Queen of Everything: Essay
Sex, Swearing, and Banned Books
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
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
1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz