The book blogs are abuzz over this California school board’s decision to delete 23 children’s books from a to-purchase list drawn up by parents and teachers. The reasons put forth by the school board trustees to explain why some titles were rejected range from stupid (they nixed certain fantasy titles because “We want books to be things that children would be able to relate to in real life”) to incomprehensible (“With this ever-changing society, we have to just stick back to the traditional thing of what kids are supposed to be learning”—Huh?). However, it’s important to note that this is not a case of outright book-banning. The rejected titles, which include Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Disney’s Christmas Storybook, and two Artemis Fowl books, are not being yanked from library shelves: they are simply not being purchased in the first place.
(This distinction jumped out at the Deputy Headmistress too.)
Like I said, I think some of the trustees’ reasons are ridiculous. The thing about rejecting fantasy because it isn’t something kids can “relate to in real life”—that’s just plain silly. Kids have been “relating to” characters like Winnie the Pooh, Charlotte (a spider who can read and write?), Pippi Longstocking (who can lift a horse and a couple of policemen without breaking a sweat), and Peter Pan—to name but a very few of the fantastic characters who enliven our bookshelves and enrich our lives—for centuries. Hercules, anyone? I suspect that the board member who gave that quote was trying not to articulate for the record her real reasons for not approving the purchase of a Harry Potter book. Of course that is mere supposition. I have no way of knowing whether she really meant what she said, or what she might have been hesitant to say to a reporter.
But I do think it’s important to be clear about what is actually happening before we sound the book-banning alarm. Listen, one of the reasons I undertook the responsibility of educating my own children was because I object to the idea of some group of elected officials having the power to decide what is and is not appropriate for my kids to read and to learn. In a public school district, as everywhere else, someone has to have authority over the budget. In this case, the folks who’ve been granted that authority are exercising their right to approve or deny the purchase of book titles on a list of possibilities. That doesn’t prevent kids from getting hold of the books elsewhere. Can individual teachers include these titles in their classroom libraries?
I imagine there are some school library purchasing committees out there who have chosen not to include my books on the to-buy list. Am I happy about that? Of course not. I’ve worked hard to write books that are engaging, moving, and historically accurate, and I’m darned proud of them. I’d be thrilled to see them in every library in the country. But I don’t dispute the rights of the folks who’ve been invested power over fund-dispersal to decide whether or not my books make the cut. And if they don’t, I wouldn’t say “my books have been banned.” They just haven’t been bought.
What I’d really like to know is: What would the trustees do if parents or teachers were to donate the rejected books to the school library? If donations are regularly accepted, but these titles were refused, then perhaps it would be time to sound the censorship alarms.