Making Bold Choices Wisely

1 11 2012

So you’d think in this day and age when TV, movies, and the Web make the viewing of “mature” material hard not to experience that challenges to books would be a rare occurrence.

Think again.

The latest data on book challenges from the American Library Association does show a downward trend in book challenges but still the average is one a day in the United States (Huffington Post, Sept. 30, 2012).  That’s 10,000 since ALA began its data collection and The Office of Intellectual Freedom estimates that only one quarter are reported and recorded (Englebert, Sept. 29, 2012).

We’ve discussed the importance of being open and upfront about the books you choose to share with your students, be that in whole class direct teaching, small group inquiry or books clubs, independent reading projects, or your classroom library for recreational reading.  And we’ve shared advice like designing teacher blogs and web sites as windows into your classroom and curriculum (be sure to offer option of subscribing via email or RSS feed) and using Google Voice if you send messages to parents who may find it easier to respond via voice.  Email marketing companies like Contactology also offer free services to educators so spiffy eNewsletters can be sent via email.

Frances Bradburn, who shared via video of her vast experiences as a librarian, state-wide technology director, and lifelong advocate for young adult literature, has graciously set aside some time this week to respond to lingering questions that you may have about making bold choices.  Please post your questions below and click “replies via email” so you’ll be prompted when Frances or others have posted responses.

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14 responses

8 11 2012
Cris

Last question, Frances. And please don’t worry about response time.

First part, easy for someone with your perspective as the first Printz Committee Chair. What would you evaluate the effect of the first twelve years of the Printz Award?

And, secondly, you know that we’ve partnered with the Eva Perry Mock Printz Club and read many of the books on their short list for this year as well as the ALA Printz winners from last. We’ve also viewed the Melinda Awards from last year and can’t help but be impressed by the EP teens’ ability to articulate their opinions about literary quality as they “stand up” for the books they champion. Do you think that creating an award based on literary quality to be judged by teens could encourage teachers and librarians to create opportunities for teens to read and critically evaluate YA lit? We’d like to move beyond the Teen’s Top Ten for popularity.

8 11 2012
Frances Bradburn

The Printz Award has had a huge impact on YA publishing–and adult publishing. A decade ago, we had a difficult time getting publishers to submit adult books to any young adult committee. They feared it would harm the adult book’s reputation/purchasing power. Today, publishers often publish a title as a YA title rather than as an adult title, knowing that more YA titles will sell than adult titles, and that many adults read YA titles even more readily than adult ones. The Printz Award made YA literature popular and worth investing in.

The Best Books for Young Adult Committee has always welcomed teenagers’ comments on its possible selections, even having a day in which YA librarians bring their teens to the committee meeting to observe the deliberations and possibly comment. The Printz Award was established because librarians came to believe that BBYA selections were more a popularity contest than a literary award. Of course, literary quality is a moot point if no one will read the book, always the conundrum when debating Printz Award selections.

I think it would be intriguing to have teens form a committee for a YA literary award. Go for it!

8 11 2012
Cris

That YA literature is currently the hottest and most successful area of publishing really is a sign of how YA literature has come in the past twelve years. Some time you’ll have to stop by an Eva Perry Mock Printz Club meeting, Frances. The teens would be impressed to learn that you were the first chair and you’d be impressed in turn by how passionate and articulate they are about literature.

Thanks for the encouragement to explore a YA literary award. We’ll have to do some research to find out how many Mock Printz clubs for teens that there actually are. As you noted, many adults love to read YA lit and most of the Mock Printz clubs seemed to be composed of adults. Would be interesting for public libraries and middle and high schools to sponsor Mock Printz clubs and collaborate on an annual award.

We’ve really appreciated your responses to our questions. Thanks so much for being willing to extend our conversation about intellectual freedom.

Please do drop by the Bookhenge anytime!

8 11 2012
Frances Bradburn

Thank you, Cris! I’ve enjoyed collaborating with your class. It has been a treat!

6 11 2012
Cris

A question I spotted in Doug’s Critical Reflection Post, Frances. He’s usually not so shy 😉

I am pleased as can be to have learned that there is a reasonable process aimed at justice in book choice disputes—and as I mentioned somewhere in our wanderings this week, I really love that at least a student is on the book review committee, as well as other teachers and a principal. I think that a diverse group of points of view is always important to hopefully reach a fair conclusion in this and any other matter in a diverse society. Generally speaking, I don’t think I would be upset if a book I chose was rejected by the wisdom of such a diverse group. I’d feel sheepish and apologetic (and I forgot to ask during class Thursday, but how likely/severe are repercussions against a teacher whose choice is deemed inappropriate for students? I’m sure it depends on the reasons it was deemed inappropriate and how “obviously” inappropriate the content was) . But I would accept the wisdom of the group and try to learn from it. — http://djpeci521.wordpress.com

7 11 2012
Frances Bradburn

Sorry to just get to this. I should never work solely from my phone!

It’s validating to read Doug’s comments about feeling sheepish and apologetic about a book selection. Not many people react in such a humble way.

You also ask, Doug, if teachers face repercussions for a poor choice. Sometimes, but not always. Society often judges teachers pretty harshly when they are uncomfortable withthe teachers’ decisions, especially if they think their control over their own children is being threatened. A majority of parents are reasonable and accept either an apology or an alternative assignment. Others, however, may have a larger agenda and make such a scene that life becomes difficult for that teacher or media coordinator.

It usually comes down to the way the challenge is handled and whether or not the principal supports the challenge procedure and the teacher or media coordinator. He or she can defuse the situation by following the procedure; all is usually well–for the book, the teacher/media coordinator, and the student. If the principal operates from fear or ignorance of the policy, the situation can escalate even to the point of unfavorable media coverage. This is when people are disciplined or worse, lose their jobs.

Oftentimes the person most in the line of fire is the media coordinator, who is charged with following the process. It can take a great deal of courage to stand up to parents, your principal, your fellow teachers, even the school board in support of the challenge process–and a student’s right to information. Far too many people view information as threatening and dangerous, truly anachronistic in this free society. Defending that right to read, view, and learn can be a frightening, yet extremely important process. Again, a school or school system’s leadership can usually defuse the fear and hostility, surely a more favorable scenario than a single media coordinator or teacher having to stand alone against the public!

8 11 2012
Cris

We’d not seen Doug’s humble side before, Frances, so it’s good to see this side of him 😉

Thanks so much for your response. You remind us of how vital it is for ELA teachers to work hand-in-hand with the school media specialist and that creating an open, supportive relationship with administrators and parents is the only way to ensure that the student’s right to read and the teacher’s responsibility to teach are respected.

3 11 2012
Cris

You can imagine how much I learn over the course of the semester, Frances 😉 And that is one of the many reasons I love this class.

I have a question, but let me preference it with a story. In last year’s class, one of our open participants told of a middle school librarian who placed rainbow stickers on the spine of each book in the library that had a GLBT character. Her motivation was that this would make the books easier for GLBT teens to find.

In your experience, how have middle and high school librarians addressed the right to read of our GLBT teens? Are there efforts by school media advisory boards to make sure that their collections are inclusive and that GLBT teens have access to YA Lit that includes teens much like them?

3 11 2012
Frances Bradburn

Unfortunately, I think there is less awareness and familiarity with GLBT YA lit than other genres. Sometimes this can work in its favor–many don’t even know those characters are within the book! Yet, this unfamiliarity is more likely to do a huge disservice to many teens. Everyone deserves to see themselves and find themselves in the resources they read and watch. It’s important that all of us–media coordinators, teachers, administrators, parents, and adults in general–respect the lifestyle choices (for lack of a better word) of our teens. The more aware we are of a book’s characters and content, the better we foster this understanding and respect. I certainly trust GLBT lit is becoming more prevalent and obvious in our school and public library collections than it once was!

Now about that labeling . . . I understand the desire to make a book’s themes and characters easier to ferret out in our large collections, HOWEVER, this also works against far too many of our larger goals in libraries. How does this labeling impact teens who are wondering about those feelings that are welling up within them, but aren’t comfortable with these feelings? How does it impact a student who simply wants to learn more and be supportive of a GLBT friend? How might this labeling unintentionally identify a GLBT teen to a potential bully? Spine labeling is not the best use of time and money.

Now, many libraries have collections of resources that are identified on the shelving themselves, a better solution but certainly still problematic. The best practice is to identify these resources in the library’s online catalog so that teens can search via key word or subject and quietly (or excitedly!) identify books that they want to read.

3 11 2012
Cris

Thank you, Frances. You’re always adept at looking at an issue from multiple angles — sort of like a “mental photographer.” I think your advice is helpful for us as we set up our classroom libraries as well. We’ve all lived through the angst of the Young Adult years (“YAngst” we could call it) and we who love literature and believe in its power to cultivate empathy have to find a way to make it available for all the teens we come to know and/or teach.

2 11 2012
Frances Bradburn

Oh, good grief! How’s this sticky wicket for a first question? 😉

That Judy Blume adult title I referenced was an irresponsible selection for an elementary school–actually, it can’t be classified as selection at all based on any elementary selection guidelines you can find. Having said this, I think the policy to keep resources in circulation still stands. As a savvy and responsible media coordinator, however, I would make sure that one of my supportive colleagues quietly checked out the book for the duration since it has no business being in the hands of young children. Yes, this is bending the policy, but discretion is the better part of valor, two wrongs don’t make a right, and any other cliche along these lines you can think of.

Just as a clarification and reiteration, all resources housed within a school and school library media center should be selected based upon the curriculum, students’ needs and interests, the school system selection policy, and reviews published by nationally vetted and respected review sources. Any resource that has been selected under these guidelines, yet is still challenged, should remain on the shelf, in circulation, until it has been through the entire challenge procedure.

2 11 2012
reconcilingmatters

Sorry for starting off the conversation with the sticky wicket. 🙂 The Blume text would probably have been handled quickly once teachers just realized what they had inadvertently done, but I can imagine other books that might not be quite so obvious but still call more a little more careful response. Your solution is creative and sensible. Thanks!

2 11 2012
Frances Bradburn

Actually it was a great question! It made me think about how I would handle that particular issue or one that is similar. Thank you for that!

This is what I love about this class, Cris! I always learn something.

2 11 2012
reconcilingmatters

You have suggested that contested books should remain on the bookshelf while the media and technology committee is considering the appropriateness of a book. You also noted that Judy Blume’s first adult novel had been inappropriately placed in some elementary classrooms. Would you suggest pulling a book in any cases while its appropriateness for a particular context was being debated? If so, what guidelines would you suggest?

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