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Jun. 14th, 2009

Recommended book: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
A fantastic book, worthy of the Booker Prize. Read it.

View all my reviews.

May. 4th, 2009

West Bend, WI Library Board Members Dismissed for Doing Their Job

(I previously posted this piece on the AsIf! blog. As If! stands for Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom. -DD)

Publisher's Weekly reported recently that "four members of a library board in West Bend, Wis., were dismissed last week for refusing to remove controversial books from the library's young adult section..." (read the entire PW article at this site.)

I wish the PW writer had put it like this: "Four members of a library board in West Bend, Wis., were dismissed for doing their jobs responsibly and acting in accordance with constitutional principles and laws regarding free speech."

A number of organizations-the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center-all criticized the dismissals, which is terrific, but perhaps the alternative phrasing I offered might have prompted a broader swath of people to protest.

The language we use to talk about censorship issues must be accurate and specific. Otherwise, we engage in conversations based on terms so vague as to be almost meaningless, making it nearly impossible for people with opposing points of view to understand each other.

Also from the PW article: "[Two library] patrons accused the library of promoting "the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda in our community" and demanded that the library add books "affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives." After reading this, I found myself scratching my head. If Brent Hartinger's GEOGRAPHY CLUB, Stephan Chbosky's THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, and Esther Drill's DEAL WITH IT! A WHOLE NEW APPROACH TO YOUR BODY, BRAIN, AND LIVE AS A gURL are pushing "a gay agenda," does that mean books addressing themes about heterosexual sexuality are promoting a hetero agenda?

What exactly do the accusing patrons mean when they say "gay agenda"? My understanding of the term "gay agenda" is that it has to do with ensuring that all homosexual people have equal rights under the law. Do the two patrons think that's a bad thing? Or--as I suspect--do the two patrons see the gay agenda as something insidious and threatening-such as that books addressing homosexuality will make everyone who reads them gay? Or maybe those patrons fear a gay agenda promoting tolerance of homosexual people in all settings--in churches, schools, etc. I'm still speculating here; I have no idea exactly what "gay agenda" means to the folks who initiated the book removals. But I find myself wondering, if tolerating gay people and gay-themed books is the problem, just why is tolerating them so...intolerable? I don't understand. I thought tolerance of differences among people was a good and desirable and even honorable thing.

The two patrons who initially complained back in February about the West Bend library's YA collection including books about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues also demanded that the library add books "affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives." Considering that public library collections everywhere, including, I assume, West Bend's, already contain a majority of books in which the romantic and sexual interactions take place between people of opposite genders, I'm not sure what sorts of books these disgruntled patrons would like to add. It would be interesting to know. Specifically.

I wish everyone engaged in conversations about censorship and book removal would define their terms and points of view with great specificity. It's my hope--perhaps naïve, but still--that if we examine what we're really wanting and get specific about what we really object to-or fear-we might have a very different sort of conversation, a more productive sort. And we might have more people willing to stand up to improper librarian dismissals and book removals as well as violations of the First Amendment.

Which, from the point of view of those of us at As If!, would be a good thing.

Sep. 7th, 2008

Does Sarah Palin believe in The First Amendment?

(Previously posted at

From The New York Times:

"Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Anne Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. 'They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,' Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to 'resist all efforts at censorship,' Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were 'rhetorical.'"

(Full article at

And from The Boston Herald:

"Palin told the Daily News back then the letters were just a test of loyalty as she took on the mayor’s job, which she’d won from three-term mayor John Stein in a hard-fought election."


The reports surfacing online and in print media about Governor Sarah Palin’s actions while acting as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, 12 years ago led me to consider other, possibly pertinent revelations about the new Republican Party vice presidential candidate. For instance, she is a strong supporter of abstinence-only education and is opposed to comprehensive sex education in schools, despite numerous studies proving the ineffectiveness of the former compared with the latter. As Vice President of the U.S., would Ms. Palin work not only to continue to block funding for comprehensive sex education programs, as our current administration does, but also attempt to remove sex education literature from public schools and libraries?

We don’t know which books Ms. Palin had in mind when she asked Ms. Emmons to consider removing some from Wasilla’s library. We do know, however, that Ms. Palin doesn’t believe global warming is the result of human activity. Would she try to have books on global warming purged from our nation’s libraries?

In her speech on September 3rd at the Republican National Convention, Ms. Palin belittled Senator Obama’s work as a community organizer in South Chicago. Would she then, if she becomes our nation’s V.P., attempt to remove from all libraries any tomes that describe the historic movements that have changed our world—for the better, I think she’d agree—movements that owe their roots, their momentum, and much of their ultimate success to community organizing efforts? I’m talking about the labor movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, and the one that allows Ms. Palin to be where she is today, the women’s movement, with suffrage at the top of its agenda.

Ms. Palin said she attempted to fire Ms. Emmons to test the librarian’s loyalty—to Ms. Palin, I presume. If Ms. Palin becomes our next presidential Vice President, I hope that in the realm of public libraries and their collections, she remembers where her own loyalties should lie: with our Constitution’s First Amendment, and with the policies and guidelines of the American Library Association.

Jun. 4th, 2008

The "P" Word

I have a new best friend—BF—a hefty, black, carbon and metal hinged brace with five Velcro straps. It enables me to walk more than half a mile without experiencing disabling pain and numbing sensations in my injured leg. I call it BF because it provides lots of support yet requires that I contribute significant effort myself.

My new BF allows me to descend hills walking forwards instead of backwards. It gave me just enough confidence and knee stability to dance at my husband Dwight’s 50th birthday party last weekend. There I was, a medium-sized woman with a massive brace, a skyscraper of a brace, a brace that looks like it could leap over tall buildings in a single bound—and would, were it not strapped to my knee—dancing like a mad fool to songs from each of the past 50 years.

That made me really happy. Even though I had to dance to a little disco. ("Disco Inferno", if you have to know. Those darn 70s.)

Also making me happy: my India novel (working title, LINA) is progressing well. A while back my editor sent me seven pages of questions regarding the first draft. This month I’ve been adding and attempting to answer questions of my own: What’s more important, Lina’s romantic relationship with D or the new friendship with M? How does M, an Indian Muslim young woman, truly feel about her parents’ plans to arrange a marriage for her? Do she and Lina ever discuss Lina’s sexual relationships with boys? Would Lina tell a girl who is brought up to believe that sex before marriage destroys a girl—destroys her character, her prospects for marriage and a good life—that she has been sexually active? Do Lina’s attempts to help her Indian friend really help at all, or do they hurt? Can these girls truly be friends? What binds them to each other?

I’ve continued to be like a bull pawing at the earth before charging, or the gardener obsessed with soil preparation before planting, or the cook who chops and dices and lays out every possible ingredient before beginning to assemble them all. (Go ahead: pick the analogy you like best.) I’ve lost my impatience to finish Lina’s story. I seem to have lost my impatience with nearly everything. Chalk it up to the enforced slow pace of a three-months’ injured girl (I know, I don’t look like a girl, but I often still feel like one). What’s the hurry? Hurrying got me a nasty, bunged-up knee. And hurrying never finished a novel—at least none I’ve ever written. Patience though—the kind needed for doing groundwork or a thousand leg lifts, tilling the soil or digging for truths—I know from experience that it's vital. And when I forget, my wiggly knee and my elusive novel-in-progress are quick to remind me.

I have this going as well: a healthy dose of fear. This India novel intimidates me. I’ve never felt so daunted by a writing project in my life—not when writing about AIDS, not when writing about teen mothers. The issues at stake here—Indian and Muslim cultures, Eastern conservative values versus Western liberal ones, teen sexuality, arranged marriage, voiceless women (are they really?), so-called do-gooders and so-called victims, brown skin versus white, privileges of the wealthy—jeesh! What have I taken on?

At Dwight’s party, our friend Keith, who has spent a great deal of time in India and works for the University of Washington’s South Asia Studies department, offered me a steady gaze and encouraging words to this effect: “Your project is really important, Deb. It will help a lot of people.”

“How?” I replied.

“For one thing, I’ll be able to recommend it when I’m asked, ‘What can I give my teenager to read to learn about India and Muslims?’ ” Then he offered to help in any way he can.

Lina’s story is tangled up inside me. People like Keith, my editor, and my critique group friends boost my confidence while I unravel that story, one knot at a time. Theirs are bracing words, allowing me to walk further—and forwards—with Lina’s story.

(To return to the June/July issue of First Monday, my newsletter, you'll have to go back to your email inbox, to the newsletter itself. --DD)

May. 5th, 2008

Back from India

In January I spent ten days in a small town in rural South India, bracketed at each end by several days in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras). Chennai—with over four million residents—is everything one typically expects in a huge, Indian city: it’s crowded, hot, polluted, and congested with exhaust-spewing vehicles. I saw families camped out on sidewalks, women washing clothes in a garbage-choked river, school children walking barefoot on dusty asphalt roads. I crisscrossed the city numerous times by taxi, interviewing women who assist victims of domestic violence and advocate changes in laws affecting women. Each night I returned to my posh, gated, air-conditioned hotel with a combination of relief and sorrow.

It’s the heart of my journey—ten days in a small town called Kuppam—that I most want to tell you about. I stayed with friends, a Muslim family I met six years ago when I lived for four months in that town in 2002, across the street from my friends. This family consists of two parents, four daughters, and a son. The daughters are 23, 22, 18, and 16 years of age. The son is 21. I’ll call the girls, respectively, Tara, Mysha, Varisha, and Tayma. Their brother I’ll call Zakir, and their mother and father, Zerina and Aalim.

I could write a book about those ten days in Kuppam—I am, of course, in the process of writing a novel inspired by that place and the people in it—but here I will give you snippets. Mysha, the second daughter, described to me how her older sister Tara went to bed for five days after her wedding was cancelled and wouldn’t eat. Tara showed me her passport—the one she’d gotten when she thought she’d be traveling to Dubai with her new husband, who works there—and then she hid it when her father walked into the house. He wants to destroy it now that the marriage is off, she told me, but she harbors dreams of using it someday, somehow. Varisha plans to take out a loan to finish her degree in software engineering at Kuppam Engineering College. Her mother, Zerina, has paid out of her $75 per month teaching salary for the oldest girls to attend teacher training college and for the two youngest to begin their college studies. Later this year, however, she will face compulsory retirement. Zerina—the third daughter—wants to work in the U.S. Of the four daughters, she seems most likely to be able to achieve her dreams. She is the only one I saw leave the house without a burqa—though only to walk around the corner for baji, batter-coated, deep-fried banana slices, or to buy something at a nearby store. To cross town, she veiled herself from head to ankle in black, just like her mother and sisters. She pinned a black cloth across her face, leaving only her lower forehead and eyes exposed.

One evening during my stay, a new potential bridegroom’s family came to visit, to see if they wanted to offer a marriage proposal—to check Tara out. At 5:30 pm Tara dressed in a bright pink sari embroidered with sparkling silver sequins and crystal beads. Her father told her to change into a different sari, one he had bought for her, also pink but not as flattering to her coloring, in my opinion. She obeyed. She oiled and braided her hair, applied kohl to her eyes, powdered her face. Then she sat and cried with me. She didn’t want to meet this family. They live just an hour away, in a small city that holds nothing of interest to her. She dreams of living in Bangalore or another large city overseas. Something vastly different than her own small town of 20,000.

Waiting for our guests, Tara, her mother and sisters, and I crammed ourselves into a tiny back room nearly filled already by a double bed—a bed frame, a hard platform, and a woven reed mat. We watched a film on television, one of those love stories that somehow ends up as an arranged, parent-approved marriage. I’d put on my best salwaar kameez, my best earrings. The girls’ father had asked me—through the girls, as he doesn’t speak English—to present Tara to the visitors. Mysha showed me how to stand behind Tara, guiding her with my hands on her shoulders.

It was eight-thirty before we heard the guests arrive. Tayma and Varisha slipped silently through the curtain separating our part of the house from the living room, their heads covered by their shawls, serving figs and snacks and tea to the guests. Tara hadn’t moved from her slumped position beside me for over two hours. As the two of us rose to go into the other room, Zerina asked me to tell her what I thought of this new family. “Zerina, I won’t understand a word they’re saying,” I told her. (The families spoke in Urdu.) “All I can give you is my gut impressions.” She nodded. She knew, of course, that I wouldn’t understand their words, but she would not get to meet them. How would she judge whether this family was right for her beloved first daughter? “Okay,” she said. Apparently my “gut impressions” would be of some value. She gestured for me to proceed.

The men of each family sat opposite each other on one side of the living/dining room. Tara and I sat on the other side facing three women shrouded in black: the bridegroom’s mother, his teenage sister, and a broker’s wife. Tara’s face was half-hidden by the end of her sari, which she’d draped over her head. She kept her head down. After what felt like endless conversation—none of it directed at Tara or me—the bridegroom’s mother stood before Tara, lifted the veil, and raised my friend’s face by the chin. Tara wiped away tears before she let the older woman look at her. I hadn’t realized she’d been weeping silently beside me. The bridegroom’s mother smiled at Tara—who was still looking down—and then at her husband and son, as if to say, “Hey, she looks nice!”

More conversation ensued, and then Tara and I were sent back behind the curtain, the three visiting women following us. We all squeezed again into the tiny bedroom with the TV while the men talked. Tara never looked up, never met anyone’s eyes. Twenty minutes later, the visitors left.

Now my friends and I gathered around the table. It was 9:30, and we ate ravenously. Tara changed out of the pink sari, put her elaborate gold earrings, necklace, and headpiece—part of her dowry—back into their velvet box. Along with the fancy garments and jewelry she seemed to shed her sadness and tension. She smiled while she ate. Later I asked if she got a look at the young man. “No,” she said. Not even a glance? “No.” So you have no idea what he looks like? “None.”

Zerina asked me, “What did you think of this family?” I struggled to find the right words. I wondered how much weight they would carry. They looked nice, I said. The bridegroom seems gentle and shy—a bit scared. His face looks intelligent. The mother seemed warm and kind. The father—I couldn’t tell. He seemed okay, perhaps a bit distant. Zerina nodded. She seemed satisfied or maybe relieved by my answer. We all knew, however, that in these circumstances, families are on their best behavior. The last family had seemed fine, too. They’d checked out the family’s status in the community, financial situation, the types of work the men did. They’d trusted the marriage broker who’d brought that family to their attention. They hadn’t anticipated the scamming that would ensue.

During my ten days cocooned with this family, we spent hours at home together, mainly the girls, their mother, and I, talking about love marriage versus arranged marriage, trying on each other’s clothes, listening to songs on my iPod. They took me to a circus one night where unsmiling young girls performed acrobatic acts, twirled five hula-hoops at once, and marched in sparkling, skin-revealing outfits that seemed harshly out of place in this conservative town. Each time I walked into the center of town to check my email, one or two girls came with me—an opportunity to get out. They are not allowed to visit the town’s many Internet café’s on their own. They are not allowed to hang out at friends’ houses. They are not allowed to see films or go shopping without their mother. People will talk, Zerina said. People will tell lies about them. I interpreted this to mean, My girls’ reputations will be tarnished, and I will not be able to find husbands for them.

On my last night, Varisha and Tayma painted intricate henna designs on my palms and forearms. They asked me when I’d come visit them again. We agreed that six years was too long, that I needed to come sooner next time. Mysha explained to me that it would be two months before the new bridegroom’s family would contact them. We were now in a sad period, according to Islamic faith, that was not propitious for starting anything new. They had to wait for this sad time to end.

Alone with Tara, I asked her if she could refuse an offer of marriage from this family. I told her that according to Indian law, no one could force her to marry against her will. “If they offer a marriage proposal,” she explained, “it is my fate. It is Allah’s will.”

How much is your parents’ choice, I asked her, and how much is it the will of Allah? She smiled and shrugged. Like many of the questions I asked in India, this one went unanswered.

Jan. 7th, 2008

Indian Sagas, Real and Imagined

My flight for India leaves in 16 hours. I'm almost packed for the trip, but not for the painters who will descend on our house in my absence. Every surface of my desk holds piles of papers, files, books about India, copies of my itinerary, my manuscript, and other important detritus. By 5:30 am, when Bayporter Express pulls up at my front door, I need to have sorted through it all, decided what travels with me, and put the rest into boxes.

If you read last month's installment, you think I am going to a wedding. As of last week, the wedding has been cancelled. The bridegroom's family was asking for too much dowry, and the bridegroom indicated that he might not take my friend--his bride--with him to Dubai, where he works. The bride's family, worried that this was a scam, called the wedding off.

Apparently this is not an uncommon situation in India.

I will print out my work-in-progress, clear off my desk, and spend the evening with my husband Dwight and son Eli, who are staying home while I fly east. Meanwhile, I wonder: this cancelled wedding, is it a good thing? Has the bride been spared an untenable arrangement? Is she sad? Relieved? Both?

I have a million questions. After my 30 hours of travel and a few days resting and visiting friends in Chennai, I'll take a four-hour train ride to Kuppam, Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh State, India, join a family whose efforts to marry off one of four daughters have been thwarted, and see what is possible to ask and to find out.


NOT About Martin Luther King, Jr.

I leave for India tomorrow--in about 14 hours, to be exact. Here's an article written by my friend, Ann Manheimer, author of MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: DREAMING OF EQUALITY (Lerner Publishing, 2004).


NOT About Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Ann Manheimer

Despite appearances, this essay is not about Martin Luther King, Jr. But it is that time of year when we pay attention to his legacy, and since I wrote a book about him, I pay perhaps more attention than most people.

However, before I start not-writing about Dr. King, I need to make two admissions. The first has to do with my early image of him as an uninspired leader of a moderate movement. Of course, I favored civil rights. But in the late 60s and early 70s, Dr. King seemed – in that tired, old word —“irrelevant.” He stood for understanding in an era of uncompromising allegiance, for non-violence in an era of violent change. I did not then believe his ways were ways for the future.

My second admission, again about my views back then, has to do with heroes. I no longer believed in them. All of mine had failings – my parents were not perfect; John F. Kennedy was not a particularly great president; Lincoln fought the Civil War more because of economics than morality. I concluded that my former heroes were not worthy of that status, and that heroes were tooth fairies in human form.

Fast forward to a quarter century later. Asked to write a book for children about Martin Luther King, Jr., I agreed. It seemed mildly interesting, and besides, I had a friend who was a King scholar and could help me. At worst, I’d be able to put the famous man in the context of the civil rights era and keep him there.

Then I began to learn about him. I learned that he did not want to be a national leader. I learned about his extraordinary inner struggles, wrestling with decisions and regrets. I learned about the painful sacrifices he made, the harsh criticisms he had to bear, the daily threats against his physical safety and that of his family, the constant harassment by his own government. I came to admire his courage. But still, I questioned his message. It seemed simplistic and placating – could love and non-violence save the world?

Then I read his writings and speeches, the ones they don’t usually play on MLK Day. He wrote about economic justice, individualism, human nature, the evils of violence. He talked about the anemia of love without power, and the abuse of power without love. He wrote about the need for United States to “undergo a radical revolution of values,” to transform “…from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.” He warned: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” He was one of the first national leaders to take a stand against the war in Viet Nam. Long before modern politicians made the word a slogan, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to “the one thing that keeps the fire of revolutions burning: the ever-present flame of hope.”

I learned about his failings, too – he made many mistakes, personal and public. And I learned he was not alone in doing great things despite great hardship. As his colleague Ella Baker said, Martin did not make the civil rights movement, it made him. There are staggering numbers of people who have sacrificed for a better world without the recognition he has received. Given all that, Martin Luther King, Jr. could have been for me just another example of a failed hero – a famous but flawed man getting more credit than his due.

But something changed inside me when I read his writings and wrote the book about him. I came to realize something about messages, and courage, and heroes. Heroes, I belatedly realized are not perfect – they are flawed people who go forward, despite. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., like JFK and Abraham Lincoln, like my mother and father. People who understand the need for hope and the importance of going on.

And so, you see, this essay is not about Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s not even about my transformation into a believer in heroes. It’s about how the power of reading, and of synthesizing that reading into writing, changes us. Ultimately, it’s about the power of words to transform our lives.

Wishing us all good words in the new year.
Ann Manheimer
Author, children's fiction and non-fiction

Dec. 4th, 2007

What's Booknapping? Take a Pop Quiz on Teens and Censorship, 2007

War, sex, homosexuality, anatomically correct terms for male and female genitalia, and profanity: Each of these topics or terms was cited in one or more challenges to books for teens in schools and libraries across the United States this past year. The challenged books included classics as well as newer literary works. Are you aware of what's been challenged and why? Take this multiple-choice, 9-question pop quiz to learn how up to date you are on the year's censorship incidents.

1. What does the term "booknapping" mean?
a. Falling asleep with your face in an open book.
b. Stealing books from bookstores.
c. Creating a diaper using the pages of a book
d. Refusing to return a book taken out of a library with the intent of preventing anyone from reading it.

2. What punishment was initially handed down to three 16-year-old junior girls at John Jay High School in Cross River, New York after they said the word "vagina" during a public reading of playwright Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monolgues"?
a. The girls had to write one hundred times, “I will not say “vagina.”
b. A stern lecture from the vice principal about refraining from discussing “private parts” in public.
c. A one-day suspension.
d. All of the above.

3. What Newbery Honor book was challenged because it portrays talking animals and insects, and because one of those characters has babies but "doesn't have a husband"?
a. Watership Down
b. Charlotte’s Web
c. Frog and Toad
d. The Golden Compass

4. In which state were high schools whose teachers assigned acclaimed novels, including Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Erin Gruwell’s The Freedom Writers Diary and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, reported to the FBI for potentially violating pornography laws?
a. Michigan
b. Utah
c. New York
d. Arizona

5. Working collaboratively, a group of politically diverse high school students taking Advanced Theatre Class wrote a play called “Voices in Conflict.” The play presents a range of perspectives about the current war in Iraq. Although their high school forbade them to perform the play, the students were the recipients of Music Theatre International’s Courage in Theatre Award. Where is this high school located?
a. Alabama
b. Kentucky
c. New York
d. Illinois

6. Which picture book with illustrations by Maurice Sendak was called “obscene” and “absolutely offensive in every way” by the Tennessee parent of a 9-year-old who checked the book out of her elementary library?
a. I Saw Esau
b. Where the Wild Things Are
c. In the Night Kitchen
d. Little Bear

7. Who said, “It’s wrong to restrict what students can read based on the complaints of a few individuals?”
a. Jon Stewart
b. President Bush
c. Chris Finan
d. Mr. Rogers

8. Wizardology: The Book of Secrets of Merlin was challenged by a group of West Haven, Connecticut parents because they considered it:
a. too violent
b. a potentially dangerous alternate religion
c. too sexual
d. all of the above

9. Which animal’s scrotum was bitten by a rattlesnake in this year’s challenged Newbery-winning novel?
a. A dog’s.
b. A raccoon’s.
c. A bear’s.
d. A donkey’s.

The answers:

1. Correct answer: d. Refusing to return a book taken out of a library with the intent of preventing anyone from reading it. This odious practice has unfortunately been on the increase.
2. Correct answer: c. A one-day suspension. After a surge of protests by students and parents, the school administration re-examined its policies and rescinded the punishment.

3. Correct answer: b. Charlotte’s Web. Several astute readers, however, have claimed that Charlotte, the supposedly unwed mother, does indeed mention her late husband at some point in the story.

4. Correct answer: a. Michigan. The good news is that no one in the schools was found guilty of violating pornography laws. “After reading the books in question it is clear that the explicit passages illustrated a larger literary, artistic or political message and were not included solely to appeal to the prurient interests of minors," [County Prosecutor David Morse] wrote. "Whether these materials are appropriate for minors is a decision to be made by the school board, but I find they are not in violation of the criminal laws." Subsequent to the County Prosecutor’s decision, the Howell school board voted 5-2 to allow high school juniors to continue to read the books. I have to wonder: Unlike Mr. Morse, did those who challenged these books ever read them?

5. Correct answer: c. New York. The students got to perform the play “Voices in Conflict” in June, 2007 off-Broadway at the Public Theatre. Search see for more information.

6. Correct answer: a. I Saw Esau, a book of poetry by Iona Opie, illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

7. Correct answer: b. President Bush. Surprised? Just kidding. The real and true correct answer is Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

8. Correct answer: b. a potentially dangerous alternate religion. Who knew?

9. Correct answer: a. A dog’s. Ouch.

For additional information on these and other book challenges, see,, or

Dec. 3rd, 2007

Gifts that Count

If you're reading my blog, you must love books, and it's likely you know how important they are to young people. This holiday season, if you're buying presents and can afford it, please consider donating books to one of the organizations below or to another of your choice.

If you are a teacher or parent or work with groups of teens in another capacity, why not consider doing a book drive with your kids, class, or group? It's a great way to build compassion among teens toward other kids who have fewer resources and opportunities.

The Nidorf Juvenile Detention Center in Sylmar has a "Beyond Four Walls Wish List" at

Alameda County Juvenile Hall also has a wish list, at

Seattleites, here's a place to donate in your town:

If you live outside California and Washington and want to donate closer to your home, try a Google search using "book donation" plus the name of your city or town, or contact the juvenile detention center closest to you and ask who there can accept donations of (paperback) books.

Happy Holidays!


Writing and Serendipity

It has been six years since my husband Dwight, my then eight-year-old son Eli, and I lived in a small town in South India for four months while Dwight worked with an organization training social entrepreneurs. I've decided-perhaps foolishly, perhaps wisely-that I won't make significant progress on revising LINA, my work-in-progress about a high school senior and aspiring doctor who travels to India, until I pay another visit to that country. So several weeks ago I reserved a plane ticket to Chennai, but didn't purchase it. I had two weeks, the travel agent told me, before I had to commit.

Buying that ticket built a fire under my seat. I made an appointment to update my immunizations. And I searched for the phone numbers of three families I'd gotten to know in 2002 and hoped to reconnect with on this trip.

I reached the first of the families. Raajhi, a 29-year-old married woman who lived one one side of us, was excited to hear I'd be visiting, but she scolded me: "Auntie, you are very selfish to come her without your son!"

I got scolded again when I talked to Balajhi, one of the men in the second family, also close neighbors there: "You are only staying one week?" His voice was tinged with disapproval--or perhaps just disappointment--though he, too, seemed glad to hear I'd be visiting.

I couldn't reach the third family until the day I needed to purchase my plane ticket--and then I learned that one of the daughters in that family would be getting married two days after I planned to leave India. Would I extend my trip, they asked. Would I stay with them?

I was able to change the dates of my flight. So now I have a place to stay and a wedding to attend. How Indian girls are raised, the choices available to them, and the role of arranged marriage in their lives--in the context of their aspirations--are topics I hope to incorporate in LINA. The way this trip is unfolding seems quite fortuitous--and serendipitous. I know it will change how I write LINA. It remains to be seen exactly how.

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June 2009



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