Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!
It’s the 13th day of Tweens Read August, and today, Melanie Conklin is here to talk about censorship in the genre of her debut (which I loved!).
Here’s a little bit about it:
Release Date: April 12th, 2016
When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.
After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.
Description taken from Goodreads.
Censorship in Middle-Grade Lit
Thanks so much for inviting me to join you for Tweens Read August!
Today I’d like to talk about the topic of censorship in middle grade fiction. I know we hear that word, “censorship,” and think, “There must be big, serious stuff coming!” Yes, that’s true—the idea of censorship is polarizing from the get-go, and there is often a lot of debate about what constitutes censorship in the first place.
To me, censorship means suppression. It is the act of judging and repressing as one sees fit. This question of fitness is what divides us—which subjects are fit for young readers? Are there any subjects that are out of bounds? Well, the answer to those questions varies tremendously from individual to individual, because we all live by our own unique moral codes, and there is no single authority to which we all defer.
Sometimes, censorship is visible and painful: authors Kate Messner and Phil Bidner both experienced school visit cancellations based on objections to their work. But censorship is not always so obvious. More often, it is quiet. It is a single, quick decision about whether or not to order a “controversial” book. It is assuming that kids don’t need “sad” books. It is believing that “fluffy” stories aren’t as worthy.
Middle grade readers rarely purchase books for themselves, so their choices are often dictated by the adults in their lives, both at school and at home. My personal philosophy is, “The more books the better!” Let the children choose for themselves.
Because I’m a reader, and I know that I’m not in the mood for every kind of story on every single day. Some days I want fantasy with swords and politics. Other days I want real world kids who will make me weep. Every once in a while, I even like to read thick, literary tomes that take ages to finish. My brain collects these stories like charms on a necklace—each one varied and unique and utterly necessary. I am challenged by the stories I read. They become a part of my story, too. Reading, thinking about, and relating to other peoples’ stories creates truth within me.
When we take away certain kinds of books, we deprive children of experiences that may be crucial to their individual truths. How many times have you read a book and afterwards marveled at what that particular story brought to your life? When you connect with a story, it can feel like it was written for you and you alone. As a child, I often felt this way. I laughed with The Babysitter’s Club, I shouted at Black Beauty’s cruel owner, and I cried my heart out when Old Yeller died.
Did I know ahead of time what books I wanted to read? Not really. Usually, I browsed the shelves at the public library until a cover caught my eye, or I pilfered books from my Dad’s stacks of science fiction and fantasy. Did I read books that were inappropriate for my age? Sometimes. My parents didn’t read most of the books I read, but when I came to them with questions, they were always willing to talk about whatever I’d encountered. I felt great freedom as a reader, but also great security because the adults in my life supported my choices.
In that way, censorship comes down to trust. Can you trust a child to choose an appropriate read? Yes, if they’ve been given the tools to make that choice. Sure, they’ll make mistakes, but children are quick to adjust. They’re good at self-guidance.
I think that oftentimes, it’s we adults who struggle with the ever-changing world. We encounter something new, and we’re afraid. We want to protect young readers from harsh realities, when in fact we may not know the realities of their lives to begin with. The very book we question may be the story that child has been waiting for.
Choice is essential. As is trust. Give young readers choices, and trust that they will find their way.
About the Author
Melanie Conklin is a writer, reader, and life-long lover of books and those who create them. She lives in South Orange, New Jersey with her husband and two small maniacs. Counting Thyme (Penguin, April 2016) is her debut middle grade novel.
Thanks to Melanie for being a part of Tweens Read August! This is a topic I’ve touched upon on a few different occasions, and it’s really important to me. I’m glad Melanie talked about it, and she had some very valid points. You can find her and Counting Thyme at the links below! The author being featured tomorrow is Tricia Clasen.