Today we have a guest post from YA author Mike Mullin, whose debut, "Ashfall", will be released on October 11th (my review will be up on Oct. 10th). Mike’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really hoping this writing thing works out.
Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife and her three cats. ASHFALL is his first novel.
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The Censorship Game
On the 28th of August, I spoke at the Children and Young People’s Division of the Indiana Library Federation (CYPD). My topic: How Censorship Hurts Kids.
Since I don’t particularly love the sound of my own voice (and always suspect my audience doesn’t either), I decided to design a game that I’m creatively calling The Censorship Game. Every librarian got a card assigning a role as they came in the door. The cards sorted them into three broad categories: librarians, kids who were struggling with various issues, and censors. All the librarians got a few books with their cards. The books were almost all titles that have been banned or challenged—titles that deal with homosexuality, suicide, rape, and abuse. Titles that an unfortunately large group of children desperately need. The idea was for all the participants to mingle, talk to each other, and exchange books.
It worked out fairly well. Next time I run the game I’ll explain it a little better and plant a ringer in the audience to get the game off to a fast start. Once they got going, though, the librarians really got into it. There were dozens of book discussions going on at once as the players bartered over the books they had, needed, or wanted to take off the shelves.
To make it more interesting, I created two types of librarian roles. Type 1 had an established selection and reconsideration policy in place and therefore was allowed to refuse to remove a book from the shelves. Type 2 had no selection or reconsideration policy in place, and had to surrender their books immediately in response to any challenge.
Both types of librarians were about equally effective at distributing books. In the 15 minutes we played the game, the two groups distributed an average of 2.3 and 2.6 books respectively. As you might expect, the group with a selection policy did substantially better in resisting the efforts of censors. The librarians with a selection policy had an average of 0.8 books banned, while the ones without a policy lost 1.4 books on average.
The other interesting thing I noticed about the game is what kind of “kids” had trouble obtaining books. The librarians roleplaying gay teens had no problems at all, probably because Alex Sanchez was speaking at the conference, and I had a lot of his books on hand. In fact, none of those roleplaying teens had much trouble getting books—it was the few librarians I’d asked to roleplay younger kids who couldn’t find the books they needed. Perhaps the selection of books I supplied was at fault, but I think it reflects a deeper problem. Edgy books for teens have become generally accepted, but it’s much rarer to see difficult subjects tackled in works for younger children.
Do younger children need edgy literature, you might ask. I wish they didn’t. But the sad fact is that many of the difficult topics tackled by courageous YA authors are equally a problem for younger children. Child abuse is not confined to teens. Sexual abuse in particular is more common among 8-12 year-olds than among teens. But brilliant works like Lyga’s Boy Toy or Rainfield’s Scars have no analogue I’m aware of for the middle grade set.
Overall, I’d say my censorship game was an interesting experience, both for me and the participants. I’ll post the materials I created for the game on my website—feel free to download it and try playing it at your library or school. And thank you Bea for inviting me to guest post at your banned book week celebration!