Monday, September 7, 2009

Take That Book Haters, Redux

In which I once again read my children things that will ruin, ruin, RUIN their moral fiber. Oh, and I also teach kids how to be gay.

It's September!* That means it's almost Banned Books Week (September 26-October 3). Which means it's time for me to start forced calm breathing, because, well, because book banning makes me mad. As I wrote last year:**

... the topic of other people, particularly hateful, closed-minded people, telling me what it's okay for my children or me to read gets me so worked up that I can't post intelligently about it or I would end up in a big, bad-word-laden snabblefrug.
So instead of posting intelligently, I will once again spend the month exposing my children to all sorts of rubbish for your entertainment. Welcome to...

Jacqui Reads Her Children Even More Books That Other People Think Are Bad For Them

It's simple. Every week until October 3, I will read my children a book that has been banned or challenged and report back. You can check out last year's array of evil here.

Week One: The New Girl...And Me, by me, Jacqui Robbins

No, sadly, I am not joking. Here's the story.

The Alameda (California) Unified School District created an elementary anti-violence curriculum that uses books to spark conversations. They chose The New Girl...And Me as their kindergarten book.

I love this idea, not just because it's my book, but because I believe in explicitly teaching social conflict resolution and I think stories are the best way to do it. This is, in fact, why I started writing in the first place. Go Alameda!

Now, later, after kindergarten, the curriculum includes such discussions as (gasp!) families that don't fit "traditional" molds. In older grades, students will read And Tango Makes Three (Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell, illus. Henry Cole), the true story of two male penguins who raised a baby penguin (reviewed here by Tink).

Oh, the furor that erupted! "School board imposes mandatory gay curriculum," the headlines blared.*** Fox News did a whole segment on Alameda's "gay curriculum." The bloggers started yapping -- and here is your daily lesson on the dangers of getting information off the internet -- the complaints got passed on and on in an infernal game of internet telephone misinformation and exaggeration, until one day my Google alerts alerted me:
Alameda kindergarteners to learn how to be gay ... through the use of such books as The New Girl...And Me, by Jacqui Robbins, in which a shy girl learns to make friends WITH ANOTHER GIRL.
Their emphasis, not mine. Apparently, my book is part of a "homosexual instruction program."

The kicker that you could have guessed? Nobody read the books. How do I know? Because if you have read The New Girl...And Me, you will know that nobody in her right mind could think it is a "kindergarten manual for gay sex," as one blogger warned parents.

As my agent put it, "Wait until they find out the next one's called Two of a Kind."

Sigh. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that the Alameda Unified School District -- and every school district in the world -- has gay students and students with gay parents. In fact, I am sure some of the protesters have gay children, whether they know it or not. So a lot of feelings are being hurt, which is what it comes down to for me. The feelings behind this outrage are the same confused, angry feelings that cause the very kind of violence Alameda is trying to help kids avoid.

I honestly believe if I want my opinions respected I have to respect the right of some people to believe homosexuality is a sin, as hard as that is for me to do. But rather than hide others' ideas from my children, I want to talk about them, discuss them, use them as teaching opportunities. And I really, really want my children to grow up knowing that our lifestyle is not any more "right" than anyone else's; we are all just doing the best we can.

Which is why I believe so strongly in Banned Books Week: because I don't believe in silence (obviously, judging from the length of this post). I believe in words and stories and in their power to teach and to console and to bridge differences and to bring change. So this month, I will read my children books that other people think are bad for them.

Hey! Think how cool it would be if YOU read your kids (or, even better, someone else's kids) some books other people think are bad for them. Do it! Do it! And report back, okay?

* Yes, I am aware it has been September for 7 days. Did you miss the post where I claimed the right to change the date at will? Whose idea was it for school to start so late into the month?! And whom amongst you offered me last-week-of-summer-vacation child care so I could blog the arrival of September on time? Nobody. I am now claiming the right to be a week behind for a while.

** Credit for inspiring this Banned Books fiesta must go to my agency sister and RockSugarBeet buddy, the amazing Elise Murphy and her 2008 Banned Books Challenge.

*** I am not linking to any of these because I don't want to drive up traffic with my millions of readers. Google "jacqui robbins gay alameda."


Amber Lough said...

Your books are so gay.

(And my daughter loves them.)

C.R. Evers said...

Congrats on your book!!!! YaY! Way to go! You deserve it.

SafeLibraries® said...

No books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century. See "National Hogwash Week."

Also see "US Libraries Hit Back Over Challenges to Kids Books," by Sara Hussein, Agence France-Presse [AFP], 6 September 2009.

Ann Finkelstein said...

The attitudes of Fox News and the irate bloggers make me deeply sad.

Jacqui said...

Thanks, Amber and Christy.

SafeLibraries: point taken on the word "banned." But books are challenged and people TRY to have them banned all the time. I looked at Hussein's article and I'd add that there seems to be a blurring of the issues. I have no problem with parents keeping books they consider inappropriate from their own kids; indeed, I have blogged in the past about how I do that myself. What I have an issue with is people trying to keep books they think are inappropriate from my kids, by excluding them from libraries, etc.

Jacqui said...

SafeLibraries: I should also add that what saddens me about the outrage over The New Girl...And Me is that it doesn't even have any of the content to which people are objecting; people are up in arms without even being fully informed.

Jacqui said...

Ann, me too.

Diane T said...

Jacqui, I would love to read some banned books to my son, but I think he will be too busy reading his AP US History textbook. Maybe I shall make it more appealing by noting the beginning is all about the founding FATHERS and it must be gay propaganda, a la Tango, otherwise where are the mothers?

Oh, and congratulations on not spontaneously combusting upon seeing those crazy reviews of your books. I would have tried to strangle their ill-informed authors through the computer monitor.

cath c said...

oh my goodness. i'm with you on the spontaneous combustibility!

this is the same issue i have with my school district banning the president's speech this morning. fear of content is where a few disgruntleds are leading us. not even the content itself. or the fact that our PRESIDENT is speaking, giving a similar thumbs up to education speech that has been given by republicans since reagan.

the fact that they want the 'right' to not have it pushed on their kids is denying the right of my kids to see it and inspire them to enjoy the educational process.

Mary Witzl said...

Flipping hell. I started reading this and thought it was a joke -- mais non! Are these people serious? I thought the negative reaction to Obama's education speech was bad enough, but sheesh...

Give me that list of banned books and I'll start spreading them around myself. I'll pass them onto my sister, in fact -- she's a librarian.

Anonymous said...

Well, I didn't read your book to my son and now he's not gay, so there!

Guess who this is?!?! MUAHAHAHAHAHA

SafeLibraries® said...

Jacqui, I agree with you when you said, "What I have an issue with is people trying to keep books they think are inappropriate from my kids, by excluding them from libraries, etc." But that is not the issue I am raising, except to say such instances themselves are "silly." Rather, I am talking about legally available sources to protect children from inappropriate material. Not the Bible. Not morality.

Jacqui, you also said, "people are up in arms without even being fully informed." Again, we agree. I advise everyone to read every book all the way through before making any complaints about it.

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

Wow, Jacqui. I don't know what to say. I'm a former newspaper reporter and it would have taken, what, 10 minutes? to flip through your book and actually read it before writing about it.

I have a manuscript about a girl who adores a butternut squash. I'd better gear up for the backlash if it ever gets published.

Pat Zietlow Miller

Jacqui said...

Diane and cath, I was too amused at the ridiculousness of it being The New Girl to combust, honestly.

Mary, check back for this year's list.

anonymous, Iszn, is that you?

SafeLibraries, I still wonder, though, who gets to decide what's inappropriate in terms of those legally available sources. And thanks for coming by, by the way.

Pat, oh no! Human-gourd relations?! :) Though I myself could fall in love with a good butternut squash soup.

SafeLibraries® said...

You are welcome, Jacqui.

Locals should decide by whatever means they wish to obtain consensus. Not me. Not the ALA.

And they need to be fully informed, not misinformed by ALA/ACLU/NCAC sources. Often it is the goal of the ALA to mislead the locals so the locals will choose to do what the ALA desires without the ALA appearing to have been involved in the decision. It's clever, and it works, but that doesn't make it right.

Perhaps the actual law that created the library might provide some guidance in this area.

Unknown said...

I started reading The New Girl...And Me at my local library, but put it down when the male librarian started looking yummy.