Sunday, February 8, 2015

My First Book Challenge(s)

Although I run the school library, I'm not there full-time.  When I arrived the other afternoon, another parent volunteer reported to me that a third-grade teacher who is, shall we say, quirky, had requested (demanded?) that the fantastic (my adjective, not hers) graphic novel Smile be taken off that shelves as it was "inappropriate."  She had put post-its on specific pages that involved "boy talk" and a game of Spin the Bottle.  She objected to the part where Raina's friends encourage her to "glam up" to garner male attention.

Of course, like most censors, she had completely missed the point of the book: that girls should be themselves and should be comfortable with their appearance.

The book is so popular, and deservedly so, that I actually ordered 3 copies of it (and 3 each of Raina Telgemeier's other books), which is pretty much unheard of for me.

But I'm in a bit of a tough spot here.  I'm an unpaid volunteer, not an employee.  And I'm not the principal's favorite.  I must admit, I'm thinking of compromising and taking the book off the shelf when her class comes.  It is more appropriate for 4th and 5th grade, that is true.  And some classroom teachers do retain veto power of what books their students check out from the school library.  Certainly in the future she would not permit her students to check Smile out, so I'm just short-circuiting the process.

To some extent, I "censor" all the time, whenever I make choices for the library.  This is, after all, a school library, serving children ages 4-11.  Moreover, we have limited space.   I keep in mind those limitations when I purchase books.  I don't buy "superhero" books or Minecraft books or comic books for the school library, despite student requests.  But the only book I've ever removed from the shelves for inappropriateness was The Hunger Games.

Wow, that sounds a lot like rationalizing, doesn't it?  I feel like I'm colluding in censorship.  What would you do?

Meanwhile, another volunteer reported that a parent came in, angry that his child kept coming home with books "too hard" for him.  She referred him to the classroom teacher.  I would have suggested that he read the books to his child.  And that reading above your level can open up a whole new world.

I do feel like I've just gotten my librarian wings, though... or perhaps pages?

1 comment:

  1. So frustrating, especially since, as you point out, the message of Smile is the exact opposite of what this teacher thinks it is. Taking pages out of context is always tricky, and I think that graphic novels lend themselves to ease of censorship because of the ease of looking at images and deeming them inappropriate. A few years back, the Stuyvesant English dept was forced to stop teaching Alison Bechdel's amazing graphic novel, Fun Home, because a teacher in another department saw it contained a page with a depiction of lesbian sex. It's a complicated, infuriating issue. In terms of what to do here, I think that removing Smile when this teacher's class comes in seems like a small thing if it will allow you to keep the book on the shelves for other kids. My daughters (ages 8 and 5) are both in love with the book, and have read it multiple times. Keep fighting the good fight!