Monday, September 26, 2016

NF4NF Conference in Rosenberg, Texas

Thursday night, September 22, 2016, I landed at Houston's Hobby International Airport and met my volunteer driver from the NF4NF team, Balaka Ghosal.

Balaka had a warm smile and a face beaming with kindness and intelligence.  She put me at ease instantly, then introduced me to the couple who would be riding with me, Jeff and Nancy Sanders, and I realized I'd noticed Nancy before.

As she walked past me on the flight from Las Vegas to Houston, I noticed that Nancy, like Balaka, had an infinitely warm smile -- and a really neat t-shirt.  Her husband was just as kind.

I thought, something rare was about to happen.  And I was right.

Earth mother and author Pat Miller had invited me to be a part of the NF4NF Conference, so I'd been adopted into a very special writing family -- the tribe of Neffers.

I've done other conferences before, many of them, like Highlight's legendary Chautauqua events were exceptional.  But there was something about this intimate gathering in Rosenberg, Texas that drew warm people like moths to a life giving flame.  That something was the tone Pat Miller so clearly set.

We were all equals, and we were all at the conference for the exact same reason -- to share what we had with one another.  The workshop teachers -- Pat Miller, Candace Fleming, Peggy Thomas, Nancy Sanders and I may have been a little better published than some of the conferees, but that wasn't the point.  The point was, we all cared about writing nonficton, and we all wanted to do better.  We were there to elevate the art form and each other.

By lunch Friday, I had more than 30 new friends.  When I left Sunday I had a new family.

If ever you have the chance to join Pat Miller's Neffer family, don't hesitate.  You'll learn a lot about succeeding in the world of nonfiction writing and you'll understand, in the realm of Neffers, you're never alone.

Thank you, Pat and all my Neffer friends.  I am beyond grateful for you all.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Whale Talk BANNED in 2005

Whale Talk has actually been banned -- yes BANNED -- in several communities. But this one was especially frustrating. From the First Amendment Center:

Alabama school bans children's book, Whale Talk
By The Associated Press 03.11.05

ATHENS, Ala. — The Limestone County school board voted 4-3 to ban the book Whale Talk last week from the Ardmore High School library after a parent complained that it contained offensive language.

Superintendent Barry Carroll had recommended the book be left on the library shelves, citing a countywide panel's finding that its message was more important than the language used.

The book by Christopher Crutcher is about a 17-year-old boy confronting his multicultural heritage while creating a swim team at a high school that has no pool.

Board members Earl Glaze and James Shannon said they opposed the superintendent's recommendation because the book included several curse words.

"We can't allow students go down our halls and say those words, and we shouldn't let them read it," Shannon said. "That book's got a lot of bad, bad words in it."

Board members Bryant Moss and Darin Russell joined in voting to remove the book from the library.

Board President Roger Whitt and members John Wayne King and Charles Shoulders Jr. voted for it. A countywide committee of teachers, parents and administrators reviewed Whale Talk after a parent requested removal of the book in February.

According to a memo, the committee recommended keeping the book in the library for several reasons, among them that it highlights the importance of forgiveness over revenge. It also provides a realistic view of life and the "consequences of prejudice, outspoken and malicious people," the memo said.

Carroll and King said they wanted the book to stay because they trusted the committee's review.
"I'm not saying I approve of everything in the book," King said. "But there are a lot of things in life that you can't hide from kids. The language is not the whole idea of what the books says. Censoring a book is pretty extreme, and it needs a lot of thought put into it."

Shoulders said he opposed the book after reading excerpts, but changed his mind after a friend informed him about its message. He suggested putting an age limit on the book.

Carroll expressed concern that banning one book could lead to banning others.

Girl Interupted is BOWDLERIZED, 2008

Man, this one introduced a term I'd never heard of before -- bowdlerizing -- but what a dangerous practice.

According to New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound, in 2008, the New Rochelle Board of Education decided certain passages in the novel GIRL INTERUPTED were inappropriate for high school students. So they did something worse than banning the book. They tore out or blacked out the bits they considered "bad." The quote:

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chairperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."

What is "bowdlerizing?" My hero Joan Bertin explained in the same article:

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

Fortunately, the board reportedly backed down and promised to replace the damaged 50 copies of the book, though I have not found confirmation that the books were actually replaced. More information when I find it.

The Well BANNED in New Jersey, 2006

According to the First Ammendment Center:

N.J. school board pulls book with racial slur from reading list By The Associated Press 01.29.06
ABSECON, N.J. — Bowing to a parent's complaint, school officials have stricken a book from an elementary school's Black History Month reading list because it contains a racial slur.

"The teachers may see this as an example of something they can help fix, but we believe at fourth grade the children do not have the maturity to truly understand it," said parent Lisa Rex, whose complaint prompted the action.

Published in 1995, The Well by Mildred D. Taylor is about a black family in early 20th-century Mississippi that has the town's only working well and shares their water with neighbors, including members of a white family who use the racial epithet.

The Well had been included on a list for students at the H. Ashton Marsh School. The Board of Education voted on Jan. 24 to remove it pending a review by a committee of faculty members and citizens about whether it is appropriate for use at all, The Press of Atlantic City reported on Jan. 25.

"We will respect the concerns presented and hold off on reading the book," said Schools Superintendent James Giaquinto.

Fourth-grade teacher Terry Maher said the students who were to read it had already been taught about the mistreatment of certain groups of people.

"The word is not taught in the book, the word is hated in the book," Maher said. "The book has gotten rave reviews. We would be sorry to lose it."

But one parent who turned out for the board meeting said it was wrong to let children read a book containing the slur.

"If children hear it, and are allowed to read it in class, it legitimizes it," said Robert Preston. "It gives them ammunition to tease others, without really understanding."

Taylor's novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which won the prestigious Newberry Award in 1977, also has been challenged in other school districts because it includes racial epithets.

Final Exit BANNED in several states

Final Exit: Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying by Derek Humphrey has been BANNED in several states, according to this Missouri news brief.

EXCERPT: The third edition of the book has been banned in several states, and now a group of parents are trying to file a class action lawsuit to ban the book.

Admittedly, this is a tragic story. A woman's son used an idea from the book -- written for terminally ill patients -- to take his own life and referenced the book in his suicide note. It's a horrifying story for any parent, and I'm a parent. But the book didn't cause her son's dispair, even if it did direct him in finding a way out. I regret her loss, more than I can say. I'd be a pool of nothing if I lost either of my children this way. But banning the book won't ease one child's pain.

Free speech isn't always easy. This was a tough one. But if books on suicide prevention exist, books on assisted suicide also have their place, even after they're misused.

I do ache for these parents, though. Truly.

"And Tango Makes Three" BANNED

As hard as it is to believe, a tender picture book about two male penguins raising an egg together was literally banned from a school district in North Carolina in 2006, according to this article. A few excerpts:

"And Tango Makes Three" was removed from shelves in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after parent inquiries.

The ban came in a Nov. 30 memo from district administrators to school principals and library staff. Gorman said parents and a Republican county official had asked him about the book.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, a Republican, had e-mailed Gorman to see if the district had the book. "I am opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal," he said.

In the memo banning the book, district officials said the book "focuses on homosexuality" and provides no vital information to primary students. "We did not believe the book would stimulate growth in ethical standards, and the book is too controversial," the memo stated.

Once publicity brought the ban to light, Gorman said it was a mistake and ordered a formal review of the book, rather than a knee-jerk banning. The result? I was unable to find the final outcome, but I'll keep digging.

Alexi novel BANNED in Oregon

According to R.D. Phol at The Buffalo News (Dec. 18, 2008) Sherman Alexi's novel was not only challenged but banned at a school in the Crook County School District in central Oregon.

A few quotes from the article, available start to finish -- pay-per-view -- HERE.

The Portland Oregonian and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer both reported last week that Sherman Alexie's "semi-autobiographical" coming-of-age novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's literature, was removed from classroom reading lists in the Crook County School District in central Oregon after one parent [Hank Moss of Prineville, OR] documented his objections to the book at a district school board meeting.

"I don't think it should be for anybody," [Moss] told the Portland Oregonian "I think it's trash. I don't think a 50-year-old ought to read it." Moss appears to have found an ally in Jeff Landaker, chairman of the Crook County school board. After examining photocopies of passages Moss found objectionable, Landaker said the book concerned him as well.

Led by Landaker's concerns, the school board issued a directive to remove the book from Crook County schools indefinitely and ordered the district superintendent to conduct an investigation of how it came to be included in the curriculum.

Did you get that? BANNED. Not challenged, but BANNED. Based on ONE parent's objections and the review of EXCERPTS plucked, out of context, from the book.