Queen of Everything: Essay « Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti

Queen of Everything: Essay

Sex, Swearing, and Banned Books
(And for your additional viewing pleasure, an article about parents in an uproar over The Queen of Everything and other titles, plus the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000)

I recently heard from an ACLU report that The Queen Of Everything was banned in a Texas school. Wow – I was honored. After all, it meant I would be joining the ranks of some amazing writers who’ve had books banned. Shakespeare and Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and Maya Angelou, Arthur Miller and James Joyce. Dr. Doolittle has been banned, and Little Red Riding Hood and even the Bible (must have been due to all that “begetting” going on).

This year, the wonderful Judy Blume was on the Banned Books list (again), as was Maurice Sendak and J.K. Rowling. A Rugrats book (Rugrats Stormy Weather) was considered objectionable by parents, due to the use of the word “stupid.” A book called “The Mystery Of Pirate Ghost,” a ‘whodunit’ early reader, was also considered objectionable – the pictures showed pirates engaged in cigar smoking, pipe smoking, and beer drinking. “Taking Care Of Your Dog” was cited, due to the fact that it used “bitch” to refer to a female dog. To quote the Rugrats, that’s just stupid.

The Queen of Everything was cited for sexual situations and profanity. The book has made people upset before (see article, below). In regard to swearing, it always surprises me how much focus this gets. If you walk down any school hall, you’ll hear all the usual old swear words, plus a few, new inventive ones. I’m sure you’ve all heard them before. I find the subject of swearing is a little odd, anyway. It’s okay to call a donkey an ass, but not a person. Hell as a place is all right, but not as an exclamation. Bitch and bastard are fine as definitions but not when said in a loud voice or nastily under your breath. Same words, same spelling, different reaction. One of those things aliens visiting from other planets would find utterly wacky and confusing.

I don’t have swearing in my books to get people all excited, though. As I’ve said before, I am a writer, and my primary job is to create a realistic world with realistic characters, not a perfect world with perfect characters. Some people swear. Some people don’t. Some do on occasion. So that is the reality in my books, too. Some relationships lead to sex, sometimes for the wrong reasons, sometimes for okay reasons, sometimes they don’t lead to sex at all. That’s real life, and so it is in my books. If I were your mother (I’m sure I’d love to have you all as sons or daughters, but college would get a little expensive), I’d tell you not to have sex until you’re older for a gajillion reasons – disease, pregnancy, the risk of putting too much of your heart where it’s likely to get broken, etc., etc. If I were your mother, I would tell you that saying “fuck” won’t land you in hell, but saying it too much will make you look like you’ve got a limited vocabulary. But my job is not to mother you or preach to you but to write for you. Which is a good thing because I would look (to quote the wise Rugrats again) stupid in one of those collars that priests wear with the little white squares.

Books are information, ideas, and they are open doors. They provide empathy at hours you would never call a friend or family member, and they broaden our own ability to be compassionate human beings through shared “experience.” Censorship limits information, tell you what to think, closes doors. It is judgmental, always, limits our ability to be compassionate by teaching righteousness. Nothing I could write would be as shocking and offensive as censorship itself. Censorship is a hand against your mouth, your hands tied behind your back, a blindfold over your eyes. It’s oppression and control, and were it not done by people in suit jackets, it would be called an act of violence.

If you’re interested in reading more about banned books and censorship, check out these sites:

American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/basics/Default2272.htm

American Booksellers Association For Free Speech: http://www.abffe.com/

The ACLU Free Speech page: http://www.aclu.org/FreeSpeech/FreeSpeechMain.cfm

Summer reading lists alarm Metz parents

Amanda Stewart
Potomac News
Thursday, August 25, 2005

Summer reading assignments are designed to keep kids thinking over the summer break.

But some parents are worried about what Grace E. Metz Middle School’s summer reading assignments could have their kids thinking.

Some books recommended for seventh and eighth graders were not “age-appropriate,” parents said at a Manassas City School Board work session Tuesday night.

Those books included suicide scenes, sexual innuendo and bad language, said Joan McIvor, who attended the meeting with her husband, Brian. The McIvors have a 12-year-old daughter at Metz.

“We used to have trust in Metz,” Joan McIvor said Tuesday night. “So we were shocked to see the approved Metz reading list.”

This year, sixth-grade students were asked to read one assigned book and choose a second from a school-suggested list of 81 books.

Students in the seventh and eighth grades were told to choose two books from a separate list of 39 books.

“I don’t like censorship, but some of those books just should not be on the list,” said parent Chris Clark.

Earlier this month, teachers and administrators at Metz began to receive complaints from parents about the books, Metz principal Melissa Saunders said.

“Several parents voiced concerns regarding the reading selections. We had staff review the books and they thought that some of the books were inappropriate,” she said.

The lists included books recommended by the Virginia State Reading Association and the International Reading Association, Saunders said.

Among the books parents objected to was “The Queen of Everything” by Deb Caletti. That books is about a “high school junior who has a fairly typical life until her father becomes involved with a married woman and then kills the woman’s husband,” according to the International Reading Association summary.

“I would be appalled as a parent if my child was reading some of those books,” said School Board member Scott M. Albrecht.

Other School Board members said Metz staff should have read all of the books before they were included on the list.

“The first people who read these books, with explicit sex scenes, were the children,” said School Board member Patrick D. Linehan.

“These children are young and impressionable. This is not the time to experiment,” School Board member Curtis W. Wunderly agreed.

In future years, a committee made up of teachers, administrators and parents will read all of the books and make the list, Saunders said.

The books may also have to be approved by the School Board or the superintendent.

At the meeting, the School Board directed the Superintendent of Manassas City Schools, Chip Zullinger, to develop a policy for approving summer reading lists.

“We approve textbooks, but we’ve never seen summer reading lists before they go out. Perhaps this is evidence that we should,” School Board Chairman Arthur P. Bushnell said. “This is a whole new area we’ve not been involved in.”

Future lists will also include more classic literature, Saunders said.

For this year, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Metz can read any two books they want, with parental permission, Saunders said.

The students will only be required to complete written assignments. There will be no oral presentations or class discussions.

Metz administrators also plan to write a letter to the International Reading Association about the inappropriate books on their list, Saunders said.

“We want to share our concerns with them and make our voices heard,” Saunders said.

The summer reading program was started at Metz last year, Saunders said. Last year, all students read the same book. But this year, the school decided to give students more choice, she said.

Zullinger will present the School Board with a proposed summer reading policy at their Nov. 15 meeting.

The Metz summer reading list can be found on the school’s Web site at http://www.manassas.k12.va.us/metz.

100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000
-American Library Association. 2005.

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
19. Sex by Madonna
20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
30. The Goats by Brock Cole
31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
32. Blubber by Judy Blume
33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
46. Deenie by Judy Blume
47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
65. Fade by Robert Cormier
66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
71. Native Son by Richard Wright
72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
74. Jack by A.M. Homes
75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
77. Carrie by Stephen King
78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
87. Private Parts by Howard Stern
88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis
94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier