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Womens eNews - Oct 22, 2007 http://www.womensenews.org Teens' Favorite Authors Face Book Bans
By Andrea Bronson
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Author Carolyn Mackler will meet her fans Oct.
23 in an online chat forum that connects young-adult book authors with
their teen readers. Mackler is just one of the writers featured during
October's "31 Flavorite Authors for Teens" event, sponsored by the
Young Adult Library Services Association and the ReaderGirlz Web site.
Mackler got this chance to talk directly to her readers after 3,495
friends on MySpace picked her as a favorite. However, Mackler's
popularity among young adults has also put her in the spotlight for
negative criticism and even censorship.
Of the 31 authors in this month's online event, 10 have had their books
banned and two have had their books challenged in censorship attempts.
When Mackler received an invitation from the Chicago-based American
Library Association to participate in a "read out" event during Banned
Books Week, Sept. 29 through Oct. 6, she was nonetheless surprised to
learn that she placed fourth on their 2006 list of most challenged
books, released last April.
One of her novels set off a censorship scuffle in a school district in
Carroll County, Md. "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things,"
features a central character who is a larger-than-average 15-year-old
girl from a family of perfectionists. In January 2006, 350 students
there signed a petition to put the book back in their schools. They won
and enjoyed a notable triumph for anti-censorship.
However, schools and libraries in many other parts of the United States
have silently removed the best-selling, award-winning novel from their
The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom is
responsible for developing, recommending and maintaining an
anti-censorship program. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director, says
that locations where challenges occur must be kept confidential to
protect the librarians and others who report them from losing their
jobs or being ostracized from their communities.
Across the nation, libraries and schools are facing budget pressures
and at least 15 municipalities have privatized or outsourced their
public libraries, raising fears among some local library advocates that
they will lose influence in deciding which books are offered to the
public when book selection decisions are left in the hands of private
Censored as Unsuitable
Those who criticize the novel claim it is unsuitable for this target
age group because of its "sexual content, anti-family, offensive
language," the American Library Association reports.
"The book is about self-esteem, feeling good about yourself as you
are," says Mackler. "I write about normal teenage girls who have many
facets to their personalities and lives. I really try to reflect the
teenage world as it is. I don't gloss over things; I don't ignore the
Four other books on the 2006 most challenged list, released last April,
were also censored for female sexual content: Cecily Von Ziegesar's
"Gossip Girl" series, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Alice" series, and
"The Bluest Eye" and "Beloved," by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.
The book market for female teens is booming, says Paula Brehm-Heeger,
president of the 50-year-old Young Adult Library Services Association,
the fastest growing division of the American Library Association.
"There's an explosion of publishing for teens now, especially books for
teenage girls because it's a market that really responds."
But as the number of published books for female teens has risen so has
the number of bans targeting those that delve into young women's
lifestyles and sexuality. Although there is no official tally for how
many teen books have been censored, out of 3,019 reported challenges
between 2000 and 2005 to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, 1,824
were initiated by parents and 2,289 of the institutions dealing with
demands for censorship were schools or school libraries.
For every challenge reported, four or five remain unreported, says
Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
A challenge is an attempt to censor books, while a ban is the actual
removal of the book from a school or library. In the United States, a
complaint from a single parent can sometimes restrict an entire school
district's access to a book, says Mackler.
"We want to encourage students to speak out," says Judy Blume, who has
seen most of her books--from those penned for teens such as "Forever"
to books for children such as "Tales From a Fourth Grade
Blume, a friend and mentor to Mackler, is the second-most challenged
author from 1990 to 2004, according to the American Library
Association, after Alvin Schwartz, a children's horror writer whose
books have been challenged for cannibalism, murder and occult subjects.
Blume wonders at Mackler's ranking. "To me, Carolyn's book has nothing
in it that could possibly offend anyone."
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the third most challenged book of
2006, remembers when a group of "grinning, 12-year-old boys" came to a
bookstore to buy "Alice" books.
"'You must really like these,' I said as I signed my name, and one guy
leaned over and whispered, 'We learn about girls this way,'" Naylor
The majority of fans of Naylor, Blume and Mackler, however, are female teens and "tweens," ranging between the ages of 10 and 17.
Teen Reads, a Web site founded in 1997 to encourage teens to develop a
lifelong love for reading, features the "Ultimate Teen Reading List,"
250 books selected by teens for teens. Carol Fitzgerald, president and
founder, says the site is predominantly for girls because they read
more fiction, while boys read more nonfiction.
Fitzgerald suggests that female teens' books attract more censors
because more exist and they contain more sexual content.
Naylor believes that gender-based sexual expectations play a role. "As
long as girls are taught to say no, I suppose it's assumed that male
sexuality can be reined in. But if girls are described as getting the
'hots,' why goodness gracious, who knows what will happen?"
Blume, Naylor and Mackler--the latter two participated in the Chicago
"Read Out" during Banned Books Week--say they seek to portray teen life
and sexuality realistically.
"As people who really advocate for teenage girls, we want them to be
empowered in all ways," says Mackler. "To not read about sexuality and
to not have any information on it will not make a teenager not have
sex; it will make them go into sexual situations uninformed."
Naylor laughs at how little she learned about such issues from books
she read as a child. "Are you kidding? Did Nancy Drew even have
Blume says masturbation is particularly taboo, remembering a caller on
a radio show who told her that she was teaching children masturbation
was healthy while they were teaching it was a sin.
"There is so much fear that if your child reads this, your child will
know it, then your child might do it, or it might happen. Where else in
the world are we so afraid of puberty?" Authors should write the best book possible, without fear of
censorship, Blume argues, because censors can challenge any subject.
But Blume's younger counterpart feels the censor over her shoulder. "I
get publicity from censorship," Mackler says, "but how many places will
my book not be read or purchased or looked at? I write books to be
[Andrea Bronson is a freelance journalist based in New York City.]
For more information:
American Library Association Banned Books Week: - http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bannedbooksweek.htm
Teen Reads: - http://www.teenreads.com
Reader Girlz: - http://www.readergirlz.com
Copyright 2007 Women's eNews.