Zombies and Madonna and media literacy, oh my! by Deb Katie

This week at the Debutante Ball, our theme is Banned Books Week, which takes place between September 27 and October 4.

Most of what I read as a child was pretty tame—just about every book was something that my parents could have picked up, started reading, and not had a problem with (which is good, because that tended to happen in my house—for instance, the week we all randomly picked up and read my 11-year-old sister’s book Camp Zombie and confessed, in a festival of family wimpiness, that we all found it terrifying).

I never bothered to sneak to my friend’s house and look over Madonna’s controversial book, Sex. I never perused any steamy romances at the paperback rack at the library. When I did branch out, it was to the not-so-exotic realm of John Grisham or Michael Crichton—even Stephen King was too scary for me.

So when I wrote my book, I wrote what I knew, in this sense. Most parents could pick up Bad Girls Don’t Die and check out any of the pages without becoming alarmed at what their kids were reading.

And I did it on purpose. Call me a prude, but when I’m a parent, there are going to be things I don’t want my kids exposed to. You can bet if I see an unfamiliar book on the coffee table, I’ll scoop it up and read a few paragraphs to get an idea of what exactly is being fed into my little angels’ minds.

So why should I care about Banned Books Week?

(Ha! Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I ended my post right there?)

The reason is that I believe, as my parents believed, that just because something isn’t right for me doesn’t mean it isn’t right for somebody. And I believed, even as a teen, that my behavior should be governed by my own self-control, not from a blanket effort to remove “bad” influences from my reach. Like every teen in the history of the universe, I had plenty of naughty stuff in my reach—but I was raised not to reach for it.

My book does actually have a few things going on that might raise a couple of eyebrows. It deals with ghosts and the supernatural, which many people out there might not be okay with (people like, er, me, circa 1990). It has a few fight scenes, which some people might dislike, but I feel are important to the story line (hey, some things are worth fighting for).

Do I expect every parent in America to pick up my book and be totally okay with it? No. I happen to think the vast majority won’t find any cause for complaint. But for the few that do, I’d like to trade my understanding and acceptance of their viewpoint for their understanding and acceptance of mine.

If they don’t want the book in their house, they’re completely welcome to pluck it from the innocent fingers of their children and do with it what they choose. But I ask that they confine their plucking to the fingers of their own progeny and allow other parents to exercise their own discretion.

I really admire the philosophy of The Center for Media Literacy, which I first learned about reading Hell Burns, the media journal of Sister Helena Burns (and how’s that for a ban-worthy blog title?). The idea is that you can’t get your kids away from the media, so give them the tools to be aware of and interpret what they’re being exposed to. Instead of banning a book, discuss it. Even *gasp!* read it.

PhotobucketFar be it from me to advise other people on how to raise their kids. But I can’t recall a single acquaintance whose teenaged reading habits—even the steamier variety—proved problematic as the teen in question entered adulthood.

Besides, I was too wimpy to read Stephen King, and I grew up to write spooky supernatural books. So who knows—those kids reading the spicy bodice-rippers will probably grow up to write thousand-page ornithology textbooks.

~ Deb Katie Alender (who, yes, is having way too much fun with Photobucket and should knock it off already)

12 Replies to “Zombies and Madonna and media literacy, oh my! by Deb Katie”

  1. Couldn’t agree more! My parents never inquired about or censored my reading, but I can’t remember reading anything that they would have found alarming, either. I read some racy grown-up thrillers when I was in junior high but actually even those were fairly tame…

    To my mind, reading with your kids shouldn’t stop when they learn to read by themselves.

  2. Simply put: If parents can’t trust their child’s choice of reading material, how can they trust anything and/or anyone’s else influence on that child?

    And, Katie, your photoshop picture — showing off the new haircut 😉 — reminds me of Mara in FALLING UNDER.

  3. Amen, Katie.

    Books are like people — diversity is grand. Encouraging people to read all sorts of books is the same thing as being open to someone from a different country, religion, or culture, ya know? Except that if you don’t like the book, it’s easier to walk away from than some people can be…

  4. I used to think the other way, unfortunately. But I have recently changed my tune on “banned books” and the like.

    It is so true when they say that it all starts with the family. Don’t censor, rather arm your little troops with the right tools so they can make the right choices on their own.

    I never read any books growing up. My poor parents, I’m sure they would have been enthralled if I read anything. “Please son, it’s okay, this is called a book, they’re fun, really…”. I say if they’re reading, great, at least they’re READING. If only kids today would drop the controllers and pick up a book instead.

  5. Amen, to all. People in this country spend far too much time minding everyone else’s business and really ought to just mind their own.
    Love your cover, your haircut is adorable and way cool photoshopping. Wish i knew how to do that!

  6. I’m banned from commenting on Banned Books, which is why I’ll still be writing about my Call story this week. I don’t even really get the concept. I mean, it seems to me that the surest way to get someone to WANT to read something is to tell them that they CAN’T! (Gee, I hope someone somewhere Bans my book. It would be great marketing strategy, right?)

    But Katie, I LOVE your book cover. It’s awesome and I’d totally let my 14-year-old daughter read your book. (In fact, I’ll make her read it. No, wait, I’ll tell her she can’t read it. Yeah, that’ll work!) I think we really can’t control what our kids (or anyone) reads or gets exposed to. But I think the best we can do, as parents anyway, is to be there – and make sure our kids know we are there and accessible – to talk about and help them process whatever ideas they are picking up from books, the media, school, wherever.

  7. Thanks for all the wonderful comments, everyone!

    Kristina, that’s a great point! There’s no reason why parents should feel shy about picking up and reading any YA book, regardless of whether their intention is to patrol their kids’ reading habits or just to know what’s out there.

    Meredith, thanks! It’s exceedingly easy and terribly addictive!

    Larramie, great point! No matter what you command your children to do, they can find a way around it–especially in the age of the internet. Actually a little terrifying!

    Susan, that’s very true. That’s why I love the media literacy approach–if you want to take a stand against something, you should be informed about it. And absolutely there are people I wish I could just turn in to the library and get out of my hair!

    Jason, that’s so funny! Parents of kids who don’t read don’t have to bother with censorship, do they? Although nowadays there are plenty of other media out there worth keeping an eye on. And your “past thinking”, however you used to feel, is common. I know everyone has felt that way at one or more points in their lives–let’s face it, there are some vile things out there. It can be a scary world. Especially, I imagine, for a parent.

    Jenny, thank you! And it’s not Photoshop, it’s a website called Photobucket. It’s very simple, I highly recommend playing around with some of their features (and no, I’m not on their payroll)!

    Eve, hmm… now I’m curious. But the second half of your call story is sure to be a hoot, so I won’t complain. I’m so glad you love my book! Yes, I’m seeing a new plan… I think parents should order their children to read my book. It’s the opposite of censorship, so it fits the theme…!

  8. Again- I adore your cover. Every time I see it I think about how I CANNOT wait to read it.

    I also couldn’t agree more on the point of your blog once I stop being distracted by all the pretty pictures. What I would choose to ban someone else might see as perfectly normal- and vice versa.

  9. If you want to get me fired up, just mention book banning. During my high school years I read everything I could get my hands on including The Thorn Birds, all of Thomas Tryon’s books (quite steamy), and yes, Stephen King. The strange thing was; my mother knew I was reading this stuff but yet she was extremely controlling and suspicious of everthing else. I guess if I was at home, reading, (no matter what the content!) at least I was home. As a parent I also let my kids read whatever they wanted and I don’t think for one minute that any scrape they got into was the direct result of any book they may have read. Oh, and thank God for Judy Blume; ‘Are You there God? It’s Me Margaret’ came out when I was in the 6th grade. Need I say more.

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