Thursday, October 1, 2009

So Your Book Has Been Challenged: Ellen Hopkins, E.Lockhart, Jo Knowles, Jacqui Robbins, Sarah Brannen and Frank Portman Tell It Like It Is! (part 2)

Okay, let's jump back into our Author Roundtable Q & A on having their books Challenged with the amazing Ellen Hopkins, E. Lockhart, Jo Knowles, Jacqui Robbins, Sarah Brannen and Frank Portman.

Lee: Are books really that powerful?

Ellen Hopkins: Yes, they are, but not in the way the challengers think. Books are knowledge. And knowledge is power.

E. Lockhart: Yes. But so are parents. If a parent is afraid of something a kid wants to read, I think that parent should read it and have a conversation with the kid about it. If the kid won't talk, the parent can write a letter or an email explaining his or her thoughts about the book and its treatment of the topic. That way, the book opens doors of communication.

Jo Knowles: I think so. Yes. I mean, books have made me weep with despair. They’ve filled me with indescribable hope. They’ve inspired me to volunteer and to give. They’ve inspired me to call a friend I haven’t talked to in years. They’ve inspired me—many, many times—to sit down with my son and remind him that I love him. And every time I read a book I think it inspires me to look at the world a little differently. With a little more compassion.

I’ve had letters from teens who have said that reading about Laine (the main character in Lessons From A Dead Girl) changed their life. They had always felt like they were the only ones who’d been abused the way Laine had. After reading the book they realized they must not be. That they weren’t alone after all. That’s been a huge relief to them and it has enabled them to talk about it with loved ones. I know many authors who’ve received hundreds of similar letters from teens who connected to their books the same way.

I think this is why many of us write. To try to create stories that inspire and comfort and hopefully encourage thoughtful discussion. Knowing that I’ve made one kid out there feel less lonely or less ashamed of something they have no control over is worth the risk.

Jacqui Robbins: Absolutely. Even at their least powerful, they can spark questions, which terrifies some people. At their most powerful, they can dig deep into your soul and show you you're not the only one who feels that way. And that can change your life.

Sarah Brannen: Probably. Books I read as a child still influence me today in more ways than I can even understand.

Frank Portman: You'd think no, wouldn't you? But there's obviously a long history of attempts to stamp out and ban books, so evidently someone must think so.

Lee: Is there a silver lining in having your book challenged in terms
of increased publicity?

Ellen Hopkins: Yep. I can't believe how many times my name has been in print or online in the last ten days. Seriously... the Christian Science Monitor today, and the UK Guardian a few days ago. And across the AP wire. And on NPR. Thousands of people who never would have known about me now do. Hopefully many of them will go buy my books, to find my message for themselves. Message: make wise choices now, because they will affect your future.

E. Lockhart: I doubt it. I didn't even find out about it until five months after the fact and I'm the writer. There was just the one local news article. Perhaps there would be if there was a real fight that went down over the book.

Jo Knowles: Well, I haven’t received a ton of publicity, though thank you, Lee, for having me here. :-) I think so far the best thing that has come out of this for me is the discussions I’ve had with parents, teachers, librarians and other writers about censorship and what we can do to help prevent it. In particular, Laurie Halse Anderson has provided a ton of helpful information on her blog about what people can do when a book is challenged in their school or library.

Jacqui Robbins: I think for my book in particular there's a huge silver lining, since many people heard about it who never would have otherwise.

Sarah Brannen: The challenges have certainly led to a lot of publicity for my book. It would be nice if they also led to increased sales, but I don't know that they have.

Frank Portman: If the stars align, controversy can certainly generate publicity and sell books. I'd love for that particular silver lining to descend upon me and my books and envelop us all in shining, 1st-Amendment-Martyr royalty-generating goodness. Sounds wonderful.

There may well be a downside to it that I'm not considering, though. They put that Lord Horror guy in prison. That would definitely be too "challenged" for my tastes. So I'd say the thing to shoot for with regard to challenged-ness is: glittering prizes with no jail time. Wish me luck.

Lee: Ellen, what do you want to tell people about GLASS in the face of it being challenged?

Ellen Hopkins: That words aren't dangerous. Ideas aren't dangerous. Discourse isn't dangerous. The lack of these things is most definitely dangerous.

Lee: E., what do you want to tell people about THE BOY BOOK in the face of it being challenged?

E. Lockhart: I have an impulse to defend the subject matter: kids do drink and people do touch boobs, and it is a good idea to read about things in a safe context so you can decide whether or not you want to do them when it comes up in real life.

But you know, not every book is right for every kid, and once you start arguing about boob-touching being appropriate for kids to read about, you're not going to win your argument. It becomes an argument about boob-touching, which is a very fraught topic.

Instead, it needs to be a discussion of how libraries make selections and what experts were consulted. I want to encourage people faced with challenges in their own community to refer to experts and to markers of literary merit. In other words, you can say, "This book received starred reviews from these publications, and was recommended by SLJ (or whatever journal) for readers age 12 and up, and those reviewers are certified librarians, and then this writer has received these awards, and it is using these criteria that we make decisions about what to include in our library."

Lee: Jo, what do you want to tell people about LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL in the face of it being challenged?

Jo Knowles: I wrote Lessons From A Dead Girl because I wanted to expose a type of abuse few people talk about but that is quite common. I know that some topics are uncomfortable and hard to discuss, but arming our kids with knowledge is a far better way to protect them than to keep them from knowing about the dangers that exist.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I respect a parent’s decision not to let their child read a certain book, for whatever reason. But no parent should have the right to make those same decisions for other parents and other children.

Lee: Jacqui, what do you want to tell people about THE NEW GIRL... AND ME in the face of it being challenged?

Jacqui Robbins: I feel a little silly talking about The New Girl...And Me being challenged because it's really a story about friendship and doesn't have any of the things the challengers assumed were in there. It's not like I wrote something brave, like the other folks here, or the other authors whose books are in the anti-bullying curriculum. But I also think it's a good story to hear because it can tell us something about letting others tell us what to read without deciding for ourselves.

Lee: Sarah, what do you want to tell people about UNCLE BOBBY'S WEDDING in the face of it being challenged?

Sarah Brannen: The story is meant to entertain and, perhaps, enlighten young children. It's not only for the children of same-sex parents, but for all children. I hope they'll enjoy getting to know Chloe and sharing her adventures, and I hope it may help them realize, as they get older, that gay people are human beings just like them.

Lee: Frank, what do you want to tell people about ANDROMEDIA KLEIN and KING DORK in the face of their being challenged?

Frank Portman: My books are an attempt to show the world through the eyes of characters who are not like everybody else. They think and do some bizarre and occasionally unpleasant things. How could they not? Read them if that type of thing interests you. Don't if it doesn't. If there's something you don't like, you can always write me and complain about it.

A HUGE THANK YOU to Ellen, E., Jo, Jacqui, Sarah and Frank for taking the time out to share with us the real scoop on having their books challenged.

And remember, the best response to a book challenge... is to READ the book! And now we all have seven great new books to read!



Ellen Hopkins said...

Thanks, Lee. We are in great company--Rowling, Salinger, Twain, Chbosky, Anderson, Anjelou and so many others. Their books remain and ours will, too. The final takeaway, and something I ask of people almost every day is to stop living in fear. These are tentative times for many. But caving into fear instead of living courageously mars our humanity. Books are not the enemy. Attacking them accomplishes nothing.

Edith said...

Wow this is terrific, Lee!!

Rita said...

An absolutely delightful two-part post. Wow, and thank you, Lee; and thank you to all the authors! I admire all your books so much!!