I’ve talked about soft censorship of my novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass all over the country: how the book isn’t purchased at all, or is kept with the librarians, or is shared with only a select group of kids. And of course, I occasionally still get comments on my website that look like this:
Still, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a full-on challenge that required so much time and advocacy on the part of teachers and school leaders.
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending the day at South County Middle School in Lorton, VA, where the entire eighth grade read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. They invited me as a visiting author to talk with the students about the book.
South County Middle School is in Fairfax County, one of the most forward thinking municipalities in my state. The school is basically a little jewel, too. Clean building. Peaceful vibe. Decent kids from all backgrounds. Teachers who get giddy talking about new teaching ideas. Parents who show up for virtually everything.
As schools go, it doesn’t get much better.
So, it’s interesting to me that it’s also the place where use of my novel was so hotly debated. It was officially challenged by a small group of parents in a fight that dragged on and made its way up through the ranks of the School Board.
By the time the English staff took me to dinner, you couldn’t have guessed all they had gone through. Principal Marsha Manning, Anne Dougherty in the library, and the entire eighth grade team had to educate and advocate in ways that were surely painful and time consuming. And more, they put their reputations as educators and their relationships with parents on the line for the sake of giving kids something they felt was important to read. The good news is that the district had in place a process for how to deal with challenges, a framework that kept everyone calm in the face of what can easily become a pit of accusations and distrust. It’s hard to keep people at the table and sticking to the process in the face of fear, but this team did it. And in the end, I came to the school and had one of the loveliest experiences I’ve had on a campus.
A little montage for you:
“Thanks,” one girl told me, “for what you said about representation. People call me a Pocha. And I’ve never known what to say.”
Another girl wanted to talk to me in private about her body and how others have labeled it undesirable.
One girl said that she’s embarrassed that she can’t speak Spanish very well, that her parents tease her about it.
A boy asked me privately after the assembly, “So what should I do? Because I take a lot around here, and it doesn’t stop.”
“What advice do you have for me if I want to write something that’s really hard to say?” another boy asked, barely above a whisper.
That’s what a school visit looks like when the students are trusted to read. They have a chance to think about who they are and what they are living. They have a chance to consider all the ways they can respond to what comes their way. It gives them one more tool that helps in this long job of growing up.
To the faculty and leadership at South County, and to the School Board and to the PTO parents who stepped up for my novel, I want to say thank you. It would have been so easy to give up, to choose another book and move on to the next task on your list. Thank you for having courage to stand up for students’ right to read. Thank you for giving thought to how to include kids who did opt out. Thank you for modeling how to be strong. Courage and compassion are in ample supply at your school. For all the ways your students treated me as the star, I hope they never forget that the real superheroes in this have been in their building all along.
Meg’s next appearances
Saturday May 6, Twin Cities Teen Lit Conference, Minnesota, with Jay Asher, Jeff Zentner, Box Brown and more!
Saturday, May 20, 2017, Gaithersburg Book Festival, Maryland