In the weeks since it became known that a Delaware school board removed emily m. danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post as an option on a summer reading list for incoming freshman, we’ve seen a fantastic and heartening response from the author, her readers, library and intellectual freedom groups, LGBT advocates, and a local independent bookstore.
The critically-acclaimed book had been included on a summer reading list for rising freshmen enrolled in college prep and honors classes at Cape Henlopen High School. The list consisted of all 10 YA nominees for the 2014 and 2015 Blue Hen Book Award from the Delaware Library Association, but the Cape Henlopen school board last month singled out Cameron Post for removal. Officially the six members who voted to remove it cited vulgarity–”pages and pages” of it–but many observers are skeptical that was the true and complete reason. Author danforth, who prefers to write her name without capital letters, pulled no punches in a letter to the board airing her suspicions:
It seems to me that even if we take you, the board, at your word–if we believe that you really did remove my book because of its objectionable language–then surely the parents who initially complained to you must have already singled my book out for closer scrutiny and potential objection because of its advertised queer content. How else can you explain that those other books weren’t also challenged on the same basis? My book is, very proudly, about a young lesbian–that fact is in every press release and blurb–it’s printed right on the book jacket.
danforth pointed out that several of the other books the list, including The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park, also contain plenty of salty language–although she was quick to stress that didn’t mean she thought they should be removed too. In fact, she told the board with a flourish, “that would be a fucking travesty.” Be sure to check out danforth’s entire letter here!
danforth felt so strongly about defending all of the books on the list that she soon hit upon the idea of giving a set of them away to one lucky winner on Twitter. Initially only the copy of Cameron Post was to be signed by the author, but fellow Blue Hen nominees Erin Jade Lange (Butter), Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park), Gene Luen Yang (Boxers), and Emily Murdoch (If You Find Me) soon joined the cause and donated signed copies of their own books. danforth is accepting entries until tomorrow from Twitterers who “explain, in not very many characters, why you want/need these books” and use the hashtag #LeaveTheBlueHenListAlone.
Another giveaway organized by AfterEllen.com via Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware is offering a free copy of Cameron Post to anyone local who wants one. Those who are not local but would like to make a monetary donation to purchase books for the giveaway can call Browseabout at 302-226-2665. AfterEllen writers also sent their own email to the Cape Henlopen school board detailing the potentially “objectionable language” that can be found in other books still on the reading list. They were gratified to eventually receive a response from board president Spencer Brittingham, who pledged to move that the book be reinstated. We are not quite ready to share their optimism yet, since Brittingham added that he will also ask for “a suspension of the [entire] list until our curriculum folks can vet this list appropriately.” It sounds like we could be heading for exactly what danforth feared–every book on the list that contains an iota of language that someone finds “objectionable” may be removed.
YA author Malinda Lo also produced a long post at Diversity in YA detailing her own correspondence with Brittingham and danforth. Brittingham offered a sadly familiar refrain that we most recently heard from the superintendent of Florida’s Pasco County School District: the book was not banned, just removed! Meanwhile, danforth destroyed the argument that students shouldn’t read books that contain words they’d get in trouble for uttering in class:
[I]f you have to ask teens NOT to curse in school (and enforce that) then clearly it’s an inclination of many teens, right?—so it stands to reason that those of us who write about teens might likely try to write dialogue and thoughts using vocabulary that’s true to the ways we know that teens (some teens—clearly not all) speak and think. I understand that some parents object to this and might say—’elevate their discourse, don’t just mimic it’—I do understand that—and certainly not every character in my novel uses profanity (nor do the characters who do use profanity ONLY use profanity) but how strange, to me, to equate these usages in works of literature with what you do or don’t want your students saying in the classroom.
The school board also received letters of protest from state and national anti-censorship groups including the Delaware Library Association, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, and the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project, of which CBLDF is a member. If the school board or district administrators do proceed to review every book on the reading list for language, at least this incredible mobilization across the country means they’ll know someone is watching!
Here is the entire letter sent to the Cape Henlopen school board by KRRP:
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.