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Annie On My Mind and Banned Books Week on My Calendar

I come from a small town, and from very liberal parents.  I don’t remember any checks on what I was reading, never once being told I couldn’t read anything or having to sneak books into my room.  Well, except for the copies of Julie Garwood’s historical romances that were my mom’s, but that was more because I didn’t return them where they were supposed to go rather than I wasn’t supposed to be reading them.  The first blip on my radar of books being not acceptable for some was an incident when I was in late elementary/ early middle school.  I vaguely remember it- the parents got involved about a book in the school library collection having to do with witches, and I remember my mom going down and talking about keeping the book in the collection and standing up for the school librarian, and the book stayed in the library.  I remember her reasoning clearly – it’s not anyone’s right to keep books from anyone else’s children; I can say what you can and can’t read, but I can’t say what’s right for anyone else’s kid. 

So I ran amok on my reading adventures, and came across Annie On My Mind.  I checked it out from the larger public library near us, and thought it was wonderful.  Loved the story between Liza and Annie, lived the story and felt my heart break.  Clueless me, I didn’t realize that Annie On My Mind was controversial, or groundbreaking; I thought it was a really really good romance story.  I did know that same-sex couples weren’t out in the open where I lived, even though I knew of some in high school, but I just figured that everyone handled it like my extended family, and everyone did what they wanted in private and it was all good.  Now, I understand that they were hiding what they were for fear of attacks and bullying, and I think that coupled with my family experience makes me more of a passionate ally for GLBTQ teens and GLBTQ literature in
Annie on My Mind was first published in 1982.  30 years later, and while we have Gay-Straight Alliances in schools and more books like Annie on My Mind on the shelves and being published, teens like Annie and Liza are still having to hide their relationships for fear of parents and friends disapproving, for fear of bullying and hazing and worse.  Books about GLBTQ teens are being challenged across the country for corrupting teens and perpetuating a gay agenda that just isn’t there, and while many librarians are being supported in keeping them on the shelves, others are having to creating “parent collections” or worse, remove them entirely from their collections.  If what these teens, who are looking for answers, need is a place that we want them to feel safe, where should they look?

Amy speaks: Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored (a guest post by Lisa Burstein)

Once upon a time I read and reviewed a book called Pretty Amy.  I liked it and made it the TLT Rec of the Week.  I thought, you know, this really speaks to the heart of what teenage girls feel.  I also thought, I wish I had known to get a bird and teach it to say Pretty Karen.  Alas, I was not that smart of a teenager.  So I’m following Lisa Burstein on Twitter and she Tweets that a magazine decided not to review her book because of drug use.  There is some drug use in Pretty Amy, that part is true.  And I sputter here, because the fact that drug use is all they got of this book astounds me.  Also, you should know, some teens do drugs.  So I started writing this rant in my head and, as often is this case when this happens, I finally had to sit down and just post it because it wouldn’t leave me alone.  Then, someone challenged my rant, which prompted another rant about how really and truly, libraries are unsafe places and that is a good thing.  I already knew we were going to be doing a lot week of Banned Books Week posts so I said: Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, won’t you please type a post for my blog for me so I have less work to do?  I mean, I said: can you please share with us your experience of what it was like to experience a form of censorship.  Yes, THAT’s what I said.  And she said yes, and even better, she let AMY TELL US what it’s like to be censored.  As Libba Bray says, “teens, our audience, keep us honest.  Because they can smell bullshit a mile away, and they will call you on it.” (from an interview on The Oeditrix)

This story starts when a national teen magazine (the kind in grocery stores) that was supposed to write a review for my debut novel PRETTY AMY decided after reading three chapters to pass on their review because “the book contained drug use and they didn’t want to promote it to their readers.”


An official who examines material about to be released, such as books, movies, news, and art, and suppresses any parts considered…
Examine (a book, movie, etc.) officially and suppress unacceptable parts of it.
censorship (from Google.com)

I was shocked; “drug use” encompasses about two pages of the book. It does not glorify it, or promote it. PRETTY AMY is not about drug use, it is about a confused teenage girl who struggles to find herself after a prom night arrest. Attempts to fit in and be loved for who she really was, while navigating parents, friends, boys and the law.

Books are banned in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it is a school denying a book to their students. Sometimes it is a library refusing to shelve it. Sometimes it is a media outlet refusing to review a book because of content.

The latter is what happened to my book.

It’s one thing for me to tell the story; it’s another for the girl who fights to find her voice for the whole 304 pages of PRETTY AMY to tell it. Here exclusively for Teen Librarian Toolbox are Amy’s feelings on being censored.

After I got arrested all people (adults) kept telling me was to talk about my feelings and tell the truth. Not like I ever wanted to–especially when pushed, but now I am being punished for telling the truth. For my voice being too truthful.

Now, other girls like me are being punished because they won’t get to read the truth. At least not in that prissy magazine. Lisa Burstein might have written the book, but I’m as real a character as you’ve ever seen. As I say in the book, “I am one of the legions of middle-class white girls who search malls for jeans that make them look thinner, who search drugstores for makeup to wear as a second skin, who are as sexy and exotic as blueberry muffins.”

Guess what? Girls like us sometimes try drugs. We sometimes see nothing good in our lives so we cling to our friends and do whatever they do. We fall as low as we can fall and it takes falling that low to come out victorious on the other side.

Girls like me exist. Not publishing a review isn’t going to change that. If anything it makes girls like me feel even more misunderstood.

Lisa Burstein was a girl like me in high school. She used drugs, she smoked, and she had psychological issues. She had no one who understood her. She felt alone. What if she would have come upon a review of PRETTY AMY back then in a magazine? Been able to read about the book and see that there was something out there that might help her understand the way she was feeling when her parents and therapists and psychotropic drugs were not. Might her life have been different? Might it have been better?

Would she possibly have avoided the four-years of hell that were high school for her?

I believe there is a chance.

When you censor what is real, you take away that chance. You take away the ability for readers to have an opinion, a voice. You control what they see. Even at seventeen I know that’s bullshit.

This magazine can say whatever it wants about what it thinks its readers can handle, but that doesn’t change what teenagers are “handling” every day. Drugs, worse than the pot I smoked. Boys, going after more than most girls know how to give. Identity and how it feels like it changes daily, but never into what you want it to be. And of course the doom that falls over you late at night when you are alone in your room and you wonder if life will ever get better.

By controlling what girls like me see you are not changing any of this. And, being a girl like me, I know change is the only the thing that can help.

To help get my book and other banned books into the hands of teens and well everyone, I am running a contest for $175 worth of book buying gift cards and Manuscript Critiques for participating in donation drive for High School and public libraries.

Participate in the Pretty Amy Banned Books Week Donation Drive

Add PRETTY AMY on Goodreads

BUY Barnes and Noble

BUY Amazon

Redifing the “3 Rs” for Banned Books Week

Karen Jensen, the teen librarian is:
A) A person of deep personal faith beliefs
B) A strong advocate for teens
C) A voracious reader
D) A defender of libraries
E) An outspoken defender of free speech and celebrant of Banned Books Week
F) All of the above

It was while majoring in Youth Ministry (Christian Education) at Mount Vernon Nazarene College (now Mount Vernon Nazarene University) that I became a loud mouth against censorship.  Yep, there I was at a conservative Christian college putting up an awesome display for Banned Books Week on the outside of my dorm room door (it truly was epic).  While I sat in chapel and learned how the Bible says we should be “in the world but not of it”, I also came to understand that in order for me – or anyone – to truly be a person of faith, we had to be able to have access to the information we needed to make that decision for ourselves.  Information (and the free access to it) is the cornerstone of personal, authentic decision making.

So I came up with a plan! Already working as a paraprofessional as a young adult services assistant (under the tutelage of my truly amazing mentor), I would become a teen services librarian because that WAS my ministry (radical thinking!).  And I developed a new model for the 3 Rs in the life of a teenager: Radical, Rebellious and Righteous.


(esp. of change or action) Relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.
adjective. fundamental – drastic (from Google.com)

I know many people are afraid of rebelliousness (especially in teenagers – gasp).  And we frown upon being radical (conformity is such a valued trait I can’t help but notice).  But when you stop for a moment and think about it, radical rebelliousness is the hallmark and backbone of America.  We exist because those English blokes (and whatever the female counterpart for blokes is) threw all the tea overboard and said No!  Then we grew a little bit more because an amazing woman sat, I imagine tired and with throbbing feet, and refused to give up her seat (you know I am speaking of Rosa Parks, right?).  Our history books and science journals are full of stories of radical people (and ideas) being rebellious.  And sometimes, there is a little rigtheousness thrown in, whether it be the righteousness of faith or the righteous indignation that causes people to stand up and fight for truth and justice (thank you Martin Luther King, Jr.)


  1. Showing a desire to resist authority, control, or convention.
  2. (of a person, city, or state) Engaged in opposition or armed resistance to an established government or ruler.
mutinous – insurgent – rebel – seditious (from Google.com)

That is what Banned Books Week is about, reminding people everywhere that it is okay for the words on the page to be shocking or questioning or – gasp – radical, rebellious born of a righteous indignation.  We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to like them, but it’s the basic hallmark of what we call “The American Way” that we don’t get to decide that for others.  Okay, technically parents get to decide it for their kids, but you don’t get to decide it for MY kids.  Or for me.

Banned Books Week is a reminder:  There are people out there who want to be the “thought police” (with deference to Mr. George Orwell).  And the truth is, those who control the information control the world.  Oddly enough, we need only to look at the history of faith to be reminded of this:  The church fought long and hard to keep the Bible in a language that only few could understand because that power to interpret and lord God’s wrath over the populace gave them tremendous power (and wealth).  When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door and the Bible was made available to us all, it shifted the power and gave us, each individual, the opportunity to interact with God on a more personal level and to decide what our faith means to us.  Or what faith we want to have, if any.


  1. (of a person or conduct) Morally right or justifiable; virtuous.
  2. Perfectly wonderful; fine and genuine.
just – right – upright – rightful – fair – honest (from Google.com)

We can try and control our teens and really monitor what they read.  Or . . . we can help them develop critical thinking skills, nurture a love of story, and let them be the next generation of radical thinkers who help us find a cure for cancer, write the next Harry Potter that inspires a generation, or stands on the footpath of history and challenges us to be a more humane people.  We don’t really fear the words on the page, we fear the fact that they challenge us to really examine what we think we know and feel and believe and that in the end, we may come out on the other side believing (or thinking or feeling) something different.  And yet, history has proven time and time again that is not always a bad thing (see all the examples listed above).  But think of how much stronger we are when we read those words on the page, turn the last page, and reaffirm who we are and where we stand in the world. 

I celebrate Banned Books Week and stand against censorship because I believe that being radical, rebellious and righteous is sometimes exactly what we need and is the heart of one’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

P.S., in case you haven’t figured it out.  Karen Jensen is F – all of the above!!!  Leave a comment letting me know which of the above you are and why.

Join us all week for Banned Books Week posts, including one from the author of Pretty Amy, Lisa Burstein.

What if Amy wasn’t Pretty?

Banned Books Week Roundup: Read In, Speak Out for Libraries!

You may have noticed, but it’s election season.  And back to school time. Which means it is also time to start thinking about Banned Books Week.

Banned Books Week at ALA
You can get information and graphics for Banned Books Week at ALA

Banned Books Week is a reminder to us all to celebrate our freedom to read.  Access to information – to new thoughts and ideas, no matter how radical they may be – is the cornerstone of democracy.  And yet every year, we hear case after case of someome attempting to (and sometimes succeeding) remove that access by having materials removed from school and public libraries across the nation.  Without the materials in libraries, that means our patrons have to find ways to access the information themselves, often costing money they don’t have, especially in these hard economic times.

I took a moment to look at what it would cost our teens to buy the books they want and need for both pleasure reading and school, and this is what I came up with as a modest estimate.

So if our teens didn’t have access to books at their school and public libraries, they would have to come up with an average of $1,218.63 to buy 4 of the most popular book series (Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Twilight and The Mortal Instruments) and an average of 4 books a month for school.  Keep in mind, this figure would be significantly higher if any of those 4 books a month for school are non-fiction because non-fiction titles have a higher price point.
This is why libraries are so important – they support the educational goals, both academic and personal, of all the members of our communities, including our teens.  But removing books from the library compromises that access.
Banned Books Week is an excellent time to remind teens – and your communities – about the importance of reading and libraries.  Remind your communities to vote for libraries! And the best way to cast your vote is by being a library user and supporter.
Looking for some ways to promote Banned Books Week this year? Check out these previous articles:

Banned Books Week: Teen fiction is . . .
Redefining the “3 Rs” for Banned Books Week (Radical, Rebellious, Righteous)

Also, here’s a look at a recent incident involving the book Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein and another way in which teens are denied access to information.  Recently, a major teen magazine decided to pull its review of Pretty Amy because they felt it was inappropriate for their audience.  They didn’t let teens decide for themselves by presenting an honest review, they simply refused to review it.

What if Amy wasn’t pretty: A tale of censorship
Let’s Talk Access! And why libraries are radically unsafe places and that is a good thing
Amy speaks: Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored (a guest post by Lisa Burstein)

Banned Books Week is an excellent time to brush up on your advocacy and marketing efforts, so stop by our section on Advocacy and Marketing and read all about it.
How about some posters and bookmarks?  Yeah, we’ve got those to.  You can find some at the TLT Graphics section of our FB page or find some that I designed for frequently challenged author Chris Crutcher last year.
Want one final – and exciting – way to speak out about Banned Books Week?  Join our BBW “Read In” and share a guest blog post about a book from the BBW list that you love.  Simply send me your review, or story, at kjensenmls@yahoo.com by Friday, September 28th.  Join us during Banned Books Week for a guest post by Lisa Burstein, author of Pretty Amy, books reviews and more.
You can get official information for Banned Books Week at BannedBooksWeek.org

Tweet for FREADOM contest

The Teen Librarian’s Toolbox loves FREADOM (the freedom to read) and encourages everyone to celebrate Banned Books Week (9/24 – 10/1). And we have prizes!

Join us in the fight against censorship during BBW and Tweet for FREADOM (it’s so important you have to say it all in caps!). Teens and their favorite librarians are invited to Tweet their messages against censorship. Words are a powerful thing so give us 140 characters (that’s how long a Tweet is) speaking out against censorship.

There are two ways to enter:
1) Tweet your message and tag the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox @TLT16
2) Compose your 140 character message and share it on the TLT Facebook wall

Tweets will be accepted beginning Sept. 24 until the end of BBW Oct. 1.

One grand prize winner will receive a signed copy of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by frequently banned author Chris Crutcher PLUS six “Read Crutcher? @#$% yes!” wristbands (3 white on black, three black on white) and 25 CC bookmarks.

5 runners-up will receive wrist bands of their own.

Brought to you by TLT and author Chris Crutcher and his magnificent assistant Kelly Halls at ChrisCrutcher.com
Looking for some inspiration?  Here is what some others have had to say about censorship!

A Banned Books Week Primer

On paper, I seem like the least likely candidate to advocate for Banned Books Week.  I have a bachelor’s degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college and I teach children’s church.  Don’t get me wrong, there are books that I have read that have appalled me (although more for just bad writing then for actual content).  But some of the very books that have been challenged by others are the very books that have touched me and made a difference in my life.  In fact, the biggest turning point in my life came when I was in the 11th grade and read To Kill a Mockingbird.  How could you not love Atticus Finch?  I get that it deals with some dark and heavy things.  But I also get that the world itself is often dark and heavy.  I think there is great benefit in slowly learning about the truth of the world in safe environments where you can process the information in your own time in the safety of your home.  Although it is truly wrong for us to assume that we know anything about the life of others and the truth is, there are teens living lives more horrific than they could ever read in a book. 

Four years ago I lost a baby to miscarriage.  It was the most horrific experience I could ever have imagined.  To help me crawl out of that dark place, I read every book my library had on the topic of miscarriage – fiction and nonfiction.  And when I was through with those I ILLed more.  I needed to read the stories of others and know that I was not alone.  I needed to know that others felt the pain, the rage, the jealousy and the emptiness that had taken place in the emptiness I now felt inside me.  Reading the stories of others helped me slowly crawl my way out of a dark abyss.  I want teens who are struggling with abuse, addiction, identity issues, etc. to have the same tools that I did.  I want them to be able to read the stories of others and know that they are not alone.  I want them to find the strength to get help and change their life in positive ways.  I want them to know that there is hope.

And let’s look at the opposite life example: those teens who are growing up in safe and healthy home environments.  I am a mother of 2 little girls and I get the need and desire to protect them.  But I also know that every day they are getting 1 step closer to going out into this big wide world that no matter how safe I want it to be, the reality is that it often isn’t.  I need them to develop an understanding of how people can be and how they should respond.  I want them to learn to keep themselves safe.  I would rather my daughters learn about abusive boyfriends in a book and know how to spot the signs and get out rather than experience it firsthand when it is too late.  Plus, I want them to learn compassion for others.  It is a big world, every one’s life is different.  I want them to be able to embrace others and be a light in the world.  Again, I would rather them do this by taking safe baby steps in the pages of a book then to wait until they are 18 and shove them off an unexpected cliff into the abyss that is the real world.

No one can ever guess the way a story will affect the life of another.  In the 6th grade I read It by Stephen King (for the record I was supposed to be reading The Hobbit, which I have still never read – oops).  It would be easy for an outsider to say that I shouldn’t be reading that book because it was too scary or too violent.  But that book touched me and taught me what true friendship was.  It changed the goals I set for myself in that I wanted to be a better friend and have meaningful relationships.  I wanted to have people in my life that I could look back into the past with and have shared stories.  Other people read It and they just become afraid of clowns, sewers and spiders (and with good reason).  My point is this: each book touches us all differently.  I can’t predict how you will respond to what you read, I don’t get to decide for you what you can read.  And vice versa.

So yes I enthusiastically embrace the idea of Banned Books Week.  I stand up and challenge those who would try and censor what others read or have access to.  Remember that censorship is more than a parent deciding what is right for their child; censorship is someone trying to say what is right for all children (and adults, too).  Intellectual freedom is an important value for us all.

So here are some basic Banned Books Weeks resources to get you started:
The basic ALA guide
The American Booksellers Foundation also has a list of display ideas
The American Booksellers Foundation also has a list of books challenged/banned and the reasons why
Random House has a teacher’s guide with a variety of ideas
Kelly Milner Halls does a lot of work for Chris Crutcher regarding censorship and you can see it here.  You can also download CC BBW posters designed by me, Karen Jensen
For more general BWW posters, you can visit the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox FB page and download these.  You can print them and use them for display or download the digital image and use it on your webpage and FB pages.
I also wrote a blog post about BBW and shared a few ideas
This post has a poster that gives some specific books and the reasons they are banned
A couple of ideas for your social media page:
1.  Post a book a day and have teens guess the reason why the book was challenged/banned.  Or give the reason and have them guess the book.  You can make it multiple choice if you want.
2.  Make a simple contest sheet where you remove the titles from books and have teen guess what the books is and match the reason it is banned/challenged.  You can upload the contest sheet so teens can download it and turn it in.  You can also make them available in your teen area for pick up.
3.  Tap into teens creativity and ask them to design book covers or posters for Banned Books Week.  During BBW have a drop in workshop.  Share the images electronically to raise awareness.
4.  Have an online book discussion of a BBW title.
5.  Share a variety of online resources by “pushing” links through your feed.
For example, in this youtube clip John Green discusses the fact that he is *not* a pornographer.
6.  This past year there were a lot of online articles and discussions about teen fiction and whether or not it is too dark, etc.  Share these articles with your teens and get them discussing it.  What do they think about the fiction they read?
7.  Ask teens to write a twitter feed describing a world in which reading was not allowed.
8.  Share a quote a day about BBW
9.  Share a link to an author a day that has been challenged/banned
10.  Take 1 day and make your pages go completely silent.  That is what would happen if censors had their way.

Banned Books Week: Teen Fiction Is . . .

Depending on whom you ask, the answer may be “too dark”.  This year teen fiction like The Hunger Games came under fire as The Wall Street Journal, bloggers and NPR and asked, is teen fiction too dark?

The answer is, some of it is too dark for some readers.  Some of it is too light and fluffy for some readers.  Teen fiction, like children’s fiction and adult fiction, is a little bit of everything.  There is something for everyone – and that’s the way it should be.

The truth is that teens everywhere are living a wide variety of lives.  Sadly, there are teenagers who are living lives full of abuse, at home or at school; they live lives full of drugs and identity crisis and sex and . . . well, most of us try hard not to remember, but the teenage years are exciting and stressful and confusing and scary.
When I hear adults fretting about the darkness in teen fiction, I think of the teen who came into my library just a couple of years ago: at 22 weeks pregnant she had an abortion while her brother (5) and sister (7) sat in the parking lot and waited.  Her life was dark and she needed some realistic fiction to help her know that she was not alone and that there was a way out of the darkness.  There is no fiction darker than the life she was living.  And that is the sad truth for a lot of teens.
The truth is, teens are living lives every day that many of us could never imagine.  And if some teens aren’t, well – a parent guided reading of some darker fiction can help those teens understand the life of some of their peers and develop compassion.  It can help them develop the tools they need to engage and guide those teens to seek help from parents, counselors or some other means.  In order to have compassion for others, we must understand other points of view and step into other worlds.  Reading helps us develop a global perspective, a mature thinking process, and the tools we need to grow, overcome and step meaningfully into the world.
The truth is that we all have to walk away from home one day and engage what can be a very dark world.  The news tells us daily of the 3 wars we are engaged in, of how we are on the brink of imminent financial collapse, of mothers who murder babies and sometimes babies (teens) who murder their mothers.  Teen fiction helps teens take baby steps into the “real” world.  In the safety of their home and with the help of the adults around them processing what they are reading, teens can slowly begin to see that every day there are people living lives different than their own.  How much safer for teens to take baby steps into that world rather then jump off the cliff without a parachute.
What a gift it is for a teen to find that book that speaks to them; to their situation.  Who are we to assume we know what is right for that teen?  Each heart and mind is moved differently.  An outsider does not have the right to determine for someone else what is right for them.  I remember reading It by Stephen King in the 6th grade:  Whatever it may have been, to me it was a model of friendship.  Whenever I think of that book I am reminded of what it means to be a faithful friend.  And that is why I oppose censorship and support things like Banned Books Week.  I don’t like every book I read, and there are books that I would not want my child to read (totally and completely my choice), but I don’t want others having the power to determine what I or my child can or can not read.
Remember, throughout the course of history, one of the most banned and challenged books has been the Bible.  Never assume that you will get to be the one determining which books are banned.
So what will you be doing to raise awareness during Banned Books Week?
  • Get your teens thinking and discussing teen fiction and the freedom to read, share links to the various recent press it has received and see what they have to say (below).
  • Have a simple contest where you give the reason a book was banned/challenged and see if they can guess the book.
  • Do a display that highlights various banned/challenged titles.
  • Have a book discussion group that discusses some of the banned/challenged book, or books about censorship such as The Day They Came to Arrest the Book.
  • Arrest some of the banned/challenged books and have a read-a-thon to get teens to read to release them (think the MDA jail-a-thon fundraiser).
  • Make bookmarks and posters (they are also available via the ALA)
  • Have teens create visuals for banned books – posters, commercials, etc.  This could be a contest, craft activity or independent activity.  Or they can just make visuals about the concept of censorship.
The 2010 BBW Graphic from ALA.org
This is also a great time to remind staff of the library’s Intellectual Freedom position.  Don’t hesitate to get them involved in discussions.  Have a brown bag chat staff lunch and discuss.  Every day send out information on a book title that has been banned or challenged and tell them why.
THE single most dangerous idea out there is the idea that anyone can ban a book and impede your access to information.  Exercise your freedom to read.  Stand up for the freedom to read.

Recent articles about Teen Fiction:
The Wall Street Journal
Chris Crutcher’s Response