March 13, 2014
by Katharine Blair
Today on Twitter author John Green noted that a group of parents in Colorado is petitioning to block a new book list proposed for students in an elective in young adult literature. The text of the petition appears below:
In recent consultations John’s novels (Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns) have been singled out for particular scrutiny. For my longer response to the school board scroll down. For my two cents: Looking for Alaska contains one of the most truthfully awkward and sad sexual encounters I have ever read. My teenage self cringed and laughed and cried when I read it. If this passes for pornographic, we are in a whole lot of trouble.
Now, my letter:
Stasburg High School
56729 East Colorado Avenue
To the School Board,
I am writing this letter in support of the book list compiled for the elective Young Adult Literature class at Strasburg High School. As a parent of four children aged two to eleven I determined early on that one of the greatest gifts I could give my children was a love of reading and have tried, along with my husband, to do just that. Beginning with reading to them as babes in arms we have shared all the books we loved as kids and worked with local librarians and book store owners to expose them to the wonders of language. As toddlers they progressed to picture books then gradually to novels read aloud as a family and eventually on their own.
I now have two proficient readers and another just around the corner. The eldest is eleven this year and as such is just entering into what may prove to be the most confusing and defining part of her life, adolescence. As a true bookworm this child has spent most of the last few years exploring the lives of kids like her and, most importantly, those a little older than her through the worlds of Percy Jackson and the Divergent trilogy and countless others. I did the same at her age.
Books were a place to get answers. To find out what other kids were feeling and thinking and doing when I didn’t feel I could ask. I read about sex and dating and drugs. I read about divorce and racism and diversity. I read about illness and death. When my home was mired in violence I reached out through books into the homes of others who knew my pain and of those whose lives seemed almost aspirational from where I sat. When it seemed like sex was the answer to making friends and keeping up with my peers, books reminded me that there is more than one path to friendship. Books were my lifeline to who I was and who I wanted to be.
I have never censored the books my children read. Why would I? We have honest and open conversations about our reading and our lives. I read a great book and pass it along, they do the same. They have their own library cards and are encouraged to use them. I ask ‘what are you reading?’ and they usually answer.
When I find a book shuffled into a stack when I come in or hidden between the mattress and the frame I know that they are doing what I did. Reading for answers. Reading for exposure and knowledge and fun. I might take note of the title or see what they think they want to hide but rarely is it salacious. We talk about sex at our house. And love and death and pain. We are their parents after all. It is our job to guide them as best as we can through these muddy waters and out the other side.
Of all the proposed books on the reading list there are only a couple that I don’t already have on our family bookshelves in hopes that one of the kids might come to them when the time is right. The missing ones are only missing because I have not encountered them yet. Each of these books provide a world, a context, a foothold for a young person to grab onto in their journey towards their best self. Any of us should be pleased to have such great writers and storytellers looking out for the hearts and minds of our children.
Thank you to the teacher who compiled this list and looks to offer this course, I would have loved to have taken it, and thank you to the School Board for considering my opinion.
Complete proposed book list:
Young Adult Fiction Elective Course (grades 10-12) Book List:
- Feed by M.T. Anderson
- Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
- Delirium by Lauren Oliver
- Uglies by Scott Westerfield
- Taken by Erin Bowman
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- Will Grayson, will grayson by John Green and David Levithan
- Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
- 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
- Paper Towns by John Green
- If I Stay by Gayle Forman
- Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis