Banning Books in School

Banning Books in Schools

To Kill a Mockingbird- Childhood Classic or Book to be Buried?

Banning Books in Schools

February 19th marked six years since Pulitzer Prize winning Harper Lee passed away.

But there might very soon be a time where no one knows who she is. Although it’s not the first time Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has faced controversy, Lee’s legacy might really be in danger.

The argument over banning books in schools is not new. There has been controversy for years over what is considered appropriate material for our students to read. Questions about depiction of race and sexual innuendo in books have constantly found themselves on the docket.

But like everything in this current political climate, this recent spree of banning books in schools feels different. More divisive and potentially permanent.

 There is no question that book censorship is on the rise. Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association reports that in September of last year alone, the volume of book challenges in the US was up 60% over the same month in 2020.

Although book challenges have always been a topic at School Board meetings, what’s changing and potentially scary, is not only the new frequency of these challenges, but also the tactics. Before it might have been a school district issue. But now, book banning groups are pushing the challenges to law enforcement, government houses and even state races. There have even been efforts to propose legislation allowing criminal charges to be filed against school librarians who disregard the bans.

Social media is fueling the fire. Chapters of book challenging organizations are publishing hysteria invoking graphics and google docs and spreadsheets of “questionable books”  for parents to question for their children.

Here are my concerns and thoughts on this issue.

1. It’s one thing if parents really have an issue with the content in these books. But do they really or are some parents getting swept up in the social media hysteria?

2. What about freedom of choice? Why if a parent has an issue with a particular book for their child can it not be enough for just their child to opt out? Why must they get the book banned for every child in the school/district?

3. Is opting your child out doing more potential harm than good?

Parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want to shield our children from all potential harm and evil in the world. But is that realistic?

Let’s be real, even if your child misses getting exposed to these topics in the book, it doesn’t mean they will never be exposed. If anything exposing them during the structured environment provides an opportunity for you to guide the conversation. It’s an opportunity for a parent to check in and answer questions and respond to emotions raised by the issue. Whereas, if the child is opted out of that text and gets exposed at another time, they’re on their own without that built-in support system.

We must remember, today’s children are tomorrow’s adults to shape what the world will look like. What happens when we limit alternative viewpoints? Say we do eradicate topics like the Holocaust, sexual assault or the ugly parts of our country’s racial history – what happens to that sheltered generation who never learns about them? Isn’t that even more dangerous? We need to provide them with the tools to learn about the past so they can do better in the future. 

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Plagiarism or Inspiration

Plagiarism or Inspiration?

Is there a fine line between them?

Plagiarism or Inspiration? How do we define the difference?

Did you read Grapes of Wrath  in school? What about Of Mice and Men? I know I even got to teach Of Mice and Men  to my 9th graders. And I have to say, as much as many of them complained, it was actually one of my favorite texts to teach.

Steinbeck has a complex reputation in our literary canon. His books continue to reign on assigned reading lists, but people also tend to have extremely strong love/hate reactions to him. Perhaps, this is because he truly was a very complicated and controversial figure in life.

One of the thornier topics he encountered during his popularity was the source of his inspiration for The Grapes of Wrath. Few will ever forget that scene where Rose Sharon uses the breast milk from her stillborn baby to save the life of a starving man. But was this profoundly moving scene the fruit of Steinbeck’s imagination?

Smithsonian Magazine  published an interesting piece a few years back about another author named Sanora Babb who published about the Dust Bowl. What was interesting about the piece was the mention of the copious notes Babb took during her firsthand interviews with migrant workers. These notes were shared with Steinbeck by the same editor who published both of their stories. In those notes- there was a scene with a stillborn baby and a mother sharing her breast milk.

This begs the question- what actually is considered plagiarism when it comes to authors’ inspiration?

I had a conversation about this recently with a book club I visited. We asked if any new story could ever entirely be new? Or ever told exactly the same way? Think on it- how many World War II historical fiction books are out there? How many authors inspired by the same chilling photograph or event in history?

Now think on eyewitness accounts in court. Do any two witnesses ever retell the same event exactly the same way or do each bring their own unique perspective to the retelling?

Kristin Hannah admits in interviews that the inspiration for her novel The Four Winds came from her love of Steinbeck. She wanted to write an updated version of his classic story. And although the books have similar themes and elements, I’d say she succeeded in telling her own unique story.

Perhaps there needs to be some grace given in storytelling. Although the word plagiarism is defined as taking of someone else’s words or ideas, I’d say it is very difficult to prove from where ideas originate or what happens after the same inspirational idea strikes.

I mean, if we were truly to take that definition at face value, couldn’t we potentially argue that every love triangle, natural disaster or genre-based trope is an idea born from someone else?

What are your thoughts on this topic?

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2021 YA Spark Award Winner!

The Girl in the Triangle was named SCBWI’s 2021 YA Spark Award Winner! This amazing honor is given to independently published books in children’s literature.

2021 YA Spark Award Winner

Thank you to SCBWI for honoring The Girl in the Triangle as the 2021 YA Spark Award winner!

Look out for my further collaboration with SCBWI to come!

Thank you again for this wonderful recognition and opportunity!

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