Um… not really. In the mirror/window illustration made famous by Mitali Perkins☺, I consider myself a mirror –I’m turning my work around toward my community, and these are the people I see. I try to be inclusive of the sometimes invisible things –the differently abled or those with other challenges, multiracial blends, blended families, various faiths, etc. –because that’s real-world stuff, and I really feel there’s too much culture-less, colorless fiction being published.
For most in the YA book community, when we talk about censorship, we talk about books in children’s libraries that have been challenged by parents on the grounds of age-inappropriate material.
The American Library Association (ALA) holds the following position: “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.” Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.”
But clarifying the definition of censorship can be difficult, as Lester Asheim–Dean of the University of Chicago Graduate Library School, and former director of the ALA’s International Relations Office–pointed out. In his 2004 article, “Not Censorship But Selection,” posted on the ALA’s website, he says, “When librarians discuss the matter among themselves, they are quite satisfied with the distinction between censorship and selection, and are in smug agreement that the librarian practices the latter, not the former.”
The jab at his colleagues aside, Asheim’s piece is a worthy primer on why librarians act as curators and not censors. But first, he presents the counterpoint. How do we differentiate between what librarians do, and what pressure groups demand that they do…cull books from the archives?
The National Book Awards Gala is coming up this Wednesday and one of the finalists in the Young People’s Literature category is
Never Fall Down
by Patricia McCormick. It is a novel based on the real life of Arn Chorn-Pond—a man who survived unspeakable horrors in the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge as a boy, escaped as a soldier, and was later adopted and brought to the United States. This is a story of brutality, but ultimately it’s an inspiring story of how the arts can save a life, and how the resilience of the human spirit can shine even in the darkest of times.
In her brief introduction, Patty writes:
Nearly two million people died—one quarter of the population. It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people.
I used this quote often in my pitching because when I’d first read it, it shocked me…and I knew it would shock others. It did. What I learned from the many journalists and producers I spoke with is that a lot of people don’t know these facts. This doesn’t altogether surprise me as the Cambodian genocide is not a piece of history that is widely taught or discussed. Cambodians themselves would prefer to avoid their terrible past. When Patty and I discussed the history and the current relevance, she wrote me the following for background and context:
Undoubtedly one of America’s most influential Latinas in pop culture, the Emmy-winning New Yorker Sonia Manzano continues to define the TV-watching experience of many kids—especially young Latino and Hispanic children.
For me and many Latinos who grew up watching the humorous, albeit always educational, antics of Burt & Ernie and Cookie Monster, no human face is more associated with the globally broadcast Sesame Street (Plaza Sésamo en Español) than “Maria” embodied by Sonia Manzano.
Manzano joined the production of Sesame Street in 1971, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series. She has won 15 Emmy Awards as part of the Sesame Street writing staff. Many of those kids who grew up with Maria—myself included—will forever regard Sonia Manzano as a cherished storyteller.
This is why her powerful debut YA novel The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic Press) is so important and relevant for young readers of all backgrounds.