- "US Libraries Hit Back Over Challenges to Kids Books," by Sara Hussein, Agence France-Presse [AFP], 6 September 2009.
WASHINGTON — For some it is the heartwarming tale of two male penguins raising a chick together, but children's book "And Tango Makes Three" is also one of the most controversial texts in America, librarians say.
The illustrated book, which is intended to teach young children about gay parents, tops the 2009 list of "most challenged titles" that the American Library Association (ALA) compiles as part of its annual "Banned Books Week."
Individuals and groups in at least 15 US states have challenged libraries over "And Tango Makes Three," seeking to have the book labeled with a content warning, moved to a different section of the library or removed from shelves altogether, according to the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom.
For Deborah Caldwell Stone, the office's acting director, challenges to "And Tango Makes Three" and other books illustrate the importance of Banned Book Week, which will be celebrated September 26-October 3 this year.
The event was first organized in 1982 to highlight the fact "that challenges and banning are still taking place in this country on a regular basis, that books are removed from libraries because a person disagrees with the content," Caldwell Stone said.
"We estimate that we only hear about 25 percent of the challenges," she added. "A parent comes in, complains, the book is removed from the library and we never hear about it and nobody reports it to us."
Of those challenges that are reported, Caldwell Stone says objections are increasingly "to either content that deals with gay themes, or sex."
On this year's ALA list of books is the "Gossip Girl" series, which has been described as "Sex and the City for the younger set" and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," which the group Parents Against Bad Books in Schools lists as containing references to suicide, illegal drug use, teen sex and bestiality.
Dan Kleinman, who runs the website safelibraries.org, says his concerns are with the sort of sexual content found in "Gossip Girls."
"It is wrong to say that children should not have books because the Earth is not older than 6000 years. It is wrong to say children should not have books because there's witchcraft in them. This is silly," he told AFP, referring to some of the arguments put forward by religious fundamentalists.
But, he says, "some books have explicit, very detailed sexual conduct that is not of a teaching nature... it's just inappropriate for children."
Kleinman, whose website is a clearing house for information about challenging books, insists that he does not want to see books banned, but says there is a legitimate legal basis for restricting children's access to sexually explicit material in libraries.
"All I'm seeking is application of existing law," he said, drawing a parallel between explicit websites or films and literature.
Kleinman accuses the ALA of hyperbole in celebrating Banned Books Week. "The whole purpose of Banned Books Week is to provide this kind of misinformation," he said. "The ALA misleads people into thinking that if you keep an inappropriate book from a child that is considered censorship. It is not."
But Caldwell Stone cautions that one parent should not be able to limit other children's reading material.
"When you challenge a book and argue that it shouldn't be on the shelf at all, or that there should be restricted access to the book... then what you're saying is that my values, my morals, should dictate what other people's children are reading."
Cynthia Garcia Coll, a professor of education, psychology and pediatrics at Brown University advocates a combination of community standards and educational science to determine what is appropriate reading material for children.
"Education, when it comes to kids, is not only a matter of values -- it is partly a matter of values -- but we also have some scientific data that tells you what is good for kids and what is not and we need to pay attention to that."
Lewis Lipsitt, the founder of Brown University's Child Study Center and a professor emeritus of psychology, medical science and human development, acknowledges that some literary content can scare or upset children.
But he warns that parents should not excessively restrict the access of their children and others to challenging material.
"There's no good evidence at all, after all of these years, that the kind of things that children read are going to have a deleterious effect on them."
"Rather, what happens is that they learn about behavior of great diversity," he said.Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.
The ALA's Caldwell-Stone is Both Right and Wrong
I agree with Caldwell-Stone when she says, "one parent should not be able to limit other children's reading material." But a legitimate challenge brought legitimately has to start with one person. The challenge is then handled according to policy. If the challenged book is removed, it would be due to the application of policy by those responsible for ensuring the application of that policy, not because of "one parent."
Caldwell-Stone goes on to say, "When you challenge a book and argue that it shouldn't be on the shelf at all, or that there should be restricted access to the book... then what you're saying is that my values, my morals, should dictate what other people's children are reading." That is her view, not reality. In reality, there may be a number of reasons, and those reasons may have nothing to do with values or morality. Sometimes those are the reasons, so that makes Caldwell-Stone's statement partially correct. But she and the ALA attempt and often succeed in misleading people that every challenge is brought for reasons of values or morality, therefore every challenge should be denied. Why have a materials reconsideration policy if every challenge will be denied?
I am not aware if Caldwell-Stone was aware of my comments when she made hers. But she ignores the key issue—values and morality have little to do with legally protecting children from inappropriate material. I talked about the law, she talked about morality. If she did this intentionally, then it is an excellent example of how to turn the media to print the story you want people to hear, not the actual story.
Regarding so-called "Banned Books Week," [BBW] since no books have been banned in the USA in about half a century, it is no wonder the appellation "National Hogwash Week" is fitting. As Caldwell-Stone said in the AFP article, "challenges and banning are still taking place in this country on a regular basis." That is flat out false, unless you use the ALA's self-serving definition of banning that comprises legal means to keep children from inappropriate material.
The ALA is not used to being challenged on BBW, as I have done in the AFP article that has been republished worldwide in various languages. If any media source wishes another point of view from the author of what the AFP calls the "clearing house for information about challenging books," please contact me at any time. Internet filters are also my concern. Be aware that FoxNews had me scheduled to appear opposite an ALA representative regarding BBW, but the ALA dropped out when it learned I was to be the balance. If that happens again, I will be happy to speak anyway. There is no shortage of material, like the time when the ALA implied racism was the reason parents opposed a school book including bestiality. Hot dawg!
Let me add that the reporter has written an excellent article that is fair and balanced. As one award-winning children's book author told me, it is a "pretty shape up of the issues involved." That may be why the ALA is not sending out its usual notice of such articles; as the ALA directs, "If they don’t know about the bad news, you probably don’t want to tell them about it."
Merci beaucoup, Sara Hussein and AFP.