Win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack!

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Update: This contest is from the original book challenge in 2010, not the ban in 2011. The prizes have been awarded and the contest is now closed. Feel free to comment, though!

The outpouring of support from the book loving community over the Wesley Scroggins Crazytrain Manifesto has been amazing, especially through the #SpeakLoudly Twitter campaign. As a gesture of thanks to Dr. Scroggins for reminding me and thousands of others about the awesomeness of challenged books, I’m giving away two Filthy Books Prize Packs, containing one copy of each of his challenged “filthy, immoral” books, including:

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by the masterful Kurt Vonnegut,
SPEAK by trailblazer Laurie Halse Anderson, and
TWENTY BOY SUMMER by yours truly!

I’m going to add some dark chocolate, too. Because it’s dangerous and naughty and it goes great with banned books!

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling us what you’re doing to #SpeakLoudly against censorship. Next Friday, I’ll randomly select 2 winners from the entries.

On Book Banning Zealots & Ostriches

UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and awesomeness, especially on the #SpeakLoudly Twitter thread! Keep reading and keep speaking loudly against book banning!

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Most of you know I’m getting pretty riled up about this whole censorship thing. There was the Ellen Hopkins un-invite from the Humble Texas book event. The Stockton, MO banning of Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. Then the news that TWENTY BOY SUMMER was being challenged in a Missouri school library because one parent thought the title was “promiscuous.”

One parent’s challenge of TBS isn’t a big deal, really. But it speaks to the larger issues of censorship that I talked about last week, and that’s why I was so upset.

But then I got an update on the “minor” TBS situation, and it’s actually much worse than I thought.

Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a fundamentalist Christian and parent in Republic, MO, has issued a 29-page missive to the Republic school board calling for the removal of TBS, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, and most shocking of all — Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK — a book about the date rape of a teen girl which Scroggins calls “soft pornography.” Not surprisingly, he’s also fighting to kill the sex ed curriculum, removing any pamphlets that discuss HIV or condoms and disallowing teachers to talk about reproduction and sex, stating that “…children at the middle school are being introduced to concepts such as homosexuality, oral sex, anal sex and specific instructions on how to use a condom and have sex.” Note that in Republic, kids (or their parents) can opt out of the sex ed curriculum, which is abstinence-based, but that’s not good enough for Scroggins. Apparently he doesn’t want anyone unmarried and under the age of 25 to know about “female parts.”

You all know how I feel about the head in the sand mentality, right? Because I’m sure us girls never even knew we had vaginas (yes, Dr. Scroggins, it’s called a vagina) until we took sex ed and learned “how to use a condom and have sex.”

*rolls eyes*

Sex and girl parts aside, he’s also got a problem with the school’s teaching of the Constitution and lots of history and science books that teach anything other than the strictest Christian interpretation of those subjects.

In his whackadoo-from-the-zoo article, “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” he says this about TWENTY BOY SUMMER:

This book glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex. I confronted the school board with these issues at the June school board meeting. As far as I know, nothing has been done to address these issues to date. This is unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian. How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality? Parents, it is time you get involved!

I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending my book other than to say what those who’ve read it already know — despite its lighthearted title, TBS is not about parties and sex. It’s about two girls struggling in the aftermath of a major tragedy, with grieving parents and unfamiliar situations and secrets that threaten to kill their friendship. It’s a scary world for them, and my job as a writer is to tell their story honestly, without judgment. And I know I’ve done my job because I hear from teens who’ve experienced devastating loss, and they tell me how much the book meant to them or how they could relate to the characters more than they can relate to their own friends somtimes. One email like that is all I needed to know that I did what I set out to do.

But here’s the thing that really gets me about Scoggins’ comments: When he says, “Parents, it is time you get involved,” he’s not really asking parents to get involved in what might actually be a good discussion and healthy debate. Truly asking for parental involvement would mean encouraging parents to read the books in question, discuss issues and themes with their kids, and come to their own decisions about what’s best for their own families. Scroggins is just calling people out, bating them with accusations of being immoral or “unchristian,” looking for a few good upstanding parents to join his lynch mob.

(And another kick in the ass? According to comments on the article [still trying to find out the source and confirm — anyone know?], his own children are home schooled. If that’s true, this guy is just stirring up shit for other people’s kids, all under the banner of his version of Jesus.)

So we’re back to the whole issue of what censorship teaches our kids, and it’s not something I’m willing to stand for.

If you’re riled up about this to, here’s how you can get involved:

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]- Retweet this post by clicking the retweet button to the right
– Blog about your thoughts and reaction
– Join the #SpeakLoudly thread on Twitter
– Voice your opinion on Scroggins’ original article here
– Write a letter to the editor of Springfield’s News-Leader
– Write to the administrators in the Republic school district

You can also check out Laurie Halse Anderson’s response to the nonsense here: This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography

And don’t forget to enter to win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack now through Friday, September 24!

Thanks everyone for your support!

What Censorship Teaches Kids

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]There are lots of ways censorship sinks its teeth into the YA community. My favorite tell-it-like-it-is author and poet Ellen Hopkins was recently uninvited from a teen book festival in Humble, TX because a parent objected to the content of her books (and apparently to Ellen as a person). Conversely, TWENTY BOY SUMMER was just challenged (and possibly pulled — still waiting for more details) in a high school library not because someone objected to the content, but because “the title sounds promiscuous.” Last summer, sections of Sarah Dessen’s ALONG FOR THE RIDE were taken out of context and “dinged” by a consumer media group linked from the Barnes & Noble site for “mature content” that wasn’t mature content at all. And I can’t quite figure out why Sherman Alexie’s beautiful, honest, funny, heartbreaking book THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN was yanked off the shelves in Stockton, Missouri high schools. Because of jokes about masturbation and a few curse words? Because of its unflinching look at racism and classism in a culture whose very existence much of white America would rather stereotype or not acknowledge at all?

*Scratches head.*

Often times the self-proclaimed concerned parents and teachers who initiate book challenges, bans, and other forms of censorship mistakenly believe that they’re protecting children from exposure to something dangerous or harmful, as if the words themselves could “inspire” kids to try meth or commit suicide or sleep around. I mean, I grew up watching movies like COMMANDO and I never had the urge to kidnap Alyssa Milano or gun down a bunch of ex-army henchman (though I’m known to use the phrase “Let off some steam, Bennett!” at the most inappropriate times, if we’re being honest…*cough*), but that’s just me.

I guess today’s “concerned parents” must imagine conversations like this:

  • Innocent teen girl #1: “Oh girl, my mom let me read TWENTY BOY SUMMER last night. I think she’s telling me that I should go have sex with twenty guys! I wasn’t planning on it, but once I saw that title, my plans changed! Bow-chica-wow-wow!”
  • Innocent teen girl #2: “Aw hell yeah! You should definitely do it! My school librarian gave me a copy of CRANK by Ellen Hopkins. Thanks to the inside look the book gave me, the next time someone offers me some, I’m totally sniffin’ that shit.”
  • Innocent teen boy: “I’ll catch up with you two later. I’m gonna go, um, investigate this hip new ‘jerking off’ stuff I read about — see what all the hype is.”

*Scratches head again.*

I find the whole idea of book banning presumptuous and despicable, but that and all jokes aside, there is a real danger here, and it’s not from the books.

The most dangerous, harmful part of this whole issue is the messages the act of censorship sends kids about the right ways to live and stand up for the things we believe in.

Messages like:

  1. It’s okay to judge things on appearances / without all the facts.
  2. If you disagree with someone, you can get a bunch of people on your side to yell real loud, make threats, and force them to shut up.
  3. It’s best to run away from stuff that you don’t understand and ignore or cover up things that make you uncomfortable.
  4. When you have a question, fear, or curiosity about a potentially scary or heavy issue like sex, drugs, violence, God, or sexuality, you should probably just experiment for yourself and/or ask a total stranger about it. By the way, if you’ve already started experimenting, we’d rather not know about it.
  5. You have the right and/or moral obligation to make decisions for other people and their families based on your own values, assumptions, and beliefs. Everyone should think and behave like you, and if they don’t, well, see #2.

Okay, we’re just talking about books here, right? Wrong. Censoring books is censoring ideas, values, art, diversity, stories, people, freedom. It’s saying that there’s a right way and a wrong way, and that one person or group has figured out the right way while the rest of us must either conform or die. It’s paving the way for the truly heinous, deadly ideas.

Ideas like:

  1. It’s okay to exterminate an entire race/culture/ethnic group/religious group/”undesirable” in favor of a Master Race.
  2. It’s okay to bully kids in your class until they commit suicide.
  3. It’s okay to enslave and brutally torture people who are a different color than you.
  4. It’s okay to crash airplanes into buildings.

If grownups really want to protect children from the dangers of the world to which they’ll undoubtedly be exposed (and most likely already have been exposed, long before adults hear about it in a book), what’s wrong with starting a conversation? Why not make it a point to learn about the issue and have a discussion (not lecture) with your kids? If the direct approach doesn’t work for you, why not read the book for yourself and encourage your child to do the same, then talk about your values (and what you hope your teens will learn) through the perspective of the characters’ choices and attitudes?

And for the love of chocolate covered espresso beans, if you still don’t want to even mention words like sex, drugs, and suicide to your own kids, at least have the decency to let other parents make their own decisions about how they want to approach or avoid the subjects!

Whether it’s a young adult novel or the Qu’ran, books themselves should not be feared. People who think they can infringe on the freedoms of others should be feared. People who think they have the right or obligation to censor, destroy, and control ideas should be feared.

(People who don’t like 80s movies featuring the governor of California should also be feared, but we can cover that in a future discussion.)

On that note, go out and read a banned book. And if you hate books and you don’t want to expose yourself to the so-called dangers that lurk within their pages, there’s a free and simple solution that I’ll offer you now, for a limited time only, while supplies last…

Don’t read them.

For Ellen Hopkins

[tweetmeme source=”sarahockler” only_single=false]Dear Ellen:

I love your books. I need your books. Teens need your books. And the kinds of teens who most desperately need your books are the kind that don’t have the “luxury” of “concerned parents” deciding what they should and shouldn’t read.

And here’s what I think of the situation in Humble, Texas:

Don't mess with Ellen Hopkins

Amazon Fails with Gay “Book Burning” B.S.

Monster-sized online book retailer is “burning” books, stripping from sales rankings and search results books featuring homosexual characters and themes, feminism, help for rape and suicide prevention, and any other books with content Amazon now deems “adult.” Even books written specifically for or about young adults and children — including kids’ picture books — aren’t immune from AMAZONFAIL!

Since when does gay automatically = adult content? Since never, in my book, but thanks to Amazonfail, about two days ago.

From affected author Mark R. Probst’s LiveJournal:

On two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book “The Filly.” There was buzz, What’s going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books? Is it just a major glitch in the system? Many of us decided to write to Amazon questioning why our rankings had disappeared. Most received evasive replies from customer service reps not versed in what was happening. As I am a publisher and have an Amazon Advantage account through which I supply Amazon with my books, I had a special way to contact them. 24 hours later I had a response:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,
Ashlyn D
Member Services Advantage

As Mark points out in his post, Amazon de-listed and de-ranked his books featuring gay content on the grounds of being “adult,” but the ever-popular hardcover, “Playboy: Complete Centerfolds,” is still ranked.

Seriously, Jeff Bezos? Are you kidding me?! What century is this, anyway?

Check out Jezebel’s take and the open letter to Jeff Bezos at Publishing Talk. And in case there’s any doubt as to how quickly this is spreading, here: #amazonfail on Twitter.

As a result of this utterly craptastic homophobic censorship B.S., I’ve removed all of Twenty Boy Summer’s Amazon links and replaced them with links to and Indiebound and hope that other authors will continue to do the same (many already have!), and that readers will direct all online book purchases away from

You know, I’ve been Amazon customer since the mid-1990s, back when they used to send me free coffee mugs just for being loyal. Now? I’m just disgusted. Keep your coffee mug, Jeff. You fail! Take this!