Nancy Garden may best be known for her widely acclaimed – and widely challenged – 1982 novel Annie on My Mind (one of the first books for teens putting lesbian characters in a positive light), but there’s more to Nancy than Annie. She is the other of dozens of books for young readers, including Good Moon Rising, The Year They Burned the Books, Molly’s Family, and, her latest, Endgame. She is also the author of the collection of essays and stories, Hear Us Out! Many of Nancy‘s books have raised controversy, as many of her characters struggle with some very real scenarios that some adults don’t think young people should read about. Being the First Amendment Advocate that she is, I had to get Nancy Garden for our Banned Books Week Q&A. Here are her responses:
BookPeople: What book(s) of yours have been banned or challenged and what were the reasons given?
Nancy Garden: Annie on My Mind is the main one–challenged and/or around 7 times, mostly for condoning /promoting homosexuality and being age inappropriate. Annie was the subject of a successful First Amendment Good Moon Rising and Holly’s Secret (along 13 other books, for being gay-positive). And my nonfiction book Witches was challenged because it contains information on covens that the challengers feared could “easily be used to form a coven.”
BP: What was your reaction when you first heard your book(s) were being challenged?
NG: Although Witches was the first book of mine to be challenged, the first one I heard about was ANNIE, and I heard about that when it was burned on the steps of the building housing the Kansas City School Board. What was my reaction? I was stunned. Only Nazis burn books, I thought!
BP: How do you feel knowing there are people out there who don’t want young readers to have access to your books?
NG: It saddens me and makes me angry–not only that people don’t want kids to have access to some of my books, but that they don’t want kids to have access to many other books as well. It saddens me that some adults are afraid that reading widely can harm their children, and that bad things will happen to their children if they’re exposed to ideas of which their parents don’t approve. It saddens me especially that many adults feel that they themselves should not only control what their own children read–which they of course have every right to do–but that they, by trying to ban certain books, should also seek to control what other people’s children read, which they of course have no right to do.
BP: Has having your work banned or challenged changed the way you write?
BP: Sexuality, magic, expletives, race, and LGBT themes (among other topics) are often the reasons people challenge books. Why do you write about these topics, and why do you think it’s important that they are included in young people’s literature?
NG: First of all, I think kids need to be exposed to a wide range of subjects and ideas in order to understand the world around them and in order to develop their own opinions. I wrote about witches in a non-fiction series about occult subjects, tracing beliefs around the world and through the ages about vampires, werewolves, devils and demons, and witches because many kids are intrigued by these subjects and in order to give them the social and cultural and political history of them. I write about LGBTQ people and issues because when I was a young lesbian growing up in the closeted 50s there were no books for kids in which I could myself and my struggles; I longed for such books and vowed someday to write one. Kids in all minorities need to see themselves in books, and kids who aren’t members of minorities need to “meet” people unlike themselves in books, too.
BP: Has your status as the author of banned books affected your career as a writer?
NG: Yes–it has allowed me to speak out about LGBTQ issues and literature, and about censorship and the First Amendment.
BP: What do the terms “censorship” and “intellectual freedom” mean to you?
NG: Some people think censorship only exists when the government prevents a book (for example) from being published or distributed, but the word has come to be used more narrowly. When a school board pulls all copies of a specific title, or all copies of books that fit a certain category–the occult, for example, or homosexuality–from school library shelves, that’s usually taken to be an example of censorship as well. We don’t have much of the first kind in this country, thank goodness (although we’ve come close when it comes to the Internet), but we do have plenty of the second.
Intellectual freedom is the freedom to read, hear, view, and say anything one wants to read, hear, view, and say as long as it doesn’t arouse people to riot or to commit crimes. Of course disagreement exists as to what might arouse people to riot or commit crimes!
BP: What are your favorite banned books, and why?
NG: I don’t know if I have favorite banned books, but many of the books that appear regularly on ALA’s “banned books” lists are books I greatly admire: The Chocolate War, In the Night Kitchen, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, It’s Perfectly Normal, King & King, And Tango Makes Three, The Color Purple, The Giver, the Harry Potter series, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Athletic Shorts – these are just off the top of my head – the list goes on and on!
BP: If you could say anything to Judy Blume, a literary legend and other of many banned books, what would you say?
NG: I’d say “thank you” – Thank you, Judy, for fighting so hard and so long for intellectual freedom and the First Amendment, especially as regards books.
BP: What advice would you give a student (or parent, or concerned citizen) whose school or library is facing a book challenge?
NG: Get in touch with the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom; they’ll want to know about it, and they have a great deal of helpful information when it comes to fighting challenges. Write letters to your local paper in support of the book and author being challenged, and speak out publicly if you can.
BP: Since burning books is tragic, but bonfires can be fun, what should we burn instead?
NG: I’ll pass on this one, I think!
Thanks so much to Nancy Garden! Readers, keep your eye out for more responses from banend and challenged authors here at the BookKids Blog!