April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“This One Summer” Restored to Henning, MN, School District Library, with Restrictions

Breaking Barriers: An Interview with the Creators of This One SummerThe award-winning graphic novel This One Summer (First Second, 2014) has come under fire again. Last month, after a parent complaint, the librarian, principal, and superintendent at the Henning Public School, Henning, MN, school district’s only school, decided to pull Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s Caldecott Honor–winning work off of the library’s shelves.

Located about 160 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, the school has 390 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade and serves a community of about 800 residents. Superintendent Jeremy Olson told the Daily Globe, “We deemed [This One Summer] to not be appropriate for a pre-K–12 library,” adding that books have not been removed from the school library before, to his knowledge.

The decision prompted a letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and a school board meeting on June 1 to determine the fate of the book. The NCAC letter said that although 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.”

Both Olson and the NCAC cited a landmark 1982 school censorship case, Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico. The decision prohibits school officials from pulling books off library shelves because they dislike the ideas. It does give administrators discretion to remove a book that is “pervasively vulgar.”

The NCAC argued that This One Summer could not be deemed “pervasively vulgar” under any standard. Olson said he found neither the story nor the message of the book objectionable. But he determined that “vulgarity permeates” the book, so he used his legal authority to remove it.

The board meeting on June 1 resulted in a four-to-two vote to allow This One Summer back on library shelves at the district’s single school—with a few conditions. The book must be shelved in a separate section from those for younger readers, and only students in grades 10–12 who have signed parental permission can have access to it.

In response to the school board’s decision, the NCAC, in a blog post, expressed relief at the graphic novel’s return to the library shelves and dismay at the conditions: “While the school board’s compromise is certainly an improvement on the previous state of affairs, when the book was banned outright, the requirement for high-school-aged students to have written parental permission just to read the book is a needless encumbrance on their First Amendment rights. Additionally, we are still hoping for the Henning School District to implement a policy for objectively handling any future challenges to library materials.”

ThisOneSummerTN2The coming-of-age graphic novel and SLJ Best Book is no stranger to controversy. It has been under scrutiny ever since it was selected as a 2015 Caldecott Honor book, a distinction often associated with picture books for younger readers. Earlier this year, it was pulled from the shelves of several Florida schools.

Mariko Tamaki, one of the book’s creators, said about the banning and restriction of books, “I don’t support the idea that a book someone finds offensive or ‘inappropriate’ should be banned. We should read things we don’t think we’re going to like and don’t necessarily understand. [It] won’t hurt us. At the best, it will open new doors. We should strive to read those things we find challenging, or at least concede that something we don’t like should be read by other people.”

Henning Public School representatives, including school library contact Tammy Fosse, did not respond to messages from SLJ.


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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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