Why Speak is Awesome and Book Banning is Not-some

Recently, a man named Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader (Springfield, MO) in which he condemns three books: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. From the perspective of a teenager, a student, and a person, I have a lot to say about this, especially concerning Speak.

In his own words, Scroggins calls Speak “soft pornography”. This totally freaks me out. If he had chosen the word ‘disturbing’ or ‘terrifying’, I could maybe understand his reaction. His word choice seems to imply that the fact that Melinda (the protagonist) is raped is irrelevant. What’s more important to point out to the school board is that there is SEX in a book that CHILDREN are reading in SCHOOLS. This is one of my biggest issues with book banning. In so many instances a book will be challenged because it mentions something that scares people, whether it is sex or drugs or swear words. It only takes a few f bombs for a book to be placed on the “bad” list. What is pretty consistently overlooked in these cases it the impact of a novel as a whole, mostly because challenged books are so rarely read by their challengers.

Rape is a serious, scary issue that affects the people from whom Scroggins is trying to keep this book. What makes it more relevant, in my opinion, is the fact that Speak deals with date rape: something fuzzy, difficult to define, and largely unreported. In a time where “she was asking for it” and “I was drunk and it’s not his fault” are acceptable explanations, Speak is more important than ever.

When I first read Speak, I was close to Melinda’s age. Reading it, all I could think was: “Why isn’t she saying anything? How can she just let him get away with that?” But then I realized something important; Wesley Scroggins is not my parent. A librarian is. My mother is a librarian who never told me I couldn’t read a book, even if it contained something with which she was uncomfortable. It’s because of this encouragement and this freedom that I could read Melinda’s story and not understand her reluctance to say anything.

Scroggins can keep anything he wants from his children. If he thinks that something is immoral or pornographic, he can choose to prevent them from reading it. What he cannot and should not do is keep anyone else from reading it.

Melinda doesn’t say anything about her rape because she has been taught that sex is something you can’t talk about and rape, especially date rape, is almost worse than that. Speak is, at its core, a beautifully written novel about finding the strength to overcome a traumatic experience and, in doing so, discover what it means to speak your mind and think for yourself even in the face of people who don’t want to listen.

Teenager’s opinions are so often dismissed because of hormones or naivety. Speak teaches us that our beliefs are important and our feelings are honest and worthy of attention. It teaches us that what we have to say matters, that speaking up and speaking out can create positive change, that remaining silent means suffering for something we didn’t deserve in the first place . Speak teaches us that we need to make people listen if we want to be heard.

Banning books teaches us to keep things inside, unspoken, and well contained. It says that rape is pornographic, immoral, and filthy and that we shouldn’t talk about it. That’s why Melinda never said anything, because she was taught that rape was her fault, it was a dirty secret that she should just keep to herself.

On her blog, Laurie Halse Anderson asked her readers to post about what Speak means to them. For me, it has always been about using your voice when it matters and learning to speak up for yourself when it’s clear that no one else will. Speak is about everything, in my opinion, that book banning prevents.

30 Days of Back to School: Join YALSA (or renew) for a whole year of support!

At last, things are starting to settle down! As a school librarian the first month of school is the most chaotic and tiring of the whole year, well except maybe the last month. Getting the library set up – new books unpacked and shelved, posters hung, letters to parents and staff; the list goes on and on. The beginning of the year is always overwhelming; no matter how long you have been a librarian. For most of the country that beginning rush is starting to wane. For many of us, we rarely have time to collaborate with teachers, let alone other librarians.
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30 Days of Back to School: LIS Road Trip

Everyone wants to go on a road trip!’  Here is your chance to join YALSA’s LIS (Library and Information School) Road Trip!

Launching in 2011 this road trip will focus on the LIS’s around the country.’  We want students and professors to host an event, a program or happy hour on each of the ALA accredited schools to help faculty and students be aware of what YALSA does.’  We will contact the ALA Student Chapters as well to engage them in our road trip!’  Look for future announcements on the blog and on a newly created wiki space.’  The LIS Road Trip Task Force is looking for volunteers to promote YALSA and the values of membership to our future librarians!’  The Task Force will be creating promotional materials, how to sign up and how to market your event.’  Please contact Jerene Battisti, chair, if you have ideas or questions at jdbattisti@kcls.org.

30 Days of Back to School: The Challenge of Intellectual Freedom

“They say there is strangeness too dangerous in our theaters and bookstore shelves…Those who know what’s best for us must rise and save us from ourselves…” – from “Witch Hunt” by Rush

Yes folks, it’s September, and that means two things are certain:’  students are back in school, and potential censors and book challengers are coming out of the woodwork.’  Recent challenges to Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak”‘  were just the first to greet the new school year.’  Interestingly enough, this last week of September is Banned Books Week, and therefore the perfect time think about the potential for censorship, and whether you’re ready for that challenge if it comes your way. Continue reading

30 Days of Back to School: Transitioning from a Public Library to a School

In August, I left my job at the Darien (Ct) Library to become the Academic Technology Coordinator at Hamden Hall Country Day School. While I’d begun my library career as an independent school librarian (at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in western Massachusetts), I have never been in the classroom before.’  Having now switched from a school to a public library and back again, I feel like I’m getting a pretty good sense of the overlaps between the two areas, as well as the significant differences. If you’re considering making the move to a school, here’s what I’ve learned in my few weeks on the job. Continue reading

The Silent Auction is Coming

It’s a secret! No! It’s SILENT. Be sure to come to the silent auction Friday January 7, 2011. There will be great items, baskets, gifts and more, up for bid. The great thing about an auction, YOU name your price. Just don’t let anyone outbid you! I plan to bid on the kindle. I told you there were great prizes. OOOH, OOOH and the cashmere hand knitted scarf, OH and I want Nancy Werlin to name a character after me, OH and, SSSH, can’t tell you anymore it’s silent! You have to come and hear; I mean, bid for yourself.

30 Days of Back to School: Visiting the Open House

As a part of our community outreach each fall, my public library sends representatives to as many “Back to School Night” open houses as we are able. ‘ Library staff bring posters and flyers describing our programs for children and teens, library card applications, giveaways like our nifty color-changing pencils, and raffle tickets. ‘ Students and parents can see what’s going on at the library, get a card and a fancy writing implement with the library’s name on it, and fill out a raffle ticket to win some books.

Since I am new, and the first full-time young adult librarian my library has had, I want the teens, parents, and teachers in my community to see me and have every opportunity to say hello. ‘ So, I have volunteered to go on five of these visits. ‘ The first two were this past week and the experiences were vastly different.
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30 Days of Back to School: Working With Non-YA Librarians

Earlier this month mk Eagle wrote about working with guidance counselors. Collaborating with other librarians and people who work with teens in the community is an important aspect to providing great YA services, but we can also find opportunities for collaboration within our own libraries by working with our non-YA coworkers.

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