By Karina Reyes
Selection is a way of censorship. During the presentation called Walking the Line
Between Selection and Censorship with Teen and Children’s Librarians, the discussion panel
shared how they dealt with censorship not just from the public but from themselves. Many of
the librarians in the panel are aware that they are essentially censoring when they choose not
to put a particular text in their collection. Ann Morgester admitted that she struggles with this
especially when it comes to series. Do you keep the entire series when you realize that the
subsequent books in the series begin to be inappropriate for the age group that your library
caters to? She chose to not keep any of the series and directed student patrons to the public
The public library has slightly different censorship issues than the school libraries
because they carry materials for all age groups. They have to be careful that adult-level
materials are not inadvertently shelved next to children’s literature. And within the children’s
section, they have to also consider that a pre-school, elementary, middle school, and young
adult books are not intermingling. As Elizabeth Nicolai mentioned, “sometimes Caillou is next to something for a ten-year old,” and this could cause some distressed parent to protest that their pre-schooler has access to inappropriate material.
Sometimes censorship happens on a purely personal level. One librarian, Suzanne
Metcalfe, found herself emotionally traumatized “by a figure of a child carrying a dead baby on
her hands…I then censored it.” It’s a tough call, she admits. Was she affected by baby-
hormones as a new mother at the time?
The session left me with more questions to ponder: how do I judge graphic novels?
Does an author’s misdeeds affect whether the library carries his/her books in their collection?
How do I separate the artist from their artistic work? Censorship is a multi-layered issue that
deserves daily visits. One thing I will always ask myself now: who is this work going to serve? If it could be one of my students then I will add/keep it in my collection. Censorship has its place but I will select or de-select materials based on a multi-layer, multi-question, metacognitive
By Karina Reyes
What does it mean to be a literary citizen? It’s a concept I haven’t truly explored until Brendan Kiely mentioned it in his presentation. Social engagement and social responsibility can be fostered in young adult literature. Writing and reading books that foster this is the first step to responsible literary citizenship. And by this measure, his books are meant to promote literary citizenship. And if books can be the vehicle for social change, then Kiely’s novel, All American Boys, written in collaboration with Jason Reynolds, charges forth with painful eloquence that should make its readers pay attention.
Kiely’s presentation on Literary Citizenship gave me a new lens in which to evaluate the books that I include in my high school collection. “I care about literature and how it affects our young folks…we have these books that can help us think about issues today,” Kiely said. I echo his sentiments and appreciate that many books are now being written that speak to the difficult issues faced by our students.
Kiely also reminded us to ask how a character “deconstruct(s) your normal.” What does a character do that makes us think about what we perceive to be normal and yet may be far from it for that character or vice versa? In the novel, the characters are responding to a “cultural moment,” something in our current society that tends to be so difficult to discuss such as racism. Brendan Kiely wants us to use books as a safe way to start a conversation and the conversation always starts with listening. He admits there will be many uncomfortable moments and as he said in his earlier speech, “[i]t is easier to talk about race in a historical context, but if I can’t get uncomfortable now and keep talking about how I’m part of that system (oppressive racism) and not just a bystander around it…then that’s part of the perpetuating of injustice.” Instead he recommends that we sit still and listen. Such is the power that literature with a social message can have: the ability to make readers better citizens by giving them the power to understand, to empathize, and to listen to difficult truths.
On a prescient turn of events, All American Boys was chosen as the battle of the books selection for the 2018-2019 school year. http://www.brendankiely.com/all-american-boys-1/
http://www.brendankiely.com/about-2/ We should all use this as a starting point to becoming better literary citizens.