Thirteen Ways of Viewing Censorship
YOU CAN’T SAY IT!
Youth writers talk about censorship, free speech and the stories they need to tell
Compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus
Since there are books, there have been censors who have tried to keep them away from others. Today, those efforts range from outright banning to limiting a book’s availability by removing it from library shelves or removing it from classroom curricula. The American Library Association publishes lists of the most frequently banned and contested books, which revealingly contain mostly titles for children and young adults.
“You Can’t Say That,” a collection of interviews conducted by children’s literature expert Leonard S. Marcus, offers an antidote to censors, raising the voices of 13 authors whose children’s books have been challenged. Marcus explores not only what made these works controversial, but also the life paths that led writers to pursue their subjects, and how they have reacted to campaigns to muzzle their work – which will certainly be of interest to their young fans, as well. than the students. freedom of expression.
Marcus chats with Dav Pilkey, whose Captain Underpants series regularly tops the banned book lists, for reasons ranging from fart jokes to portraying a family with two fathers, and with Matt de la Peña, whose the novel “Mexican Whiteboy” was caught red-handed in a political row over a Mexican-American curriculum in the Tucson public school system. Reading these writers sharing their reasons for tackling sensitive subjects is to realize that the fights for their books are fundamental fights over how we raise and educate new generations.
While few of the authors of the Marcus interviews expected to be censored, almost all of them consciously pushed the boundaries by sharing perspectives that were beyond the reach of most children. Robie H. Harris, best known for “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a non-fiction work about puberty and sex, has been warned that by offering explicit factual information to children, she will ruin her career. She went ahead, determined to provide children with answers to important questions that most adults in their lives would prefer not to discuss. As Harris recounts feeling “terrible” for librarians and booksellers who have received physical threats after making her books available, she takes courage in the story of a young girl who said she was abused by her father afterwards. to have learned from Harris that this the behavior is not normal at all.
Angie Thomas, author of “The Hate U Give”, found her bestselling book on the ALA Top 10 list two years in a row. Often times, the reason given was the book’s swear words, but Thomas believes its subject matter – the murder of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer – was what led the school district to call it “dirt.” The experience of hearing children and parents deprived of a book they wanted to read prompted Thomas to address the subject of censorship in his second novel, “On the Come Up,” which depicts rap music à la. both as a means of expressing subversive ideas and a target for those seeking to suppress unpopular views.
Marcus’ interviews shine a light on what is at stake when the books are challenged. Authors can be thwarted in conveying their most urgent ideas. Vulnerable readers may be denied information that can help them make sense of their lives, feel less alone, or seek help. Attempts to ban literary works offer a powerful reminder in the digital age of the importance of books.