My publisher, Tor Books, is sending 200 free copies of the paperback of my novel Little Brother to Booker T Washington High School, because it's the first school where any of my novels has been challenged by the school administration. Little Brother had been selected and approved as the school's summer One School/One Book reading pick, and the school librarian Betsy Woolley had worked with Mary Kate Griffith from the English department to develop an excellent educational supplement for the students to use to launch their critical discussions in the fall. The whole project had been signed off on by the school administration and it was ready to go out to the students when the principal intervened and ordered them to change the title.
In an email conversation with Ms Griffith, the principal cited reviews that emphasized the book's positive view of questioning authority, lauding "hacker culture", and discussing sex and sexuality in passing. He mentioned that a parent had complained about profanity (there's no profanity in the book, though there's a reference to a swear word). In short, he made it clear that the book was being challenged because of its politics and its content.
Ultimately, the entire schoolwide One Book/One School program was cancelled. Little Brother is now an optional title for grade 11 AP English students.
I don't think this is a problem because my book is the greatest novel ever written and the kids will all miss out by not reading it, but because I think that the role of an educator is to encourage critical thinking and debate, and that this is a totally inappropriate way to address "controversial" material in schools. Little Brother is recommended by the Florida Library Association for use in schools, and has been chosen as a One School/One Book title in other schools — it's even been a One City/One Book choice for all of San Francisco. I've visited dozens — if not hundreds — of high-school groups around the world to talk about it.
The school faculty who worked so hard on this asked for our help fighting back against censorship, so my publisher, Tor, has agreed to send 200 copies to the school. For my part, I'm sending them two of these Litographs posters that have the full text of the book, and a copy of the UK-only, slipcased, limited edition Little Brother for their annual charity auction.
(Update: the lovely people at Litographs have volunteered to send the posters to the school for free — thank you, Danny!)
And I'm still doing that videoconference this fall, with as many students as want to read and talk about the book — even (and especially) if they disagree with its message.
I'd like to thank Ms Woolley and Ms Griffith for their tireless work to promote intellectual liberty; as well as Joan Bertin from The National Coalition Against Censorship for all her help (and thanks, too, to Charles from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for introducing me to Joan!).
(Images: Richard Wilkinson)