Google+ Reading Teen: "Speak The Truth To Your Audience To The Best Of Your Ability"... by Amy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Speak The Truth To Your Audience To The Best Of Your Ability"... by Amy

Censorship ~ To examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable. Merriam Webster Dictionary

I have gone over this in my head trying to figure out what is wrong and what is right, when it comes to censorship? I feel torn because this is America and the freedom I stand for - The Constitutional Rights - comes into play here. On one hand, I disagree with the fact that an author who writes for the YA audience, can write anything he or she pleases. Just as my header says, "Speak the truth to your audience to the best of your ability" ~ sort of an author code of conduct. But at my teens' expense? On the other hand, the freedom we have leaves this open for any person to write anything he/she chooses. I would not want to lose that freedom, that right. So, where does that leave me?

I was scanning through the Internet and came upon an article by Allena Tapia with WOW! an ezine promoting the communication between woman writers, authors, editors, agents, publishers and readers. (  I'm going to give you a few excerpts of what was written so you can give me your opinion and thoughts on this subject.

According to the American Library Association (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson has been challenged multiple times since it's 1999 publication. Cited reasons include language, sexual situations, and inappropriateness to age group. Indeed, these are common reasons for challenges; of the challenges recorded by the ALA (for all books) in 2008, the most cited reason was the contents were "sexually explicit."

Speak: 10th Anniversary EditionSpeak is the story of Melinda's first year in high school and ends with the realization that she was raped by an older student shortly before the year began. The book culminates from another aggressive attack by the same boy later in the school year. Although, generally mild compared to other available titles, Speaks challenger's focused on the sexual violence, in addition to other plot pieces such as Melinda's' self-cutting. However, the ALA doesn't record any challenges since 2007.

A freshman at Waverly High School in Lansing Michigan, noted that she had never heard of the uproar over Speak and that the book was generally presented in a positive light by teachers, community members and other students when her class had read it. Apparently, the book has come a long way since it's heyday in the news - In addition to several other challenges the ALA recorded, the author's own blog details the beginnings of a movement to ban the book in suburban Detroit along with similar instances in seven other states.

Allena Tapia goes on to talk about how books are usually perceived differently in small, conservative, rural communities. That those communities will have a different outlook than that of an urban community or suburb. She goes on saying basically the more the book is challenged the more teens will want to read them. She quotes a mother of a young teen who's last name Commarato, saying this...

"If I tried to keep something from her, she would probably work even harder to find a way to see it, read it, or listen to it regardless. My actions make her notice these things. I'm pretty open to all kinds of things and letting her see different points of view and knowing that the world isn't so happy-go-lucky all the time. If nothing else it might make her come to me with questions."

I personally find it strange to allow your teens to read material about certain adult topics just so that they can learn about the world and how it works. Some teens, depending on their personality might not even ask questions about what they are reading. I have two of those. They will just ponder and ponder on things until they figure it out themselves. I have to constantly talk to them about what's going on in that head of theirs. On the other hand I have three others that tell me everything they are thinking. Quite opposite ends of the spectrum.

The article goes on to say...

Research finds that many community members, parents, authors and school boards think just as the mother that was quoted earlier thinks - but not all. Parents Against Bad Books In School - (*** VERY, VERY explicit information on certain books in school. By clicking on this link you will need to be at least 18 yrs of age!) doesn't publish value judgments against books on it's website (other than those implied by the groups name); but the group does list the most graphic portions of over fifty novels out of context and without comment or reference to the storyline that carried them. the organization Common Sense Media - grades books on an age based system (it gave Speak a rating of "iffy" for ages thirteen to sixteen), but insist that it "Believes in media sanity, not censorship."

I guess I'm the weirdo, the mother who wants some kind of rating toward books. Even if the PABBIS organization has quoted the books out of context, the content is way, way overboard for the designated age group. I DO NOT think banning of books or true censorship is the answer. I would just like some kind of rating on the front cover and then the author can be as "TRUE" to his/her audience to the best of their ability! Then we can decide for ourselves (parents) how far we want our teens to go in the world of reading. Reading books are the ONLY form of media that is not age restricted. There are no requirements for author's to abide by. Movie producers and game creators even musician's and their producers have some kind of censorship. Bleeping words out of songs so they can be played on the radio is perfectly fine, right?

So the article continues,

AlA's Office of Intellectual Freedom states, "We defend the right of each person of each family to choose their reading materials in accordance to their own interests and values, without having other individuals and others' families dictate those choices to them."

"Families have a right to say: 'In this family, we don't read those kinds of books;' But the ALA protects the First Amendment rights of all users. Even today, books are removed [from circulation, reading lists, etc.] and books are still censored despite the existence of First Amendment rights, despite the tradition of free expression and free speech that we enjoy in America." ~ Caldwell Stone ALA

The ALA's main vehicle for awareness is the annual Banned Books Week, scheduled for September 25 to October 2, 2010. This has been observed since 1982.

I'm Looking forward to reviewing some of these banned books and reviewing them during that week. So check back for that!

The article resumes with talking about how authors are fighting back about censorship and that their voices need to be heard. A very strong, loud and independent author by the name of Chris Chrutcher details his often ongoing challenges about his material and he does it with gusto...

"I have two responses really. The first one is just an adolescent response, and I feel proud because I have made someone think or gotten some emotional response. The second is that I am sorry people are afraid of talking about things. I don't necessarily think that things I have to say are all that important, and I don't expect everyone to agree with me. OBVIOUSLY. But when people (parents) can't sit and talk with folks (teens) about what their afraid of, that's sad." ~ Chris Chrutcher author of Whale Talk

Now what Chrutcher says makes complete sense to me. But, as I stated in a previous post - how much is too much? Adult information? Again, what if they don't ask questions?

On Chrutcher's web page it talks a little about Whale Talk (geared toward an audience of 12 and up) over 140 profane words including the use of the "F" word 17 times. There is sexual content, drug use, suicide, violence and reference to smoking. Apparently, this author is famous for his explicit writing and yet this book is a required read in some schools.

So, would you allow your child at age 12 watch a movie with that much profanity and adult situations? Listen to a song or play a game with that amount of inappropriate content? Why would a book be any different? It's like watching Popeye on t.v. with your child and they throw in Pulp Fiction, right in the middle of the cartoon. Doesn't make sense to me, toatally not age appropriate.

And lastly, the article concludes with another quote from the teen mother, Commarato...

"When books are challenged, we find that they become more popular because people want to know what's in this book that makes it so bad that someone wants to remove it from the library. Some authors joke that they wish they would be challenged because it would raise the visibility of their book, get their book on the radar. One of the ironies of censorship is that when you try and keep people from reading a certain book, it makes them determined to figure out what great secret you are keeping from them."

CrankAuthor Ellen Hopkins, school visits were cancelled and her books Crank and Glass were pulled off the shelves in Norman, Oklahoma. Ellen concurs with the idea that banned books just pique readers interest more. She is quoted saying ...

"In the weeks following [the incident], I became something of a celebrity because this happened right before Banned Books Week. The Associated Press picked up the story as did such eclectic places Guardian, Christian Science Monitor, and even the Conservatives for Palin web site. As for book sales, a student wrote to me in December stating all my books remained sold out and are on back order in Oklahoma City." ~ Ellen Hopkins

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-GlassAlice's Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned in China in 1931 for the portrayal of anthropomorphizing animals acting on the same levels as humans. Diary of Anne Frank was banned in Lebanon for portraying Jews, Israel or Zionism favorably. The Grapes of Wrath was banned in many places of the U.S. mostly California when it was partially set, it was banned because it made the resident's of this region look bad.

These are good examples of why books should NOT be banned. I, for one, believe that the authors and their publicist should be held accountable if they are going to write for a specific age group. I also would not want people deciding for me and my family what books we should or should not read. For all we know, one day it could come down to the Bible.

"Speak the truth to your audience to the best of your ability."  I understand that you, the author, have this right - as you very well should have - but, I implore you to have some integrity in what you write and think about the age group your aiming toward. Desire to help us raise the future of this Country in a positive way.

Personally, I want to see ratings on all books for all to see. No bans. No burning. A small request, so that we can do our job as parents.

Amy ~ Aaronswoman

We are trying to do our part to help parents stay informed about the book that their teens are reading, and make the best choices for their family.  If you would like more information about the content in teen books, please visit Parental Book Reviews.


  1. I think that banning books is a dangerous practice for any society because it always comes down to an interpretation of values. Your support of a ratings system is one I would love. Just let me know what's in it and to what degree and allow me to make that choice for my kids and students.

  2. I'm a writer. My agent is trying to sell my latest YA ms., SHELTER. It contains domestic and dating violence, both of which have escalated in schools and homes and are even more dangerous today because many kids start dating in middle school. This is not a fun book, but one that I hope will sell and many kids will read. One that will show them the difference between "love/violence" and true respect. One that will help them understand why their boyfriend's or partner's "punishments" are cruel as well as illegal. One that is needed. Blog: SHELTER KIDS

  3. I don't want anyone else deciding what I (and my family) can read or not read, either. I agree with what Caution Flag said, censorship is an interpretation of the censors' values.

    The rating system idea seems to be a good one, even on iTunes, there's warning labels on anything that's explicit. As with anything "forbidden", though, sometimes those labels can make something more enticing, so slapping labels on books isn't the only answer.. Parents, teachers, and other caring adults need to use information to help engage their kids in discussion about topics that are difficult or controversial. Censorship in schools and libraries isn't the answer, communication and engaging our kids is.

  4. Thanks for the read of my article. Seems like you pretty much agree on most of it, except that you'd like to see a rating system? I disagree.

    A rating system is just another way of imposing one's values on others.

    Current rating systems (movies, etc) are ran by private companies, not by public places (such as libraries, government). Any publisher who wants to can put a rating system on books, some probably do. Libraries would never endorse such a thing- well, not public libraries anyway.

    In addition, rating systems are subjective, and changing as it is. I find nearly no value in PG etc ratings, myself.

    I've always found the best value in choosing what's good for my kid to be in my own two eyes- pick up the book and read it. Plug in the MP3. Rent the insipid Twilight movies. That's my job, and no one else's, and nor do I trust anyone else to do it!

  5. I agree that there should be a rating system for all books, not just those aimed at middle grade or young adult. The ratings systems for TV, movies, and video games have all helped me make not just parenting decisions but personal decisions as well. In the meantime, I really wish authors would respect their audiences a lot more. Readers of MG and YA books expect them to be less harsh and more age appropriate than adult books. As a writer myself, I do not believe that any truly talented writer can not say the same thing, with the same impact, in gentler ways. Yes, I know that kids these days are exposed to a lot, but they are still children and rely on the adults to continue to protect them from the really nasty things of life, or at least soften the blow. To have adult writers throw them into the midst of it when it is unnecessary is a betrayal of trust.

  6. One more thing. There's almost no such thing as "required reading" (re: whale talk). 99% of school districts allow parents to opt their children out of reading a book that's part of the curriculum. That should be plenty. However, that's not enough for some parents, they want to opt out ALL THE OTHER KIDS, TOO, which thereby imposes their values on my children.

    The Bible has been very often banned.

  7. Amy,
    As a YA writer myself, I've really appreciated your viewpoint on these hot topics. I've been to your blog more than once to review your thoughts on sex scenes too.

    These are issues I'm really struggling with right now - check out my thoughts on this issue at

    I think we have a responsibility to be mindful of the influence we have over young people, and that should always direct our decisions.


  8. An author is free to write whatever. We don't need to ban books. But we do need some sort of age rec. Why are't rules regarding age warnings the same for books as for other media? TV alerts viewers to shows not intended for the 13 and under crowd with that TV-14 thing. And that's just Television. I don't understand the discrepency when it comes to books. Parents should at least have a clue what the content is like.

  9. As a parent, I wholeheartedly agree with the need for content advisory warnings and not just for YA - MG needs them too! I'm glad to see you cite Common Sense Media - they've been a huge resource for me with my three boys over the years.

    As a writer, I wish there were content advisories as well. I don't want kids stumbling on something I've written that may be entirely appropriate for a 16 year old, but not for an 11 year old. And you'd be surprised how many parents let the 11 year old read/watch anything they'd like.

    I do think there is a big difference between visual and print media - with print engaging the imagination only at the level that kids are able to comprehend (although they can comprehend a LOT, it's not the same interpretation as a 35 year old director).

    Finally, as a blogger, I've been trying to bring some content warnings to the books I review, although I'm focussed on MG not YA. At least we can start there, right?

    Thanks for a fantastic post!

  10. I think that parent's should empower their children to decide for themselves what they want to read. I remember being in 5th grade and reading Blubber by Judy Blume. I had read other books of hers and I remember being surprised that right away in the first few chapters there was a lot of swearing. I knew that I wasn't supposed to watch movies with swear words, nor was I obviously allowed to use them, and I felt guilty while reading. And then the harassment in the book began. I started crying and went and talked to my mother and I told her that the girls in the book were mean and that the swearing made me uncomfortable and "What should I do?" And my mom told me that if I wanted to finish reading it I could, and if I wanted to stop reading it I could. (I was obviously a rules girl and had never started a book and not finished!). Anyways, my parents empowered me to make the choices that were right for me. I would like to go back and read that book now (I enjoyed all of her other books). I think that censoring, of any kind, is dangerous.

    Stopping by to welcome you to SITS!

  11. @Just one week I think you're right about teaching kids to make the right choices on their own. However, all kids are different and I don't think most kids would behave as responsibly as you. I know I wouldn't have (and didn't). My oldest is 15 and she's like you, she's responsible and I let her decide a
    lot about the movies/books etc. But I still want to be informed about what she's involved with, because it's my job to make sure she's making good choices, and also so I know what subjects that I should be talking to her about. If she's reading a book about rape, for example, I want to know so that I can help her process that and answer any questions she might be too shy to ask on her own.
    My second daughter is nine and I don't think she'll be as good at making responsible decisions, and I have noticed that she is easily influenced by what she reads, so I feel like I need to be more involved in her choices.
    I agree about censorship, but how is putting some kind of information for parents any different on books than any other media? Isn't labeling books YA in and of itself a type of censorship? They're telling parents the book isn't suitable for young kids, right?

    Thanks so much for your opinion, I love these discussions!

  12. I actually just blogged about banning myself; it is an issue on my mind all of the time. As a writer, I do consider the topics I write about very carefully. I have paused to think about placing controversial topics in my book prior to writing them, but in the end the story is the story and I cannot change it. (I could stop writing it, but as many writers will tell you it is impossible to force your characters to do anything.)

    I think imposing a rating system would be extremely difficult - I can only imagine the uproar - but I can fully understand where you are coming from. It would be nice for parents to know what books are appropriate for their kids without having to read every single one first. I wonder if there is some middle ground, a voluntary rating system that authors - who wish to - could utilizes on their books or something similar. It is an interesting idea!

  13. @ LizWhelan. I would love a rating system, if that would be almost impossible just putting content of a book somewhere would be a start. Mild profanity, sexual content, suicide,just as an example. At least we would know what we are dealing with as parents. It would be a good start.

    Thank you for your comment. I love to hear from writers.


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