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Author Uninvited: A School Decides I’m Trouble

By September 4, 2013May 8th, 2019No Comments

Let me start by saying that I am not making this up.

This week I was officially uninvited to speak on bullying at a middle school due to the title of my latest YA novel, YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.

The timing could not have been more ironic. September is the month when the American Library Association celebrates Banned Book Week, our annual reminder about the importance of intellectual freedom.

Sure, the title has raised eyebrows – as I knew it would. But the title of my book wasn’t an issue several months ago when I was contracted  to be part of the school’s anti-bullying event. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS  is the story of girl’s unraveling as she navigates being in the crosshairs of a physical and emotional abuser. I had planned to talk about my own experience at the hands of a bully long ago – and all that the experience robbed from me.  Then, as now, there were no easy answers, no clear path out of the torment that I couldn’t trust the adults around me to stop. I had also planned to talk about how that ugly sliver of life became fiction and about how writing and books help us make sense of our life experiences, good and bad.

Fear No ArtBut last Friday, I received a painful email from the teacher who had reached out to me in the first place. She was apologetic as she explained that her principal needed reassurances. He needed to be sure that I would not state the name of my novel. Or show a slide of the cover. Or use “coarse language” during the presentation. These were fifth through eighth graders from a community that was described as “mixed” and who might not appreciate bad language.

I took a deep breath.

Here is part of my reply:

“…For me to come to your school and distance myself from my work feels disrespectful of me as an author, but worse, it feels dishonest in dealing with the students, most especially those who are on the receiving end of harassment that already makes them feel ashamed. If I refuse to even name my book or tell them that the title comes from hearing those awful words firsthand, I would only be adding to that shame.As you mention in your email, you see this firsthand every day. I believe that one way we adults can help is to acknowledge the reality of what our kids are experiencing…” 

In an effort to be fair, I suggested sending home a note to let the Concerned Adults opt out for their students.

No dice. The ax fell yesterday when the principal emailed me to say that our visit was cancelled. He explained that although he’d once been an English teacher, he had “other considerations” as a school principal. Wow, I wanted to ask. What happened?  And what could those considerations be, exactly, especially when the stakes are so high?

Yaqui_frontcoverfullI’ll say only this:  I make absolutely NO APOLOGIES for the title of my book. The title is bold and troubling, and it suggests exactly what’s inside. Besides, we can fret all we want about the word ass, but that word isn’t the real trouble, is it?  What’s hurting our kids is the savagery on their phones, and Facebook pages and in their classrooms.  That, and the reluctance of those around them to step up and do the tough work of pulling the issue out into the open and talking about what bullying really looks and sounds like and about its radioactive impact that lasts for years into the future.

That’s what YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is about. It’s not just a book with a coarse word in the title. The story tries to get at the truth of what our young people are dishing out or receiving.  And most important to me, it’s a book that might have helped a kid like 12-year-old Gabrielle Molina before she decided to take her own life earlier this year.

Read her story and ask yourself this:  Would Gabrielle’s parents and teachers have objected to her reading a book with the word ass in the title if they knew it might have helped her survive?

What the critics are saying about Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Meg Medina

Author Meg Medina

I'm Meg Medina, author of libros for kids of all ages. I'm the 2019 Newbery medalist for Merci Suárez Changes Gears. I write strong girls, tough circumstances, and the connecting power of culture. Thanks for visiting my blog!

More posts by Meg Medina

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  • Sorry but not surprised if it was a school in Henrico county. They did something similar to me when I produced an anti-drug video with the White House (yep! THAT White House!). When they reviewed the video, they saw that one of their students had used the words “hell” and “damn” while interviewing teenage drug addicts. Sure enough, the school’s administration held firm that the language was inappropriate and cancelled our screening. When these things happen to we adults, it’s even more obvious how hard it is to be a kid. Keep pressing on…

  • I am really sorry this happened to you, your book and all the potential students who would have had someone and something identifiable to assist them in dealing with bullying. We lost another young man today, just saw this on CNN, who committed suicide due to bullying. Some school administrators are useless, inadequate, and have their head up their a**, they are so far removed that they don’t have a clue at what is happening with their students.

  • Jan says:

    As a former English teacher who taught a lot of “bad” books, as well as a former kid who learned about life and herself from same, I feel your pain. I’m sure the principal caved under pressure from parents. Nothing scares an administrator more than a righteous parent, usually bearing a bible, out to protect her darlings. I hope your teacher enlists the help of parents who support books like yours–the often-silent majority. They need to let the principal know their objections.
    My Unitarian church has a great slogan about sex ed and other forms of truth: Just say know. Let’s get some t-shirts.

    • Appreciate your comment Jan, but do we really have to go down the road of “the righteous parent bearing a Bible”? I think we should have this discussion in a respectful way. We talk about alienating kids, and isn’t that just what you’re doing when you single out a group and blame them for a situation that they may have had no part in? The Bible bearing parents, as you call them, have kids too. Any person can be mean-spirited, and as children’s authors, we can’t afford to blame a group other than those directly responsible for this poor decision. If we truly write for all children, then let’s try to build bridges to families that see things differently than we do, rather than assuming we know who is at the bottom of this issue. Thanks for considering.

  • Beth says:

    I’m sorry you were censored in such a way. Bullying is a scary thing, especially as a parent. is my kid being bullied, is he the bullier? But for them to axe you because *gasp* crude words might be said is ridiculous. SOmehow, I think any crudeness you may have in your book or have potentially said is considerably less than the children currently say. My own 11 and 10 year olds have dropped F bombs on more than one occasion. I agree with your suggestion to let parents decide if kids could attend your visit. If you were at my children’s school, my kids would’ve been there. The crude words administration fear do not cause me angst. I would rather they hear your message.

  • Cole says:

    I guess this begs the question of what your title has to do with bullying. I would never get that from your title.

    In fact, it’s entirely possible that kicking the ass of another person, or child, or teen, might well be considered bullying and mean in and of itself. It certainly doesn’t sound like a great answer to this very serious issue.

    Maybe your book is wonderful, or maybe it has the potential to help stop the bully cycle that is so prevalent in some schools today. There’s nothing about this title that mirrors that – or that entices me to read it.

    There’s a fine line between calling attention to a serious issue, offering solutions within the context that can truly help, and participating in the very thing you are trying to prevent. I don’t believe kids need us to come down to their level to help them. In fact, I think they are looking for adults who are authentic, different, and live what they talk. That is something most everyone can respect.

    I fail to see how kicking the ass of anyone contributes toward a solution.

    • Meg Medina says:

      I’d suggest reading the book. The book does not in any way glorify beatings or bullying. It’s entirely the opposite.

    • August says:

      Read the book. People who have opinions about books they’ve never read drive me crazy.

    • Nicole says:

      It is considered bullying…which is exactly the point. The title is the message that is presented to the protagonist, Piddy. She is told that this person she has never met, Yaqui Delgado, is coming after her. Teens who are hearing “so and so wants to kick your ass” will hopefully see the title and realize that they are not alone in what they are going through. Then when they read the book hopefully they will gain hope or help in finding a solution. Also, you really would never draw the conclusion from the title that the book is about bullying? It’s a hateful message scrawled on a locker, which to me adds up to a pretty clear picture of bullying.

      Read the book before you argue about it!

    • Sporkdelis says:

      To be clear, the title represents the problem, not the solution.

      Is it jumping to conclusions to guess that you were not bullied?

      I endured pretty mild bullying, and I got that multiple times from several girls, a couple times from people I didn’t know.

  • Susanna says:

    That’s really unfortunate. Politics over kids’ well-being.

  • staceylo says:

    My goodness! I am so sorry that this happened and reminded yet again of what an uphill battle it is to the right thing for our children. Yaquai Delgado has been on my To Be Read list and it just moved up to the top. After I read it, I plan to write more about this issue. I love the comment above re: Just say know. That really is it, isn’t. The more of us who talk and write and share about this book and this issue the better. Hugs to you as always!

  • David Lubar says:

    For what it’s worth, you are in very good company. Chris Crutcher, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins, and many others have faced similar situations. (I’ve been relatively unscathed, in comparison, but the two or three times I’ve run into the forces of ignorance stung enough for me to empathize with you.) It’s hard to describe the mixed feelings of outrage, sadness, and other emotions that hit an author when he or she is confronted by people who just don’t understand the power and value of books and reading.

  • Kim Norman says:

    Wow, Meg. I’m so sorry this has happened. It’s the kind of thing that makes me so mad that *I* want to kick somebody’s ass. There are some stupid stupid parents out there. I can’t tell you how many times I have told people about the way my parents allowed me to read ANYTHING, regardless of content (or even writing quality.) I’m CERTAIN my best friend would not have been allowed to read the kind of stuff I read. And yet she was the one who ended up pregnant at 15, with a sister who was a chronic shoplifter. Who knows, maybe reading racy books was my nice, quiet, non-dangerous way of rebelling. If only more parents could be made to understand that. And one always has to wonder: to they think they’re children live in a bubble, that they don’t hear words like that every day on the bus or on television? Sigh. The irony is, parents like THAT are the bullies.

  • Kym Brunner says:

    Bummer. I had similar trouble with wanting to include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on our 7th grade Battle of the Books list because there’s a paragraph about masturbation inside. Like Alexie’s book, the suggested age range for your book is 14 and older, and only the 8th graders are that age. But as you say, kids much younger than that are experiencing bullying in a significant way. I’m hopeful it can reach the kids who need it most. FWIW, my principal was okay with having controversial books in the library, just not having them as required reading. (Which, given that reasoning, it would seem like it’d be okay for you to talk about your book since you’re not requiring that they read it…) I’m sorry this situation occurred and will definitely recommend that your title be in our school library.

  • Katrina says:

    Reblogged this on Vamos a Leer and commented:
    We’re reading Meg Medina’s The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind in a few months for our book group, looks like we should put Yaqui Delgado wants to Kick your Ass on next year’s list. She raises some great points on how and why we decided what’s appropriate for our children in schools–and who is potentially hurt by this censorship. I hope you’ll check out her post and her newest book. It sounds like one we need in our classrooms.

  • I can definitely relate.

    Scott Blagden

    Author of Dear Life, You Suck

  • Michelle Friedman says:

    I would have written the title is A** (and that is rhymes with gas). Can you imagine the students whispering to each other–it’s “Ass” (they even might say “ass gas”)! They would love saying it among themselves, and some would go out and buy your book after being told they could not see the entire title as it really appears. I would tell them what happened–you are being censored since you are in a school with young students. I don’t agree with the censorship, but I know the reality of being in a school with young people and their rules. Sorry you went through this, and I hope many students (especially those who are being bullied who really need it) get to read your book!

  • Martin Blasco says:

    Hi Meg: I’m very sorry of the way that this school disrespected both you and the students. You’re a brave writer, unfortunately, in a country that is not prepared for critical thinking and facing reality. I tell you, this is going to be a great marketing for your book. I will recommend it to all the children librarians I know. You have the support of many people.

  • SW Seaberg says:

    Maybe you could try via the PTA/PTO at an offsite facility (movie theatre or community center):?

  • Michelle Friedman says:

    P.S. What I wrote before is not just my thoughts. Author Margaret Atwood once gave a lecture in Pittsburgh (and Frank McCourt once gave a similar talk too), and Ms. Atwood talked about the restrictions in a school with young people. I’m not saying not to fight this, but it depends on the school district and the people who work there too. If the school was willing to have you talk–I would still want to see you talk. Maybe you could have saved some lives! Bullying is a big problem, and a lady at my workplace lost a daughter who was being bullied at her high school. The young lady killed herself, and I can’t help wondering if someone could have talked with her about bullying–and that maybe she could have survived it if someone reached out to help her at her school. Thank you for your book and all you are doing to help students who are going through bullying!

  • I plan to read your book with my twelve-year-old son. I’m sure he will find the title very intriguing! This is an important issue, and people will seek out the book. Some of the best books ever, have at some point been banned/challenge–chin up!

  • Dear, Ms. Medina,
    I would LOVE to participate in an anti-bullying program with you. I’m saddened that the school district behaved the way they did. If they were offended by the title of your book, then they aren’t paying attention to the “coarse language” uttered every day in their hallways. That always bends my mind just a little bit. Bullying is a problem here. Suicide is also a problem here, as it is in many places in rural Alaska. I’m at The Craig Public Library. We video conference in programs for kids and adults. I’d love to have kids read your book and then be able to meet with you to talk about … everything — the book, bullying, all that stuff. Work to save lives? Yes, please, because there are few things more heartbreaking than losing a young person.

    • Meg Medina says:

      Count me in, Amy. You can send me your comment on the contact tab and we’ll follow up from there. Thank you …thank everyone…for this resounding support. I feel so, so much better.

  • I am a school counselor who just read the book and I can honestly say I was thinking of actual girls I could have given it to…girls who it described for me…the inner workings I never understood before…it really could save a life! What a shame…did the principal even read it?

  • Wow is about all I can say. That, and, I’ll be sure to read it. They can’t censor me!
    I shared this on Facebook.

    • Meg Medina says:

      Thanks, Michelle…

      • You’re welcome. I also shared this post with my local library and they said they’ll buy the book. It wasn’t necessarily on their radar, but they, like most librarians, are totally against censorship. When I shared it, the librarian reminded me of a recent comment by a patron about Scott Blagden’s book, DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK. Apparently, the patron was offended by the book and wondered if they really needed to display it face out. Needless to say, it stayed,

  • Michelle Friedman says:

    P.S. II And another solution could be for the principal to reveal the title of the book and ask the students to act mature about it!

  • Your Uninvitation was the kids’ loss. I feel sorry for them.

  • Michelle Friedman says:

    P.S. I agree Kathy, and I talked with some librarians and teachers at work, and they don’t think the title should be banned for any reason (and they think the title is not that bad/risque at all)!

  • Judy Blume says:

    Have you notified Joan Bertin at National Coalition Against Censorship? ( The Kids Right to Read Project would guide you and help in every way they can. They are a small but highly effective organization who have been there for me, for Sherman Alexie, and for every author who finds herself/himself in this maddening situation. I’ll forward your message to them but please follow up with a phone call yourself. Look forward to reading your book.
    Judy Blume

    twitter: @judyblume

    • Meg Medina says:

      Thanks, Judy, for reaching out with support. I will look into the NCAC. I have a feeling I’m going to need support as the book continues to move through the world.

  • Hey Meg…. the first, but probably not the last time. Fight the good fight. I’ve been uninvited from events three times. It hurts, because you know what you have to offer the kids who now won’t be allowed your wisdom. Keep moving forward. Those kids who really need your books will find you anyway!

    • Meg Medina says:

      Hi Ellen! It does feel strange to be considered bad for children or offensive in some way. I hope you’re right about kids finding their way to the books they need. Thanks for the support. I really appreciate it!

  • Deb Mullaney says:

    Perhaps that principal should step outside the office and walk the corridors of this middle school a little bit more to hear the language that is used, to see the bullying firsthand, and to ask English teachers about what the kids like to read. As a retired English and Reading teacher, I know teens love YA novels and a title like this with a book jacket of graffiti on a locker really hits home and would be grabbed off the shelf. Not only will this book get kids reading (a dying activity nowadays,sadly), but as others have said perhaps help a teen relate to a character and seek help before its too late. I applaud you for speaking out and encourage you to follow up on Judy Blume’s advice. Best wishes

  • Well I can’t say this surprises me one bit. Fear on the school’s behalf is the reason, fear of stepping out of the box or not towing the line – society is so programmed to “fit in”, not sure how we are ever going to help children understand difficult issues in their lives if we are too scared to even mention them. I do however wonder in this case if it isn’t just the word Ass that has got the head teacher all hot under the collar – perhaps the cultural implications of the Bully’s name is also an issue? Maybe the school doesn’t want people thinking that an ethnic name is stereotyping who the bullies may be? Might be wrong but knowing how politically correct these people are…

  • I am so sorry this happened, so glad you blogged about it. When will this stop? I’ve been in a similar situation, though not in a classroom, but at the publishing level. I had a picture book manuscript – on bullying – accepted with a national Canadian publisher. The art was drawn, the pub. date set, and the marketing department decided the word stupid needed to come out of the book. I fought hard and lost that round. They subsequently decided the book was too ‘unfriendly’ and cancelled the whole project at the 11th hour. They simply weren’t comfortable publishing something showing children taunting other children. We need to acknowledge what our kids are experiencing indeed!

  • Ginjer Clarke says:

    Now I’m especially glad that I own a signed copy, because banned books are sometimes the most powerful kind. Your story gave me a lot of insight into bullying, but I think the best message is that both the bully’s and the victim’s pain came from a feeling of isolation, regardless of how it was acted on. Everyone needs to know that she is not alone, and if using (barely) rude language to get kids’ attention on this issue is required, so be it.

  • This is really disturbing…but it made me buy the book:) Keep up the good fight.

  • Nancy Lamb says:

    I celebrate your courage, Meg. And I have nothing but scorn for teachers and school officials who lack the backbone to stand up for the truth and recognize the reality of what is happening in the lives of children.

  • Carla says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. I just finished reading “Yaqui Delgado” and thought it was brilliant. I am a middle school librarian; I am buying your book for my library and will feature it prominently. I look forward to sharing it with my students because I think it’s an important book for young people to read. Thank you for writing it.

  • This is awful! I’m sorry 🙁 If you do end up doing some sort of online conference, or book club or something, I’d love for the kids I work with to be included.

  • And then, sometimes, courageous educators take a stand. I mentioned to a school principal yesterday how Dear Life, You Suck isn’t getting into many high schools because of language and content and she wrote back:

    “The teacher here has started it as a read aloud with 7-9th graders. I know some of the language is colorful, but it is how kids talk to each other.”

    Yay for courageous educators!

    PS I’ve ordered my copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass!

  • EZ says:

    You have a point with the fact that the cuss word (grant it I don’t like it either) isn’t the real problem here. I hate political correction. To me that is only an excuse to let others get offended. Good luck with your book.

  • Christina says:

    You deserve to be uninvited ! Your book not only has an inappropriate title, but the language and content is even more inappropriate for children to read !! I can’t believe Fairfax County Schools would require this garbage for their 8th graders ! Foul language, a cheating mother, references to penis size. What’s wrong with you ? This is not appropriate for children !