Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Michele Bachmann's constituents honor Banned Book Week by trying to remove gay-friendly author's anti-bullying book from schools

“Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused," then dead.
"I love you, Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be.”
— Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park
The Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota's largest, is in Michele Bachmann's congressional district and is now under a federal consent decree obligating it to take bullying more seriously after it was sued following 11 suicides in about two years.
     You'd think the district would be delighted that there are 70 copies of the popular new anti-bullying Young Adult novel, "Eleanor and Park," by Rainbow Rowell, in school library shelves.
     After all, the book takes on bullying, is selling briskly (15 printings so far by St. Martin's Griffin), was selected as Tumbler's first Book Club selection, and was raved about by the New York Times
      Alas, a small activist group, the Parents Action League, has filed a formal challenge to get the school district to pull all copies of “Eleanor & Park” from school library shelves. PAL also wants librarians who chose “Eleanor & Park” for the district's voluntary summer reading program to be punished.
     According to Erin Grace's article [links added by AKSARBENT] in today's Omaha World-Herald the group went through the book and:
     ...counted 227 offending words, including 67 Gods, 24 Jesuses and 4 Christs.
     The other words I can't print in the newspaper. They are not words you'd say to your grandmother. (Unless you are Bo Pelini and your grandmother is a Husker fan.)
     Rainbow Rowell was interviewed about the contretemps in The Toast by Mallory Ortberg:
     This is the same county that Rolling Stone described as waging a “war on gay teens,” yes? 
     Yeah. (That Rolling Stone story is so heart-wrenching, I couldn’t even get through it.)
     The Parents Action League, the people who objected to Eleanor & Park, was actually formed in response to a district policy about discussing sexual orientation in the schools. You can read more about the Parents Action League here. And you can see their alert about my book here. Normally the group takes on books with homosexual content, which Eleanor & Park doesn’t really have. (Though my other books do.)
     One of the most horrific parts of their challenge was that they asked that the librarians who chose my book be officially disciplined.
Rainbow Rowell, from her website
     The Internet-savvy Rowell was supposed to be in Minnesota today for a two-day event, but was disinvited by the county library system after the School district caved and refused to pay an agreed-upon fee to Rowell, who offered to show up for free (she usually doesn't charge for book appearances anyway, unless offered a fee) but didn't get a subsequent response from either the school district or the library.
      Tom Steward, of Watchdog Minnesota Bureau, covered the controversy from Minnesota:
     ANOKA — Literary critics lavished high praise on Rainbow Rowell’s novel “Eleanor & Park,” a hot new teenage love story.
     A little too hot, maybe, at least in terms of getting public — taxpayer — support.
     The story of first love also captivated educators’ list for recommended summer reading in Minnesota’s biggest school district, Anoka-Hennepin. A-H even arranged for a two-day September student seminar with Rowell.
     Anoka County Libraries agreed to collaborate and cover the author’s $4,000 stipend with taxpayer money from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
     National reviews give credence to the idea of “Eleanor & Park” as literature and Rowell as an emerging literary sensation.
     “Her writing swings from profane to profound, but it’s always real and always raw,” says National Public Radio.
     Kirkus Reviews said this: “Funny, hopeful, foul-mouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike.”
     Library staff thought so, too.
     “It was selected by our media specialists in each high school for what’s called the Summer Rock the Book program,” said Mary Olson, director of communications and public relations for A-H. “With that program, students in the high schools typically read the book that’s for Rock the Book if they’re interested in participating.”
     Several parents weren’t so taken. Rather, they found the language in a teen romance book — a work so enthusiastically promoted by their schools — as raunchy and vulgar.
     “In just the first three pages the book contains eight “f words” and three “s words,” plus two additional vulgar words,” wrote Kirk Burback of Coon Rapids in a letter to the editor to ABC Newspapers. ”The entire book contains more than 220 of the most profane words you can imagine.
     “And then there is the age inappropriate and highly controversial subject matter throughout. The book’s content is such that if it were attempted to be read over the air, the FCC wouldn’t allow it.”
     The parents of an unnamed 15-year-old freshman student who received the book wrote a scathing 13-page review, according to The Parent Action League website.
     “This book is littered with extreme profanity and age-inappropriate subject matter that should never be put into the hands and minds of minor children, much less promoted by the educational institutions and staff we entrust to teach and protect our children,” states an alert on the league’s home page.
     Olson acknowledges the profanity, and she doesn’t necessarily disagree with the parents. She doesn’t necessarily agree, either.
     “It does have some language, I can see why parents would object to it,” said Olson. “But I would say having read probably a third of it that it’s not overwhelming. The last maybe 15 to 20 pages I was looking at, I couldn’t find any language that I objected to. So it’s sporadic. I wouldn’t characterize it as being over the top by any means.”

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