What’s Going On

Guess what’s coming up? It’s the James River Writers’ conference! In preparation, I am:

A. Putting together a pitch for The Book of Foxes for the pitch session for which I’ve signed up. (The really tough bit was choosing just a few of the illustrations to represent the more than 150 drawings that are an integral part of the book. I ended up cobbling together illustrations from different parts of the book into three pages of pics: one that introduces the three most important characters, one that’s a full-page action sequence, and one that shows a couple of the supporting mythological critters.)

B. Reading the Malinda Lo books I haven’t already, because she’s going to be there. I enjoyed Ash and Huntress pretty well, but the epic, fairy-tale tone made me feel a little distant from the characters. I’m hoping Adaptation won’t do that.

So, excitement!

In other things that are fun, a pie-chart breakdown of Voldemort’s soul. Also, things to ban instead of books (can I nominate “not believing graphic novels are real books”?).

Let There Be Dark

In ignorant and judgmental news, a recent Wall Street Journal article informs the unsuspecting populace of several terrifying (non)facts! Did you know:

  • There are no YA books out there that aren’t full of “vampires and suicide and self-mutilation” – seriously, you can go to Barnes & Noble and you won’t find a one!
  • This is totally new! YA books didn’t exist at all forty years ago, and back then books had the decency not to mention a lot of problems real people have, because obviously that is the healthy way to approach such topics!
  • Reading this kind of book will not only change your child’s developing taste, but will affect her/his “happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart”! These books will “bulldoze coarseness or misery into [your] children’s lives”!
  • Nasty authors and publishers don’t want books to tone down foul language in books, “provided that it emerges organically from the characters and the setting rather than being tacked on for sensation.” Bad, bad authors and publishers, with their realism and authenticity! And bad librarians for encouraging them!
  • Most teens don’t read YA anyway, because this kind of ugliness isn’t what they want!

This article ranges from eye-rolling to disturbing. It scoffs at the condemnation of censorship and even book-banning, implying that this is a parent’s duty. Either the author doesn’t realize that censorship goes beyond helping your own kids make choices to removing choices for other people, or she is actively promoting this behavior.

Also, she makes passing jabs at The Hunger Games and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I KNOW YOU DIDN’T.

There are some great responses to this out in the blogosphere – I especially like the one at YA Librarian pointing out the meaning of these books to some kids and teens, the one at Read Now Sleep Later telling of what “dark” realistic fiction has done for the blogger personally, and the one at the School Library Journal blog A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy, which dissects many of the problems (down to basic math) in the WSJ article.

Personally, I see great value to these books despite never having been drawn to them myself. (I’m a sucker for cheesy happy endings.) But here’s the thing: readers choose what they want to read. To a certain extent, parents may choose what their children read. But there is a definite supply-and-demand aspect that the author of the WSJ article seems not to grasp. These books aren’t being written and published because people feel like shoving unwanted topics down the throats of readers who’d rather be enjoying a nice (but tame, I’m sure! No more than holding hands!) romantic comedy. That would be a great way to never get published or to tank a publishing company. No, these books are out there because they speak to realities and to things that many people want – and sometimes need – to read. That’s why authors write them, that’s why bookstores stock them, and that’s why teens and non-teens read them.

(Although, as the SLJ blogger pointed out, seriously? This person was at Barnes & Noble and couldn’t find any Ally Carter or Meg Cabot or, you know, Diana Wynne Jones, or ANYTHING?)

Anyway: These books don’t exist for the people who don’t want them. No one will force any kid to read one of these books. If a teacher assigns one that a kid objects to or that a kid’s parents don’t want her/him to read, the parents can talk to the teacher about alternatives for their kids. But to look at all the stuff that’s out there and say, “Well, I don’t like that! I can’t imagine anyone liking that!”, and then to make the leap to, “Therefore, it shouldn’t exist!” . . . Well, if I operated that way, and industries had the bizarre idea that they should listen to me, beer wouldn’t exist, or shirts that you have to layer because they’re too thin to wear on their own, or uncomfortable shoes, or chalk.

So . . . yeah. Probably I am preaching to the choir here. But seriously, look at this article if you want to feel especially open-minded and well-informed by comparison.

Because Pictures are Worth a Thousand Dirty, Dirty Words

So, here are the ALA’s top ten most challenged graphic novels and the rationales given:

Absolute Sandman by Neil Gaiman – Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Blankets by Craig Thompson – Sexually Explicit content, Other (unspecified)

Bone series by Jeff Smith – Sexually Explicit content, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – Sexually Explicit Content

Maus by Art Spiegelman – Anti Ethnic

Pride of Baghdad by Brian Vaughn – Sexually Explicit Content

Tank Girl by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlitt – Nudity and Violence

The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller – Sexually Explicit Content

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill – Nudity, Sexually Explicit Content and Unsuited to Age Group

Watchmen, by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Unsuited to Age Group

So . . . Maus. “Anti-ethnic.” Also, Bone is on this list. Despite what the name might seem to imply, Bone is not porn, I promise. It leans far more toward “adorable,” really.

On a sillier note, a study of library use . . . by marshmallow Peeps.

Just got back from the excellent James River Writers’ Conference. More about that soon!

Happy First Amendment Day!

. . . and Banned Books Week!

I’ve read a blog post or two recently on The Banned Book that Changed My Life. These are really cool, and a great reminder of why it’s vital that these books be accessible to everyone. I’d like to do something like this, but I can’t think of one specific banned book that Changed My Life, so I’m just going to list a few that made the ALA Top Ten Most Challenged lists for various years, and that I’m glad I read. These aren’t necessarily ones I think are highly significant, though some are; primarily, they’re ones I really enjoy.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Top Ten in 2009 for offensive language, racism, and unsuited to age group – Read this for school. Found it brilliant. Wouldn’t call it a favorite book of mine, but only because it doesn’t have smexy elves.

And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson – 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 for homosexuality, which should not be a reason to censor a book, but has become a category thanks to all the intolerant idiots out there who complain about it – A professor read this aloud to our class. It was sweet and a nice overall kids’ book as well as being a strong and beautiful assertion of acceptance and tolerance. I love that no one in the book makes it an issue that Tango has two dads. This is how real life should be, and how do you move people toward an ideal if you can’t portray that ideal in fiction?

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman – 2008, 2007 for political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence – I read these when I was about fourteen, and they were REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME, MMKAY? These (and, OF COURSE, Harry Potter) are as close as I come to having a Banned Book that Changed My Life. Plus, I’d say that these books are about as atheist as Narnia is Christian, and you don’t see Narnia banned a lot.

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – 2003, 2002, 2001 for occult/Satanism, violence – Okay, these seriously did change my life. And I have met at least one girl, nine years old at the time, whose parents wouldn’t let her read them for religious purposes. These books are not “about” magic, let alone Satanism. Magic is part of their world, in much the way that alligators might be part of the world of a book set in Florida. The books are about people, and, importantly, about love and friendship and courage and loyalty and doing the right thing and GAH WHY WOULD YOU CHALLENGE THESE BOOKS.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George – 2002 for unsuited to age group and violence – What, really? I liked this as a kid.

That’s just going back to 2001, and leaving out a lot of classics that I suspect are Important but that did not inspire me personally. Is it not horrifying to think of what some people would, given the choice, not allow one or one’s children to read?

Happy Banned Books Week!