Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Books Week Kickoff with Ellen Hopkins

I can think of no better way to start off Banned Books week with an author who knows a thing or two about having her books banned from shelves around our country, Ellen Hopkins. My students run to my shelves when they see that her books are back in and I am proud to say that they are constantly running. I can't keep them on my shelf. I will be posting later this week my feelings on censorship but in short... I don't like it! Banned Books week is a time for us to celebrate those books and authors who have faced adversity for the things they have written and support them for doing something against the grain.

E. Kristin Anderson interviewed Ellen for her blog and asked about which books have been challenged or banned and the reasons she was given for the challenges, Ellen said:

"As far as I know, they’ve all faced challenges. Usually it’s because of the language, but also for content. I don’t tiptoe around the ugly stuff, and there are a few fairly explicit scenes in my books, Tricks especially. But Burned has been banned in a few places because of the religious (Mormon) references. Different people are offended by different things." *

When asked why she writes what she does, even though some people think it might be “bad” or “damaging” or “scandalizing” for young readers, Ellen said:

"Because someone has to. Pretending things like abuse or addiction don’t happen won’t make them go away. Writing about them does a number of things. It lets the young people whose lives are touched by these things know they’re not alone. It gives them a voice. And it also helps others develop empathy. More and more we are told to fear what we don’t understand, and to hate people who aren’t like us. I say that’s wrong. We need not only to coexist peacefully — we must remember we truly are brothers on this planet. Understanding someone else’s pain is vital." *
Such wise words from an amazing lady! I asked Ellen to share her thoughts on book banning with me and, yet again, she didn't fail and has inspired me to step up and have more books that deal with the tough stuff in my classroom. Here is what she has to say...

In sixth grade, we did mock presidential elections, and I drew Robert Kennedy's name out of the hat. In researching the man, and what he stood for, my politics became firmly established at age eleven. Having never really been faced with things like racism or sexism, I had no idea they existed. But the truth was, at that time, black people did not have the same rights as white people; and women did not have the same rights as men. Over the next several years, a segment of Americans changed those things. Not without pain. Not without bloodshed. But I think the men who died, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and my hero Bobby Kennedy, would have said they didn't die in vain.

Today, it seems, this country is regressing toward segregation and hatred of those who are different. Where once the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses on the lawns of those they deemed "inferior," some Americans today celebrate intolerance by burning places of worship and books. Books. Words. Ideas. These are central to the freedoms we take for granted. If we, the greater part of humanity, say nothing about burning or in other ways censoring books, our freedoms become jeopardized.

When book banning is allowed in one place, would-be censors elsewhere are emboldened. These people claim to be offended by words, or perhaps sexual content. But in truth, they are afraid of people who are different and ideas they cannot comprehend. Fear makes them dangerous. But by uniting and presenting unified dissent, we can conquer fear. Speak up. Join the fight against censorship. Your freedoms are at stake.
* Interview from E. Kristin Anderson can be read in full here.

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