What I’m Thinking About – Part 3 – Bubbles

So, first I wrote about leveling the library and then I wrote about the purpose of games and the Makerspace in the library. Now, I want to write about bubbles. Specifically, keeping children in them. But, before I do that…let’s talk about my mom.

Tuesday (June 14) was my mom’s birthday. She would have been 62 years old. She died from lung cancer 4 years ago and I miss her every single day. The reason I bring her up is because she never let me live in a bubble (although some would disagree…yes, she was overprotective and barely let me out of her sight, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t teach me things – I knew about the world). Let me explain. First and foremost, my mom had friends of many colors, sizes, orientations, etc. I have known people who are different from me all of my life. And, my mom talked about EVERYTHING with me (or tried to). She was always very open about the world…boys, friendships, relationships, body stuff, etc. Not that I really wanted to listen most of the time (lots of eye rolling and zoning out…LOTS), but she would have those important conversations with me and when I really wasn’t into listening, she would give me a book. I remember learning about the birds and the bees by reading Where Did I Come From? (which I totally just purchased on Amazon, by the way) and I learned about my period and changes in my body by reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? There are numerous OTHER books that I read and learned from, as well. My dad took me to the public library once a week and I checked out stacks of books about whatever I was interested in…neither he nor my mom EVER looked through those books and told me I could not read something. My parents let me read and learn.  I feel certain that many of those books I read were likely censored or banned at some point…which brings me to what I’m thinking about.

One of the BEST author visits I ever had was Phil Bildner. He’s awesome for so many reasons = he writes and illustrates many books about sports, so that hits my reluctant reader boys. He LOOKS cool – he’s young, he’s got tattoos, all kids love that! During his presentations, he not only talks about his own books, but he gives LOTS of suggestions about books that kids might like to read and he talks about the importance of reading throughout his presentation, I really love that! Apparently, at some point during his author visits during the 2015 – 2016 school year at Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, he told a couple of audiences about the book George by Alex Gino. In George, the young main character is transgender. Since those visits, Phil has been UNINVITED from his future author visits to this school district for the 2016 – 2017 school year, (Phil visits this school district each year, so what makes this even worse, is kids and teachers KNOW what they are missing out on!). They have uninvited him, it seems, because he recommended a book about a transgender kid?! A book, that is WONDERFUL, by the way, and an excellent read. I would say it is for middle school and it is great for kiddos who may have questions about what it means to be transgender (there is a lot about transgender folks in the media anymore, so I am sure kids are asking questions) or for kids who may feel they are transgender. In library school, we were always taught to have books in your library that represent all of your children. You have to know your population and your community, if a certain book fits your population or meets a need, buy it (keeping your selection policy in mind, of course)! That goes for kids who have families who are different (two moms, two dads, grandparents, foster parents, adopted kids, divorced parents) and for kids who are just different (in appearance, ability, etc.) – we need to show diversity in the materials we have in our libraries because we have diversity in the world. Kids need to see themselves in the books they read and they need to see others who are different from them in the books they read. They need to learn how to show empathy, sympathy, and compassion. Some adults, it seems, want kids in a bubble. They only want kids to know about certain things and they want to “protect” (I guess??) kids from what they deem is wrong or different. I guess this school district feels like Phil is just going to introduce students to more books that will help them learn about the world and the people in it and that makes them nervous? It’s wrong. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I don’t like it.

Read more about it (including updates) at these links:

Phil Bildner’s statement: http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=6781

National Coalition Against Censorship: http://ncac.org/blog/author-who-talks-about-transgender-themes-disinvited-from-schools-in-texas

More from the Office of Intellectual Freedom – American Library Association: http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=6813

Then, just a couple of days after learning about Phil’s trouble, I saw that another one of my favorite authors (not one who has visited my school – YET – but, still a favorite to recommend to students) was uninvited to a school based on the content of one of her books. Kate Messner is a FANTASTIC author who has written books for all ages. One of her books is a current South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee and her books have been on our state list several times in the past. This book, The Seventh Wish, (her most recent novel), I have not read, but it is about a young girl and a magical fish who can help her solve her problems. One of her problems, it seems, is that her sister is addicted to heroin. Here is another scenario that many kids face everyday – family members who are suffering from addiction. And again, here is a book where a kid can see themselves and relate to the characters. It helps to learn you are not alone when you have a problem – no matter how serious that problem is. I know this first hand (mommy groups on Facebook and books about babies have been SO helpful to me this first year as a mom – my “problems” are common new mom problems and I don’t hear a lot of fuss about parenting books, usually – but, I think you see my point). You can read more about what happened between Messner and this school at this link.

And, here are a couple of other links to check out about this situation:

*An interview with Kate Messner about censorship – http://bookriot.com/2016/06/16/stories-will-help-understand-interview-censorship-kate-messner/ 

*Article (with an UPDATE) from the National Coalition Against Censorship – http://ncac.org/blog/vermont-school-disinvites-childrens-author-because-of-book-about-heroin-addiction

So, I don’t really have a solution…but, I don’t think keeping kids in a bubble and telling folks who have important things to say to stay home is the answer. I don’t think keeping books that tell kids important (and sometimes scary) things off of our shelves is the answer. Yes, you have to know your community and buy books that meet the needs of that community and no, you cannot have EVERY book on your shelf, but there is a kind of quiet censorship that can happen when you just don’t talk about stuff or just quietly take books away that may cause “problems” or just don’t order the books to begin with, simply because there is a transgender main character or a mention of drugs and alcohol, for example. I’m not going to lie, I don’t have either one of these books on my shelf in the library at the moment. BUT, that doesn’t mean I don’t have other books with “different” characters and that doesn’t mean I would be nervous to recommend one of these books to my students or hesitate inviting these authors to my school. I am always sharing books from my personal collection and encouraging students to visit the public library for a book we do not have.

There are silver linings. A conversation has been started – lots of folks are thinking and talking. So, even though what happened stinks – I think parents, teachers, librarians, school administrators and kids have learned a lot about censorship and are having open discussions. Some have probably discovered a couple of new favorite authors in the process…at least, I hope so!

You can keep up with both of these situations by following the authors on their social media…both are very active and I love them.

Phil Bildner

Website https://philbildner.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Phil-Bildner-Author-Teacher-School-Visits-51391027331/

Twitter https://twitter.com/PhilBildner

Kate Messner

Website http://www.katemessner.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KateMessner

Twitter https://twitter.com/KateMessner

VBF

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About Valerie Byrd Fort

I live in South Carolina. I am passionate about libraries, books, and reading. I am also a mom. This is my blog about those things.
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