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[edit: I need to reread the book and revisit the race question about Park in light of recent criticisms. I primarily read the book in light of censorship attempts, but will read again more closely for race-related concerns.]

Well, tonight was pretty epic.

EleanorPark_thumbEarlier this year author Rainbow Rowell published a YA novel called Eleanor and Park. It is, in a word, amazing. Beautiful. Real. It’s mostly about falling in love for the first time, but it’s also about bullying, poverty, racism and being safe. One of the characters, Park, is half Korean. His race doesn’t drive the story, but is an important aspect of his character. I told Rainbow Rowell tonight that I wish I was related to Park!

The book was chosen for an optional summer reading program in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and  author Rainbow Rowell was supposed to come talk with the kids, but because of the – wait for it – bullying of one set of parents, she was uninvited and now the book is under review. The parents demand for all copies of the book to be removed from the library. In other words, it’s a bloody mess. It’s attempted censorship. You can read the parents’ report here: http://www.parentsactionleague.org/storage/post-images/Parent%20Findings%20and%20Additional%20Proposed%20Guidelines%20-%20130724%20v1_1.pdf and learn about the Parents Action League (now designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) here: http://www.parentsactionleague.org/book-alerts/2013/8/7/review-of-rainbow-rowell-book-eleanor-park.html

For more information: http://www.childrensliteraturenetwork.org/hub/sos-librarians/2013/09/defending-against-demands-for-censorship/

Of course MPR covered the controversy here: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/09/25/daily-circuit-eleanor-and-park-anoka-hennepin and here: http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2013/09/in-book-censorship-anoka-county-avoids-bullying-issue-again/

And NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/09/18/223738674/true-love-book-fights-and-why-ugly-stories-matter

As did City Pages: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2013/10/parents_action_league_wants_eleanor_park_removed_from_anoka-hennepin_libraries.php

In short, it got people talking. It got people interested in the book. It got people reading the book. It got people buying the book. So, um, thank you, censors! (You can find more articles by googling “Rainbow Rowell” “Eleanor and Park” and “Anoka”).

In the aftermath of the un-invitation, SPPL and Metro State decided to invite her to MN! http://www.sppl.org/rainbow

SPPL also decided to choose it as their “Read Brave”  program: http://www.sppl.org/about/library-news/rainbow-rowell-book-talk-october-30-eleanor-park-chosen-2014-read-brave-book

2013.10.29 RainbowRowellAnd then Metro State contacted me and asked to speak on the Reading Rainbow Rowell: A Community Forum on Kids’ Right to Read on October 29. Tonight!

Going back to my first sentence: tonight was pretty epic. The Anoka-Hennepin librarians came, and we applauded them for their good work and bravery. I was able to speak with a couple of them after, and it was such an honor to meet them.

So I was on a forum with the author Rainbow Rowell; Julie Blaha, President of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota; Maureen Gormley, a librarian at Dakota County Library; and Teens Know Best members Kitra Katz and Payton Gerrick. The forum was moderated by Sasha Aslanian of MPR.

Sasha had prepared questions for each of us. She asked Rainbow to talk a bit about the book; Julie to talk about what happened in Anoka-Hennepin; the teens to discuss what they thought of the book; Maureen to talk about intellectual freedom and censorship. Everyone did a fantastic job.

Sasha asked me questions about the social and emotional development of young adults and what they are looking for in their literature that might be distinct from what adults seek from their literature; about Park being half Korean; about how LIS educators prepare students to deal with censorship.

[UPDATED on 2013 Oct 30 at 1:20 pm]

An elaboration: this is how  I answered the questions + further thoughts:

Social and emotional development of YA and what they are looking for in literature

Both adults and young adults are looking for a good story and an escape. But because of where YA are in their development, they’re also looking for a reflection of their own experiences. They need validation, to know that they are not isolated in their experiences, that there are people out there going through the same things they are.

About Park being half Korean

In response to the question, “Why is Park Korean?” Rainbow Rowell wrote on her blog, “Because Park is Korean.”  [edit: I need to reread the book and revisit this issue.]

About how LIS educators prepare students to face censorship

Oh boy, where to begin? In my St. Catherine University Master of Library and Information Science LIS 7010 Introduction to Library &  Information Science class, we dedicate an entire unit to censorship and intellectual freedom. We talk about these issues throughout most of my courses, and for sure in my youth materials courses. One of the ways we do this is by reading Jamie LaRue’s most excellent blog post on a challenge received to Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, a picture book in which a young girl is sad that her uncle is getting married because she’s afraid she’ll lose her relationship with her uncle – her uncle, who happens to be marrying another man. JLR wrote a very thoughtful, comprehensive and respectful letter in response to a concerned parent. You can read it here: http://jaslarue.blogspot.com/2008/07/uncle-bobbys-wedding.html

Also in Intro, my students are required to read at least one book that has been challenged. This semester I assigned The Hunger Games, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and It’s Perfectly Normal. These books have faced numerous challenges over the years. Students have to read one of the books and then be prepared to argue either way for the book. We also discuss the resources that ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom provides, such as the Code of Ethics, Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges, Bill of Rights, Interpretation of the Bill of Rights for young people, and the Freedom to Read statement.

The next time I teach Intro, I will likely assign only Eleanor & Park and also have students read some of the documents I posted above, plus whatever else comes out by then. Having something like this happen right here in Minnesota – what a fantastic learning experience. Although what happened is very unfortunate, it was a fabulous teaching moment. My LIS 7210 Library Materials for Children students attended the Right to Read Forum, as well as many St. Kate MLIS alum and even some St. Kate undergraduate students enrolled in my Global Search for Justice: Dismantling Racism Through Children’s Literature course! I spoke with most of them after, and they all agreed it was a fantastic event. Involving my students in current events is one of the best ways for them to learn.

We also have an advocacy class devoted specifically to helping our future librarians be leaders in the library world and in the world of young people. SLMS students are required to take this class. Moreover, each professor weaves concepts of ethics and leadership into all our classes, and we encourage our students to take on leadership roles, network, be engaged in the community, etc.

Please also read Leann Suchy’s thoughtful blog post about why she “needed Eleanor and Park“: http://leannsuchy.com/2013/10/29/i-needed-eleanor-park/

[END UPDATE]

The audience members then were able to ask questions. They were each handed out cards and asked to write down their questions. Sasha read them to us; they were mostly directed at Rainbow. Some people wanted to know what happens next; why certain things happened they way they did in the novel; whether or not what’s happening here will affect how she writes her next novel, etc. They were great questions. We also continued to discuss intellectual freedom and how librarians and others can fight against censorship attempts.

From the tweets (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23EleanorAndPark&src=hash), it appears that most people thought it was a great night.

And indeed, it was. It was an honor to be invited to participate in such a wonderful event. Here’s the last photo from the evening: me with Rainbow Rowell and her awesome books!

2013.10.29 RainbowRowell

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