I touched on some issues involving physical characteristics with last week’s banned book, James and the Giant Peach. The conversations that resulted on several Facebook pages were still fresh in my mind when I sat down to write the next installment of my series; so when I came across a title like The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler, at number 34 on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned Book List it caught my eye.
The young adult novel, written in 2003, follows the world of Virginia \”Ginny\” Shreves, a sophomore at a private school in Manhattan. She has a boyfriend, Froggy Welsh the Fourth, but she is self-conscious about being overweight and doesn\’t want him to see her fat. So she hides her fat by wearing baggy clothing. Her mother is an adolescent psychologist who is obsessed with her daughter\’s weight, while her father is always complimenting skinny girls. Her older sister Anais joined the Peace Corps to escape her mother, whom she calls The Queen of Denial. Her older brother, Byron, whom she idolizes, was suspended from Columbia University for committing a date rape.
Virginia finally takes control of her life and stands up to her mother. She becomes increasingly “rebellious”- she dyes her hair purple and gets her eyebrow pierced. She buys a ticket without telling her mother and goes to Seattle to see her best friend Shannon, and makes new friends along her personal journey as she realizes what she wants to become, and sees the value in herself as a person. She discovers that she must understand who she is on the inside and that this is much more important than what is on the outside. She becomes an avid kickboxer, and realizes that while it’s okay to change the way you look on the outside, you must do this in the right way; and that means enjoying yourself so that you\’re not unhappy trying to change yourself. You’re not trying to “fix” anything that’s wrong, simply making yourself healthier- in mind and body.
So, as long-time readers of this series might expect, another soul-affirming, positive, and honest novel about self-image, and what it means to be yourself once again quickly finds itself on the list of challenged and banned books.
The novel was banned or challenged in school libraries across the nation in the last 5 years. The common charges included sexual content, being “anti-family”, offensive language, and being unsuited to age group.
The most noteworthy case came in 2006 when it was banned by the Carrol County Superintendent in Westminister, Maryland. The superintendent objected to the book\’s use of profanity and its sexual references. After protests from students (350 students signed a petition demanding its return), librarians, national organizations, and the publisher, the book was returned to high school libraries, but not middle schools.
As authors create more sophisticated books for young readers, the number of parents who are uncomfortable with them has grown. The ALA monitored 547 challenges last year, up from 458 in 2003. For every title on the list, four or five others are also being challenged in libraries and schools somewhere in America, it said.
Carolyn Mackler’s novel cracked the top 10 in 2009.
The author said those complaints were just adults talking down to adolescents, who flock to books like hers and their messages.
“The one thing in this whole banning fiasco is I have been so incredibly moved by the students’ efforts and the petition,” she said. “The students are asking for access to my novel. They’re asking for the right to read as widely as possible. There’s been so much support.”
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things has won many awards and critical acclaim including the Michael L. Printz Honor, American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Book, Publishers Weekly Cuffie Award winner for Best Book Title, Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Honor Book, International Reading Association’s Young Adults’ Choice, 2006 Volunteer State Book Award, third place finisher in the grade 7-12 category, 2006 Nevada Young Readers’ Award Nominee, 2006 Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award Nominee, Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee, 2006-2007 Volunteer State Book Award Nominee, 2006 Great Lakes Great Books Nominee, 2005-2006 Colorado Blue Spruce Book Award Nominee, 2006 South Carolina Association of School Librarians Book Award Nominee, Amelia Bloomer Project Selection, and the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association YA Top Forty Fiction Titles.
Sources: American Library Association, Marshall University, MSNBC
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions