Banned Books Awareness: “Stuck in the Middle”

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The campaign against freedom doesn’t just limit itself to the literary classics of Shakespeare and Mark Twain. Works of fiction and non-fiction, both traditional and contemporary, are recurrent fodder for the flames. But did you know that even comic books are kindling for the fires of ignorance?

Edited by comics icon Ariel Schrag, a 2007 anthology of illustrated tales about the agonies and triumphs of seventh and eight grade features some of America’s leading graphic novelists including Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt, Lauren Weinstein, and Ariel herself. With humor that is refreshing and bluntly honest, seventeen artists share their stories of first loves, bullies, zits, and all the things that make middle school the most chaotic years of our lives.

On Monday, January 9, 2012, the school board in Dixfield, Maine voted to allow Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age to remain on the library shelf of the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School after a parent objected to what she believed to be distasteful references to sex and offensive language.

Although the board has decided to retain the title, it will be placed in a “professional collection.” Students wishing to read it must show parental permission, a policy based on the recommendation made by a special committee.

Two members of the board voted against the recommendation, stating that the restriction was a form of censorship.

Maida Demers-Dobson stated, “Of all the books available, let’s ban Shakespeare, particularly “Romeo and Juliet,” she said of attempts to ban “Stuck in the Middle.” (*maybe she read my recent article on the famous playwright*)

Superintendent Tom Ward said that in his eight years of running a school district, this was the first time he’d ever seen a book challenged.

The book has also been subject to censorship efforts in South Dakota when two Sioux Falls middle schools pulled Stuck in the Middle from shelves in 2009, with only teachers being granted access to the graphic novel, and not its intended audience- students.

The board accepted the unanimous recommendation of a panel consisting of two teachers, two parents, one administrator, and the school district’s library coordinator.

“Most of the [stories] were just fine, and there was no problem,” commented library coordinator, Ann Smith when citing the language, drug, and sex references in the pages. “There were just a few that we wrestled with and had to determine if they were really age appropriate.”

Schrag understands that parents have the right to choose what their children get to read and watch, “but my intent in editing this book was to help children who might be experiencing some of the things the characters in the book experience- bullying, rejection, acne, depression, etc. – feel less alone. The goal was also to let kids who aren’t experiencing these things, but who might be engaging in some of these negative behaviors (like bullying) read the book and think about how kids who are dealing with these problems might feel.”

Kids may feel stuck in the middle, but parents have their heads stuck in the sand and I have some very disappointing news for them.

Every kid in junior high- yes, even yours- knows most swear words, and they use them daily; whether it be a quip between friends, expressing frustration, or when confronting enemies, the words fill the halls of schools everywhere.

Their bodies are also going through tremendous changes and they are going to start having and exploring sexual feelings. This is biological fact and there are no rose-colored glasses that you can hide behind.

Teens already feel disconnected and alone, but keeping titles under lock and key that could shine a light in the darkness does a great disservice to all involved. Let them discover the books; and, armed with the new-found confidence that they are not in fact a freak or a weirdo, let them summon the courage to confront those demons, whether on their own or with you by their side.

I know full well the emotional impact the junior high years- the so-called wonder years- can have on a developing identity. Those years for me were filled with pain, loneliness, feelings of persecution, and uncertainty. I wish I had a whimsical graphic novel to show me that I wasn’t alone in those experiences. Something to point at and say, “THIS is exactly what I’m going through.” Instead, I am left with memories best left buried, and thoughts of “what if…?”

I wasn’t the first kid to go through this, and if close-minded censors have their way I definitely won’t be the last.

 

For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: American Library Association, Amazon, Wikipedia, Lewiston Sun Journal, Bangor Daily News, School Library Journal
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

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