Here’s the post I contributed to E. Kristin Anderson’s blog, Write All the Words, to commemorate Banned Book month.
Banned Books Month Guest Post from Bridget Birdsall: Blessed are the Authors Whose Books are Banned!
Sep 29, 2015
Coincidently, while waiting for a backordered copy of the first book banned in New Zealand in over twenty years, I was asked to write about censorship. A subject that inflames my own passion to protect the freedom of expression for all, and something I’ve experienced on a more subtle scale since the publication of Double Exposure.
Fortunately, Ted Dawe’s book Into the River seems to be proving that even oceans away from my Midwestern domicile overt censorship, such as banning a book, even for the “interim,” may be as much a blessing as a curse.
Especially when public outcry brings the censors to their senses.
Moreover, if I’ve learned one thing as a writer over these past twenty years, it’s that readers’ love banned books, especially young readers. When I was a teen, I did. Even today, overtly banning a book makes me want to run out and read it, right away!
How about you?
Educators, librarians and other writers predicted that when Double Exposure “came out” in the world, there would be those who would either love it or shun it. This has proven to be true, yet completely subjective and unpredictable.
I’ve had junior high school educators order dozens of copies and invite me to speak at their schools. I’ve had shy seventh graders, including many who identify at LGBTQ, thank me for writing the book. Recently I learned that Mount Mary University students are required to read it for their graduate level novel class, and the book has been vetted with major recognition and awards. (See list below) Yet, at the same time, several teacher and librarian colleagues told me their high school administrators had quietly restricted the book’s access due to its “mature content.”
Concerns included its use of medically explicit terms for sexual organs, and it’s exploration of complicated social and gender issues, which “some teens might not be ready for.” One of these schools had been dealing with bullying issues and already experienced the suicide of a student who identified as transgender within the last year.
Unfortunately, less media-driven forms of censoring a book are generally far more effective than blatantly banning the book. Which is what happened with Into the River.
“I wrote a gritty Young Adult novel about a Maori boy going to a prestigious school on a scholarship and being systematically deracinated.”Ted Dawe
Mr. Dawe, who teaches English in a New Zealand high school, says he wrote the book with the hope of reaching teenage readers, particularly boys, who generally had more interest in video games than literature. He also wanted to tackle the topic of bullying, which he described as a “social ill.”
Despite being awarded the prestigious 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award, receiving no prior complaints and being approved by New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review (FLBR) for older teen readers, a conservative group known as Family First filed a complaint citing concerns about sexually explicit content, drug use and language.
Check out similar to challenges and concerns received by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. (See table of 2014 challenged books)
Into the River was subsequently banned from classrooms, books stores and libraries. Anyone caught distributing or exhibiting the books could face heavy fines, some up to the equivalent of $10,000. Mr. Dawe may have been frustrated and dismayed at this initial turn of events, but as soon as the word got out, the tide began to turn and today, author Ted Dawe has cause for celebration
After much debate and legal wrangling the restriction was lifted on September14, 2015.
New Zealand’s Classification Office lifted the restriction because they determined that it “cannot sit comfortably with the right to freedom of expression” and they went on to explain that “the suitability of the publication for young persons can best be determined by libraries, schools and parents.” (Read the full review of the Censors decision here)
In my opinion, Mr. Dawe’s hopes for the book have come to fruition. The banning of Into the River has captured international attention, which I predict will help his book find those hard to reach young men in New Zealand, and elsewhere around the world. Not to mention those of us of all ages and genders who still love to read banned books, whomever the protagonist may be.
Thank you, Ted Dawe, for helping a new generation of readers and reminding the world that it critical for us to provide safe spaces for young people to explore and reflect on issues of race, culture, class, sexual orientation, identity, and all forms of bullying, discrimination and harassment. Even on the sad realities of drug or alcohol abuse.
The gift of good literature is that it helps us all become a little more human. It creates an opportunities and provides a safe places where we can learn a little bit more about who we are, who we want to be, and perhaps even who we hope to become.
For those tempted to censor books for young readers, especially those educators still concerned about the suitability of Double Exposure (or any other authors’ book) in your classrooms, I ask that you to please talk to your librarians, teachers and most importantly, your students!
Listen to what they have to say. What they want to read. What is relevant in their lives, and try as much as you can, to refrain from making the very decisions that good literature will help them be better qualified to make on their own.
If you are tempted to shun or censor anyone’s book, please do it all the way, bless it by banning it.
The top ten most frequently challenged books of 2014
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”
- Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”
- A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
- Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit
(Out of 311 challenges as recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom)
Awards for Double Exposure
- IPPY Gold Medal Winner
- Toffee / Wright Children’s Literature Award Winner
- Golden Crown Literary Association “Goldie” Award Winner
- Lambda Literary Award Finalist
- Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Silver Award Winner
- Publisher’s Weekly list of top anti-bully books
- Teen Choice & UW Big Read Nominations