Cory Doctorow is the latest author to have his book pulled, since the principal at Booker T. Washington High in Pensacola, Fla., canceled the entire summer One School/One Book reading program in an effort to prevent students from reading Doctorow’s YA novel Little Brother. As Doctorow reported on his blog last Friday, an English teacher and the school librarian had previously chosen Little Brother for the program, and the school administration had signed off on the project. The principal then intervened and ordered a title change, citing the book’s message of questioning authority as unsuitable. Little Brother will instead be offered as an optional title for students in 11th grade AP English.
Booker T. Washington marks the first school to challenge Doctorow’s 2008 novel. As Doctorow told PW, “I'm pretty sure that the principal at Booker T., like most career educators, is a good and principled person who is trying to do his job as he sees it. I happen to disagree – vehemently – with this decision, but that doesn’t make him an evil censor or an enemy of art. It does, however, make him wrong – at least in my view.”
The English teacher who’d selected Little Brother told Doctorow that a parent reportedly had complained to the principal about profanity, thus challenging the book on content. “I believe that the best way to address sensitive and difficult subjects in an educational context is through discourse,” said Doctorow. “I also believe that as an absolutely factual matter, there is no obscenity in this book, contrary to his reported remarks. There is a reference to profanity, but that is no more profanity than a reference to sin is a sin itself – the map is unequivocally not the territory.”
In response to the program’s cancellation, Tor Books is standing by its author, and is sending 200 free paperback copies of Little Brother to Booker T. Washington High School students. “Little Brother is a smart, balanced, thoughtful story about young people struggling with tough issues under difficult circumstances,” Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor of Tor Books, told PW. “We’re proud to have published it, and we agree with Cory Doctorow that the best way to deal with difficult issues is to openly talk about them.”
Doctorow credits Tor for its generous support, and hopes the removal of Little Brother from the reading program will inspire positive change. He plans to videoconference with students who read and wish to discuss the book this fall. “I am absolutely looking forward to talking with the students and faculty at Booker T. I hope that this controversy stirs the curiosity and critical thinking of the students, and kick-starts discussions on wide-ranging issues that the students face today and need to be prepared to face tomorrow.”
The National Coalition on Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project has also expressed concerns over the cancellation, and the removal of Doctorow’s novel. Executive director Joan Bertin said in a release, “School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular or controversial ideas. Removing a book because it contains ideas that some members of the community may object to, or disapprove of, violates basic constitutional principles.”