology. If you are an information professional in your school building, you must be the technology scout and you need to figure out how to harness the latest information and communication tools to make sense for learners and learning.  We’ve been trying to offer our students choice in how they want to communicate their new knowledge and creative projects.

It’s so much more complicated now.  In the short span of just over 20 years, we’ve migrated from information deserts to information tsunamis.  There is so much more to learn.  There is so much more to teach.   I have never loved my work more. Libraries have evolved, or they should have.  The role of the teacher-librarian has shifted from one who gathers, stores, and indexes resources to a educator and collaborator who guides learners as they ethically and effectively filter, evaluate, and use information and then do something with it, ideally to communicate in powerful and creative ways with authentic audience. The librarian becomes an even more critical player in new learning landscapes where information and communication options continually shift.

The Web makes research a far more independent effort, but with the use such platforms as blogs or wikis or Google sites, the process can now be transparent and interactive.  Teacher-librarians help move the research process online and intervene in positive ways using strategies some are calling knowledge-building centers.

The library is not merely a place to get stuff. It is participatory. It is a place to invent, to create, to make stuff, to collaborate on stuff, and to share stuff.  It is more kitchen than grocery store. More transformational than transactional. Research can be transparent, interactive, meaningful, original. Student research can make a difference. Our connections can be global. We now Skype with authors and activists.

My colleagues and I are here to ensure that all students have equitable access to the tools they need to learn and create.  Access to tools is as much an intellectual freedom issue as access to books.

Evaluation of information sources has become more important, more sophisticated, more contextual, and more subjective. Each of us must develop the ability to triangulate the flood of information and media available to mediate truth.

Our learners’ information and communication choices have grown exponentially. Learners can construct original research with new survey tools.  Depending on the context of the information task, students must consider whether they have the right balance of a growing array of sources in traditional and emerging media.

I hope that their work makes a difference.  I hope that my work makes a difference. It’s never been a more exciting or rewarding, or more important time to be a librarian. Learners have never needed us more.

How would you describe your blog and what topics most inspire your writing?

I make discoveries with my learners nearly every day and I try to share my discoveries with my readers.  I discuss what I am proud of, as well as what frustrates me. Along with several of my geek-tribe colleagues, I think I function as a mentor, perhaps a scout, for other school librarians.  In our schools, we exist as kind of lone wolves.  Our blogs, twitter, and networking tools give us space to share.  And we’ve been growing together as a “tribe” more powerfully than ever before.

For me, my web presence is only partially my blog.  I communicate with my learners through our Virtual Library.  And I am working with a number of others librarians, teachers, and students, to archive what I learn in a variety of curating tools.

One platform is these Guides:

Guide for Librarians

What are your favorite books of 2011 for teen readers?

Okay, a confession, I haven’t read as many of the 2011 YA titles as I should. When I went back to my recent faves, I realized they were 2010 titles.  But I have a whole new stack waiting for me. Among the titles I read and loved this spring: Stolen by Lucy Christopher and Hush by Eishes Chayil, Annexed by Sharon Dogar, and Numbers Book 1 by Rachel Ward.  (I just started Book 2: The Chaos).

Over the summer, I’ve read Emma Donoghue’s Room and Sister: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton. I am currently reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows for AASL’s One Book One Conference event.

In general, I am a sucker for vampire and werewolf stuff and historical fiction and chick lit and strong female characters.  I love Sara Zarr and Sarah Dessen.

My teen book club and I can’t wait to see the Hunger Games movie together when it comes out this spring. My kids have been stalking John Green for years. One was so excited when he was mentioned in the Nerdfighters blog.  We all have John Green’s The Fault in our Stars on preorder. (He’s promised to autograph.)

This year, we are looking forward to connecting our book club with Shannon Miller’s club in Iowa.  We’re hoping to have the kids plan readings together and Skype in authors when we can.  Are any authors reading this?

Thanks for stopping by, Joyce, and for sharing your experiences with us!  To read more from Joyce, be sure to check out her blog.

StorySnoops thanks you for visiting us for our 2011 Banned Books Week interview series.  We’ve had a great time putting these interviews together and hope you’ll check here to read them all and let us know what you think.

-The Snoops

Banned Books Week Day 4–Let us introduce Lois Lowry!

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States. We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view. We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Lois Lowry, the award-winning author of more than thirty books for children, including one of the most frequently challenged books for the past decade, The Giver.

Thanks for joining us today Lois.  We’re thrilled to have you!

For anyone who has read The Giver, it is almost impossible to miss the irony.  In the past decade, there have been many attempts to control access to this book that eloquently illustrates the danger of too much control in society.  Were you surprised when The Giver was first challenged?  How has censorship affected you personally?

Yes, I was very surprised the first time I heard of an attempt to censor The Giver.  Now, of course, many years later, it has happened so often that I hardly even notice. But it does make me sad, still.

Does having a book on the frequently banned or challenged list affect your writing in any way?

No. If anything, it has made me aware how important it is to deal with serious issues in books. I don’t shy away from them, for fear of censorship; and my publisher, thankfully, feels the same way.

You have said, “I try, through writing, to convey my passionate awareness that we live intertwined on this planet and that our future depends upon our caring more, and doing more, for one another.”  What is the ultimate impact of censorship on this message?

I stand by that message, even though I said those words many years ago.  I care about today’s kids and worry about their future. So I try in my own way to stand for the things that will guarantee their freedom. Fighting censorship is important. All totalitarian governments restrict freedom of speech. We have to work to guard against that kind of ominous governmental intrusion.

Many of your books, including Newbery Award winner Number the Stars, touch upon this theme.  What experiences in you own life have made human connections the focus of your writing?

I grew up during WW II and have lived, now, through many other conflicts. My son was a military officer killed in a fighter plane. I am unendingly aware of the sacrifices all of us make on behalf of democracy and individual freedoms.

And now some questions from a Junior Snoop, who just read The Giver in middle school.

• The ending of the Giver is unclear. Did Jonas reach Elsewhere, or did you leave it intentionally open for interpretation?

I left it open to interpretation at first but have gone on, now to write three other books to follow The Giver.  The first two are Gathering Blue and Messenger,  The third is written but not yet titled or published. Jonas…and Gabriel…are major characters in it.

• Is there a reason that you ended the Giver with Jonas on the sled? Does it have any relation to the fact that riding on the sled was the first memory Jonas received?

When a writer inserts a strong image…..such as the memory of the sled…..that writer will usually repeat the image later in the book. (Now that I have told you that, you will start to notice it in other books!)

Thank you for joining us Lois! For more information about Lois, visit her website. And tomorrow, please come back to meet Joyce Valenza, award-winning blogger from School Library Journal. If you’ve missed any of our BBW 2011 interviews, you can find them all right here.

Banned Books Week Day 3–Walter Dean Myers is here today!

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States. We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view. We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our guest today is Walter Dean Myers, the highly decorated author of more than fifty books.  His book, Fallen Angels, has been on the list of the top ten most frequently challenged books a few times in the past decade.

Thanks for joining us today Walter.  We’re honored to have you!

Good morning!

Obviously, no author is in favor of restricting access to literature.  What do you feel are the dangers of this practice?  Does the existence of book challenges ever cross your mind when you are writing?

Book challenges are, primarily, generated by the fear that a book will somehow damage a child by changing what is considered to be a valued norm. In my mind when a book touches upon a controversial subject it is precisely because the norm has already been significantly changed, and the author has had the courage to acknowledge this. Many of the challenges to Fallen Angels have dealt with the use of profanity in the book. The execution of war involves, on a very basic level, getting law abiding, and humane people into a mode that allows them to kill other human beings for whom they have no personal animosity. The use of profanity is part of the conversion process as is the dehumanizing effect of referring to an enemy with such terms as ‘gooks’ and ‘slants’. When I write a book that is liable to be challenged it is because I have detected a change in what is advertised as the accepted norm.

Why do you feel it is important for young readers to be exposed to some of the difficult subject matter present in your books?

One of society’s ways of trying to protect young people is by not openly discussing our problems. But many children will one day face the problems and all children will have to deal with them on some level. When I find a subject that is clearly bothersome to me I am drawn to exploring that subject in a book. I did hundreds of pages of interviews in adult prisons before I began Monster. Eventually, I discovered how many of the adult prisoners had children on the outside, and I began to visit juvenile prisons. What disturbed me most in my research was how often children have to make decisions under the pressures of the moment instead of having the benefit of previous discussions in the classroom or around the dinner table.  Literature can, to an extent, replace these discussions.

Do you feel like there is one unifying objective or message woven through your body of work when looked at in its entirety?  If so, how does this affect new projects?

If there is a universal theme in my work it deals with man’s need to identify and celebrate, within a given culture, his own humanity.  This is the ultimate goal of my characters.

Monster is a thought-provoking story about a sixteen-year-old boy on trial for murder.  It raises questions about moral culpability, the consequences of bad choices, and the impact of race and socioeconomic background on the justice system.  How would you recommend kicking off a book club discussion of Monster?

A book club discussion of Monster might begin with the differences between the protagonist’s legal obligations and his moral posture.  I still get dozens of letters from young people (and some teachers) saying that Steve should never have been brought to trial because he didn’t actually pull the trigger.  The lack of understanding of the law here is tragic.  Any participation in a felony exposes the actor to penalties incurred by all the participants.

One of the most important things an author can do to get teens to read his books is to write authentic teen characters, and you do a remarkable job at this.  Where do you get your insight?

I think writers explore the human condition, which everyone recognizes. A teenager in modern day Alabama can recognize the humanity in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

On the same topic, when teen reader Ross Workman contacted you with this same thought, you ended up writing a book with him, Kick. This must have been the experience of a lifetime for Mr. Workman!  Can you tell us more about how the whole thing came about, and how it was working with a novice to create a virtually seamless novel?

It was a pleasure working with Ross Workman. While we differed in age and background we had a common interest in writing in general, and in the particular story we attempted. When Ross contacted me by email I was impressed with the range of his interests.   He played several sports, including soccer, and also played in the school band. He was a doer. I suggested an exercise to him, that we try to put an outline together and see where it led us. He was enthused about the idea and it was his enthusiasm, plus the intelligent way he handled criticism, that kept us going through several drafts, and eventually the book Kick.

What are some contemporary books written by other authors that you think are important for your readers to read?

Two books which I have enjoyed are Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Anyone who has spoken to as many young girls in prisons as I have understands the trauma involved in sexual assault and the difficulties dealing with it in our society.

Sugar Changed the World by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos discusses how one industry has made a huge difference in the way people have moved across our globe and the way that movement has changed not only their lives, but the entire world.

Thank you for joining us Walter! For more information on what Walter is up to, visit his website.

Please join us tomorrow when award-winning author Lois Lowry visits If you’ve missed any of the BBW 2011 series, you can find it all right here.

Banned Books Week Day 2–Meet Phyllis Reynolds Naylor!

Monday, September 26th, 2011

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States. We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view. We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a prolific children’s author, well known for her trilogy, Shiloh, a 1992 Newbery Medal winner. She has also won two Edgar Awards in the Best Juvenile Mystery category. Phyllis writes the popular Alice series, for which she receives tons of fan mail from young girls who not only rave about her books, but ask her advice on a wide range of topics.

We are honored to have with us today, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, award-winning author of more than one hundred and thirty five books! Phyllis, your Alice books have been on the frequently banned/challenged book lists. What in these books was most “challenged” and were you surprised?

I believe it’s been “inappropriate language” and “sexual content.” It varies from censor to censor.  I’m amazed, but not surprised, because about the only swearing that takes place is an occasional “O’m'god!” from one of the girls, and though the sexual thoughts and conversations are fairly graphic in nature, they are not pornographic and are definitely honest and realistic. I’ve been especially amazed–awed, really–by the shock over some passages in one of the Alice prequels, Lovingly Alice, in which Alice finds out about sexual intercourse, asking real questions, and getting wholesome, loving answers from her dad (with, in Alice’s case, humorous asides from a teenage brother). This, to me, is the way a child should learn the facts of life– from her family.

Have you ever been cautioned or asked by a publisher to “tone down” anything in your writing?

One of my editors, in discussing censorship issues, suggested that when I had the choice of using a swear word or a less controversial word, to choose the less controversial if it seemed to make no difference to the story. But that if I felt a character would speak or react in a way that made the swear word imperative, I should use it. That’s been my guide. I read my manuscripts aloud, over and over, taking the part of various characters, and if I feel that a teenage boy, for example, in a certain situation would say, “Oh, shit!” then shit it is. When we start substituting words that change a character’s personality, we’re in danger of losing not only our audience but our story.

One of the things we love most about your books is your frank and honest portrayal of puberty. What inspired you to write about this topic?

Not only my own questions about bodies as I was growing up, but the personal questions and problems readers ask me on the Alice website,, some of which I publish (without names) on the fan mail page, others I answer personally by email. High on the list are worries about their own bodies, especially their genitalia, and misconceptions about sexual play with their boyfriends and getting pregnant. I hope I’ve established over the years that I try to answer their questions as honestly as I can, being neither a doctor nor a psychologist, just an enlightened grandmother, and that I do not judge them.

You capture the adolescent angst/embarrassment very well. Did someone inspire you, or do you just have a really good memory?

I have a really good memory for every embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. In fact, I remember each year of grade and middle and high school mostly by some stupid thing that I did, and I must admit that in my later years, when my mother would write that Mr. so-and-so had died, and this was a person who had witnessed one of my ridiculous moments, I would feel a guilty relief that the witness was gone and had taken the memory of my humiliation with him.

We have noticed a recurring theme (in the Alice books and Faith, Hope and Ivy June) of self-discovery and acceptance and not judging people by their outward appearances. Is this something you feel strongly about instilling in young women?

Very much so.  I hear from a lot of girls who are angry that the guys in their class seem most interested in the most physically attractive girls with the most outgoing personalities, ignoring the quieter, plainer girls. I sometimes feel compelled to ask them if they themselves pay attention to some of the more plain and quiet boys at school. All you have to do to see that plain and pretty girls alike get married is to look at the neighbors around you and see the variety of couples. Look at the wedding and engagement photos in the newspaper. Though appearance and intelligence and a sense of humor all matter, it often comes down to whom we feel most comfortable with, what person brings out the best in us and lets us be ourselves. If we want to be judged not only by how we look but how we think and feel, then we have to extend the same courtesy to others.

Thank you for joining us Phyllis.  Look for Phyllis’ next book Alice on Board coming out in 2012!

Come back tomorrow to hear from award-winning author Walter Dean Myers. If you’ve missed any of the BBW 2011 series, you can find it right here.

Banned Books Week Day 1–Do you know Chris Crutcher?

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States. We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view. We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Our first guest is Chris Crutcher, award-winning author of thirteen books, including Angry Management, Deadline and Whale Talk. Prior to his work as an author, he taught school and was a child and family therapist specializing in abuse and neglect, which has contributed to his ability to infuse his literary work with realism.  His signature blend of tragedy and comedy have made him a favorite with teen and adult readers.

Welcome Chris Crutcher! You are one of the most frequently banned authors in North America, which we understand you consider an accomplishment rather than a drawback, and we applaud your commitment to intellectual freedom. Since it is Banned Books Week, we need to ask you something about censorship. How do you feel about the fact that books continue to be removed from shelves, and were you ever surprised by which of your books has been the most controversial?

I’m never surprised.  It’s always about language or certain issues: race, homosexuality, sexual behavior issues, challenge to authority.  It’s pretty predictable.

We are sure that you are very aware of the profound effect you have on many of the teens that read your books. Was there a particular author that spoke to you or affected you greatly when you were a teen yourself?

Harper Lee, when I was a teen.  The intimacy of her narrator, Scout, really attracted me as a reader and as a thinker.

Many programs in schools today try to teach kids to be “upstanders” instead of “bystanders” when they see something going on that they know to be wrong. You have created some amazing characters of conviction, integrity and principle in your writing – TJ Jones in Whale Talk and Matt Miller in Angry Management, for example. Have you had the privilege of knowing some teens like this or are you supplying role models you hope others will emulate?

I’ve known a few; not too many.  Most were kids who weren’t doing well in the educational system, but seemed to have a good sense of themselves.  Most of my characters are drawn from those few self-possessed teens I’ve known who rise a little above their developmental stage.

You have also created some very powerful and strong female characters. Are female characters more challenging for you to write than male characters?

They’re more challenging in that I’m not female so I have to pay attention some of the natural tendencies girls have.

Which character were you most reluctant to let go of once you finished writing their story?

I don’t know that there’s just one.  TJ from Whale Talk comes to mind, as does Ben Wolf in Deadline.  Bo Brewster in Ironman was also a favorite, but they all hold an exalted position during the time I’m writing about them because of the level of intimacy I have to create with a character to tell a good story.

We know you don’t have children, but if you did, which of your characters would you hope your child was the most like?

Probably TJ, though I could make a case for any of them.  In fact to some degree, they are my children.

What is on the top of your personal “to read” list?

Getting ready to read Water for Elephants.  Everyone who’s read it says it’s incredible.  I also have a couple of manuscripts to read by new YA writers whose editors have asked for a blurb.  There’s some really good new stuff out there.

Lastly, when can we expect your next book to hit the shelves, and can you tell us what it is about?

I’m finishing it up as we speak.  It’s called Period Eight (for now) and is a kind of suspense/mystery about domestic human trafficking.  Sounds like a big departure, but it’s not really.  You’ll recognize a lot of the characters and types of situations.  I’m liking writing it a lot.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us Chris! For more information about Chris, visit his website.

Join us tomorrow to hear from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, frequently-banned author the Alice books.  Check here to see our entire series of BBW 2011 interviews.

Banned Books Week here we come!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

“I’m not a person who believes all books are worthwhile.  There are lots of books I wouldn’t recommend.  But I’m only smart enough to choose for myself, not for everyone.  To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, one of the tough things about standing up against censorship is some of the (crap) you have to stand up for. (And yes, I edited myself – or Mr. Vonnegut – in deference to the complainant.)  But I have been an educator and I have been a therapist for families in particularly tough circumstances and the characters and situations in this book come from real places.  When we ban books about kids who feel marginalized and diminished, we ban the kids themselves.  We say, “Your life is not worth examining, not worth being brought into the light.  You don’t matter.”  I would want to think long and hard before allowing my school to be perceived in that way.”

-Chris Crutcher