April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ellen Hopkins, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Chris Finan are Honored for their Roles Battling Literary Censorship

Newbery medalist Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was honored at the NCAC’s annual Celebration of Free Speech and Its Defenders ceremony.

New York Times best-selling author Ellen Hopkins, Newbery medalist Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and First Amendment activist Chris Finan were all recognized by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) on November 12 for their work defending free speech.

NCAC’s annual Celebration of Free Speech and Its Defenders ceremony in New York City brought together more than 200 authors, publishers, and First Amendment advocates to honor and raise money for the 38-year-old organization, which protects free expression and access to information.

Joan Bertin, NCAC Executive Director, presented awards to the nominees.

Hopkins’s books, including the “Crank” trilogy (S&S), deal with such hard-hitting topic as incest, teen prostitution and drug addiction. Hopkins herself has often been the target of censorship. In 2010, an invitation for her to speak at a Texas teen lit festival was withdrawn after a middle-school librarian voiced concern about her students’ hearing Hopkins’ presentation. The previous year, Hopkins was uninvited to speak at a school in Norman, OK when a parent asked that Hopkins’s novel Glass (S & S, 2007), the story of a girl’s crystal meth addiction, be removed from district middle school libraries—and that no student be allowed to attend Hopkins’s presentation.

In accepting the award, Hopkins expressed her concern that children from conservative regions of the country are not exposed to people who are different from them or disturbing situations like those faced by the characters in her books. “In the red part of this country there are young people who don’t hear the other side,” said Hopkins. She believes that her books give young people a window into the lives of teens grappling with difficult issues.

Author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is no stranger to censorship either. Her “Alice” series (S&S) has attracted ongoing attention from censors due to their themes of teenage relationships, dating and sex. The books have made the American Library Association (ALA) list of most challenged books for several years. Naylor’s 25th “Alice” book, Always Alice (S&S) is due out in 2013.

In accepting the award, Naylor thanked librarians and teachers who fight to keep her books on the shelves. Naylor’s Newbery-winning Shiloh (Atheneum, 1991), about a young boy and an abused dog, was not immune to censorship, either. A principal and librarian in Louisiana had to hire lawyers to keep the book from being banned because of its inclusion of the words “hell” and “damn.”

The NCAC ceremony also recognized Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, who also has served as chairman of the NCAC for over a decade, Finan was thanked for his service to the organization and for being a defender of the First Amendment.

Joan Bertin, NCAC Executive Director, presented the awards to each nominee. The award statuettes, titled Digitus Impudicus, portrayed a hand with a raised middle finger.

Attendees also had the opportunity to bid on controversial book covers created by noted illustrators for the event, with proceeds going to NCAC. Drawing the greatest reaction from the audience were particularly risqué designs, entitled Tommy’s Pussy Wagon by Betsy Lewin, Blow Me: A Book About Whistles by Adam Rex, and Holiday Hummers: A Burst of Christmas Cheer by Tomie dePaola.

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.