November 20, 2017

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Florida High Schools Restrict Access to “This One Summer”

In response to a complaint from a parent of an elementary school student, three high school libraries in Florida have restricted access to the award-winning This One Summer (First Second, 2014) by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.

A parent of a third-grade student at Sabal Point Elementary School in Longwood, FL, complained about some of the language in the 2015 Caldecott Honor–winning graphic novel. The district removed the book from the library but then also had it removed from open shelves at three local high schools.

A letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC)—signed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, National Council of Teachers of English, American Library Association, and the PEN American Center’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee—points out how the decision undermines the freedom to read:

“While the book may be above the maturity and reading level of elementary school students, its value for young adults at the high school level has been recognized by leading professionals. The book may not be of interest to every student, but as per Seminole County Public Schools’ own policies, “The [school’s educational media] center shall provide a wide range of materials on all levels of difficulty, with diversity of appeal, and the representation of different points of view.

The letter also notes that the decision appears to violate Seminole County’s policies regarding challenged materials, and raises broader questions as well:

“Restricting a book with such established literary merit in three high school libraries solely because a parent complained about its content being inappropriate for her own elementary-aged child privileges the values of one person over the entire community, and raises serious constitutional concerns.”

The graphic novel, about a pair of friends teetering on the brink of young adulthood, is no stranger to controversy. When it received a Caldecott Honor, an award usually associated with picture books, the work caused quite a stir among librarians and educators. Shortly after the announcement, in an interview with “100 Scope Notes” blogger Travis Jonker, the Tamaki cousins shared their own shock at the important recognition. “I wouldn’t have even considered our book Caldecott material. Very thrilling and surprising,” said Jillian Tamaki.

Breaking Barriers: An Interview with the Creators of This One SummerScales on Censorship columnist and former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee Pat Scales last year addressed a librarian’s question about the appropriateness of the Caldecott recognition given to the graphic novel for older readers, saying that the book fulfills the award’s criteria.

In response to the restriction of access in the Florida high schools, Mariko Tamaki told SLJ, “This One Summer is listed as being for readers ranging 12–18. It contains depictions of young people talking about, and dealing with, adult things. I think there are a lot of books, including a lot of great graphic novels, that should be made available to teen readers.”

Mariko Tamaki also appreciates the librarians and educators who continue to shelve graphic novels in their collections, despite the controversy that might ensue. “A lot of libraries and librarians I know have embraced comics as being great books for teens, and that makes me very happy.”

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Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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Comments

  1. Pat Ballester says:

    The Caldecott definition for a childrens book as stated on the ALA website is:
    A “picture book for children” is one for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered.
    Makes me sad to think that a well respected award should stoop to this level of calculated misrepresentation of who the book is appropriate for. The award is for 14 and younger. It is a sad statement of our times if this is what we think this is what we want our children at 14 to think is an award winning product for them. It may have a place in the “young adult” category but it should not be considered a “picture book for children.”

  2. Clynell Reinschmiedt says:

    In addition to the totally valid arguments that not all books are for all children, that individual parental weigh-in on a child’s reading is always encouraged, that blanket censorship should never reign over established individual constitutional reading freedoms and stated local selection policies–in addition to all of that, we are left with the equally valid argument that today’s third grader is yesterday’s sixth grader (or, sometimes, older). As a school library media specialist and as a grandmother of a third grader, I can say with no hesitation that my granddaughter is reading at the level of This One Summer, and understands the content as it is intended to be understood. Has she had the experiences described in the book as yet? No. Was she thinking about the experiences described in the book prior to reading it. Yes.

  3. Terri Cook says:

    Being in a Middle School I see children from ages 10 to 13. Most of my students have enjoyed this book. These are not words we do not hear floating down the hall. Some students are ready for such a read and others may be bothered by it. We believe that some will put it down when they see the language. I know others will read right past it and not even be aware of it. An AWARD does not make a book “safe” to hand over to any child. You must use your own values and address them with your children. I have gotten a book for myself and found it to be uncomfortable. I told my children if a book makes you uncomfortable talk it over with someone. This has lead to a lot of long late night talks around the table.

    It’s a book. It’s an award. I truly do not believe there is a conspiracy against children. Just a lot of different people trying to do whats right for the authors and the readers and to those who love the award winning books.