Banned book has been big help to teen girls

December 14, 2005|By LIZ BICKNELL

A bumper sticker on my neighbor's car tells me, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." And I try to be outraged - honest. But I can't get too agitated about the outrage du jour - what teens are reading in the library.

An award-winning young adult novel, The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, written by Carolyn Mackler and published by Candlewick Press, where I am editorial director, was removed recently from the shelves of the Carroll County school libraries by Charles I. Ecker, superintendent of schools.

We all three have the same intention - to improve the lives of kids. We just see this particular situation quite differently.

Ms. Mackler believes, as I do, that you can trust teens to choose books that are right for them. Mr. Ecker thinks kids need to be protected from books that - well, what, exactly? What might a humorous novel about a 15-year-old girl struggling with issues of weight and self-esteem actually lead someone to do? Well, if you ask teen girls - and let's face it, few teen boys will be caught dead reading a book with that title - the book has made them think and take positive action.

Many teens have written to Ms. Mackler, thanking her for writing a book that helped them in their daily lives. One girl states that the book helped her talk to her parents about her encroaching bulimia; another that "reading your book reminded me that it was not just me suffering." And following Mr. Ecker's actions, the teens at Winters Mill High School have raised a petition to restore the book to their library shelves.

Mr. Ecker, by his own admission, had not read the book; he had only skimmed it. This seems frequently to be the case with book bannings - a school administrator or parent has caught a glimpse of a word or a scene that, out of context, has shocked them. But the book's supporters - often teachers or librarians or teens themselves - have read the whole book and know the context.

The teen girls who write to Ms. Mackler don't even mention the aspects of the book (occasional strong language and mild sexuality) that have some grown-ups worked up. In context, those words and scenes provide a realistic, credible backdrop to the central issues of the novel - weight, pressure from family and peers, learning to be yourself.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things connects with readers. Its power lies in its authenticity. That is why readers write to the author with such passion and gratitude. That is why they tell her this book changed their lives.

If you're outraged by this book, you're not paying attention.

Liz Bicknell is the editorial director and associate publisher of Candlewick Press, an independent children's book publisher in Cambridge, Mass. Her e-mail is elizabeth.bricknell@candlewick.com.

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