Library Censorship in 2012

One would think that now that we’re well into the 21st Century, censorship would no longer be a problem. However, defending graphic novels and novels against library and school challenges remains a key part of CBLDF’s mission. In the last year alone, we have played a role in defending dozens of books in libraries and schools. Let’s take a look back at some of key book challenges of 2012:

Neonomicon by Alan Moore

The library director of the Greenville, South Carolina, public library system has made the decision to remove Alan Moore’s award-winning graphic novel Neonomicon from shelves throughout the system despite a letter of support from CBLDF, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. Further, the removal is against the recommendation of the library’s content review committee.

CBLDF joined forces with the NCAC and the ABFFE to write a letter in defense of Neonomicon, which contains adult themes and imagery, when it was challenged last June in the Greenville public library system. Objections to the book were raised by a patron after her teenage daughter checked it out. The book was correctly shelved in the adult section of the library, and the teenager possessed a library card that allowed access to the adult section. The parent who filed the complaint conveyed the common misconception that comics are for younger readers in expressing her concerns to local press.

Despite the fact that there is an audience in the community that would like to read the book, that the book was properly shelved, that it’s by a highly-respected comics creator, and that the library’s own review committee voted to keep the title, library executive director Beverly James removed the book based on her subjective views of the material. James told the Greenville Journal about her reasoning:

“‘Neonomicon’ was added to the library’s collection based on the reputation of the author as one of the most outstanding writers in the genre and the fact that the book won the 2011 Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writer’s Association in the graphic novel category.

Nonetheless, had we known in advance about the disturbing material contained in the book, it is unlikely we would have added ‘Neonomicon’ to our collection. For that reason, we have withdrawn it from the library’s collection.”

“Librarians are often our staunchest allies in the fight for the freedom to read; it is surprising that the Library Services Director in this case is not working to defend that right. There are patrons in the district who do want to read books like Neonomicon and are not offended by its content,” says Acacia O’Connor, Project Coordinator for the Kids’ Right to Read Project, an initiative founded by the NCAC and ABFFE and sponsored by CBLDF. “Those readers have the right to make up their own minds about whether they want to read the book and not have their choices dictated by the subjective views of others. They may be calling it ‘deselection’ but we have another name for it: censorship.”

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein responds to the decision: “We are extremely disappointed that adult readers in Greenville are being deprived of the opportunity to read Alan Moore’s challenging work. We respect that each community must make their own decisions about the works available to patrons in their library, so it is especially vexing that this book is being banned despite the recommendation of the library’s own content review committee. Comics are an increasingly important form of speech, and CBLDF is committed to increasing understanding of the art form and the categories within it with the goal of stopping future bans from occurring.”

SideScrollers by Matthew Loux

The video game-themed graphic novel Sidescrollers by Matthew Loux will be removed as an option on a Connecticut school district’s ninth grade summer reading list after a parent complained of profanity and sexual references in the book. The Enfield, Connecticut, Board of Education will also change its policy so that a board committee must approve the reading lists drawn up by schools.

SideScrollers was chosen as one of the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008, and was praised by Publishers Weekly as “wholesome…but still entertaining for young teens or those with a sense of humor.” It recounts the adventures of three teenaged slacker geeks who are roused to action when a female friend becomes romantically involved with loutish quarterback Dick. Along the way, the trio engages in mildly vulgar but realistic teenage banter and vandalizes Dick’s car with anatomically correct graffiti.

Enfield parent Christie Bosco claimed that her effort to have the book removed was “not a question of censorship,” even though it was not required reading and her son could simply choose a different book. It is unclear whether the Board of Education followed its own policy on Challenges to the Use of Educational Resources, which states in part that “no parent nor group of parents has the right to negate the use of educational resources for students other than his/her own child.” The policy document also states that challenged materials should be read and considered by a committee comprised of six teachers, two librarians, and one principal. Their duties include:

evaluating the resource for its strength, weakness, and value as a whole and not in part; the impact of the entire work being more important than the words, phrases, or incidents out of which it is made

Different Seasons by Stephen King

A decision by the Rocklin, California, Unified School District is proof that a single dissenting voice can help keep books on library shelves. A district-wide review committee decided to keep Stephen King’s collection of novellas, Different Seasons,on high school library shelves. CBLDF joined the Kids Right to Read Project to defend the novel in a letter addressed to the school district.

Rocklin senior Amanda Wong was the sole student on the original committee that reviewed the novel after it was challenged for a rape scene in the novella “Apt Pupil.” She was also the sole dissenter in the initial decision to remove the book from library shelves throughout the district. She took her concerns over the censorship of the book to the school district, and her adamant defense of the title led Rocklin Unified Superintendent Kevin Brown to supersede the decision of the first review committee. Brown ruled that the the committee, which was comprised only of members representing Rocklin High School, could not make a decision for the entire district. He assembled a committee of representatives from throughout the district, and the second committee supported the unrestricted retention of the title on high school library shelves.

Most of the stories in the collection — “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Body,” and the challenged story “Apt Pupil” — are considered some of King’s best works and all three of these novellas have been made into critically-acclaimed major motion pictures (the second novella was the source material for Stand By Me). The book is shelved in the library and is not part of compulsory reading lists in the district. You can read the letter CBLDF sent in defense of the book here.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

The season of book challenges and bans continues for CBLDF, the Kids’ Right to Read Project, and allied groups, which yesterday issued a letter in defense of two books targeted for removal from 9th and 10th grade classrooms in Springfield, Massachusetts. The books, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore and frequently-challenged The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, are due to be reviewed by the Student and Parent Concerns Subcommittee of the Springfield Public School District. Two subcommittee meetings have been scheduled in October and November of this year but were subsequently cancelled–one due to Superstorm Sandy, and the otherfor reasons not stated on the city’s website.

Details on this particular challenge are scarce, but it’s certainly nothing new for Absolutely True Diary author Alexie, whose Guernica Magazine interview about the frequent censorship of his books was covered here a few months back. Moore, on the other hand, is a new initiate to the challenged-books club and has sent his own letter to the Springfield school committee in defense of his memoir.

Tucson, Arizona

Last year, the state of Arizona passed HB 2281, a controversial bill that resulted in the termination of the highly praised Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Independent School District. The program was ended despite an independent audit that advocated for its continuation.

TUSD released a list of books that would be removed from classrooms and put in indefinite storage. The banned books included contributions from a virtual who’s who of Mexican American and Native American authors and artists:

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuña
Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years, Bill Bigelow
Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
Message to AZTLAN, Rodolfo Gonzales
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)

These aren’t the only books that TUSD has banned. The American Indian in Children’s Literature blog has a more comprehensive list of the banned books. CBLDF joined a coalition of national organizations in writing a letter against Tucson’s censorship of books by Mexican American and Native American authors. CBLDF joined the fight because censorship is a slippery slope; if one book (or in this case, several books) can be banned, graphic novels can become targets, too. Any school system that is willing to ban books based on the ethnicity of their creators is just as likely to ban comic books for the same reason. If images of works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, or other Chicano artists can be banned (as was done with the removal of 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures), it doesn’t seem so far fetched that works by the Hernandez Brothers would become part of TUSD’s censorship spree.

This holiday season, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation is encouraging everyone who believes in the CBLDF’s important work protecting the freedom to read comics to become a member or give a gift membership in the organization. When you do, they will contribute $10 for each new membership and $5 for every renewing membership made from now until December 31, so join today!