For Thursday, we have the wonderful Nancy Garden, [whose Annie on My Mind is one of the books we're giving away- just comment to be in the running!] but I’ll let her talk about herself in her own words:

In 1993, 11 years after it was published, my book ANNIE ON MY MIND and a book by Frank Mosca called ALL AMERICAN BOYS were donated (unbeknownst to me) to 42 schools in and around Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri, by a gay organization called Project 21 which seeks to encourage schools to include accurate information about homosexuality in their libraries and curricula. The donation sparked a certain amount of coverage in the press, and a fundamentalist minster burned a copy of ANNIE on the steps of the building housing the Kansas City School Board, which also sparked a certain amount of coverage. At that point, I learned about what was going on and was, naturally, stunned! Some schools returned the donations, which they of course had the right to do; some kept them — and others, upon discovering they’d had copies of ANNIE on their shelves for years, decided to remove them. That, rightly, led to cries of censorship. There were letters to the editor on both sides, discusssions on radio talk shows, and angry school board meetings. Librarians and kids protested the removal vehemently.

The whole business came to a head in Olathe, Kansas, where the librarians and kids were especially upset, persistent, and courageous. When the school board kept refusing to restore the book to the district’s school libraries, the kids decided to sue — and sue they did, in Federal District Court, for violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The American Civil Liberties Union supported the suit, as did the American Library Association. The case finally went to trial in 1995, and the judge ultimately ruled that ANNIE had been “unconstitutionally removed” from the libraries, and ordered it returned. (My partner and I made three trips to Kansas City during the whole affair, and met many wonderful, brave people who were dedicated to the First Amendment. I made speeches, was on talk shows and a panel, and testified at the trial that finally ensued.)

The school board didn’t appeal, and the book was returned to the libraries, but the school board demaded a change in the district’s libraries’ selection policies, and unfortunately since then,has turned down purchases of other gay books for kids, despite continued objections from at least one of the librarians involved in the case.

That’s the situation in a nutshell.

I learned many important things from this experience, but I think the most important one was that many of the people who object to books in schools and school and public libraries are genuinely afraid that books can harm their children. It’s important, I think, for those of us who fight censorship attempts to keep that in mind and instead of letting our anger dictate our words and actions, try instead to persuade would-be censors that books rarely hurt children or teens, and that the world is full of things that frighten and disturb people, and things that one doesn’t agree with or think are bad–and eventually one’s kids will encounter those things. Isn’t it better for kids to have read about those things first and to have had the opportunity to discuss them with their parents and hear their parents’ views about them before they encounter them in real life?

Of course there are other good arguments as well: that parents have the right to control what their old children read, but not what other people’s children read, and that everyone in this country, kids included, has the right to make his or her own own mind up about what to believe–and to do that, one needs to be exposed to a wide range of opinion.
-Nancy Garden