Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Censoring Children's Books - A letter from David Michael Slater

Yesterday I got an email from David Michael Slater, a writer based in Portland, Oregon. He has written two books that have caused quite a brouhaha. Apparently some people do not like the books because the main characters in the stories "uncover historical facts at odds with traditional Biblical stories." The books are fictional and do not pretend to discuss the bible in any historical or theological sense. Unfortunately David and his books have been verbally attacked in the press and on the web. I have invited David to present his side of the story here on the TTLG blog.

Dear Fellow Book Lovers,

I've been asked numerous times in the last few days how I feel about the exponentially increasing attention being paid to the “The Sacred Books Controversy." Volume I of the series, THE BOOK OF NONSENSE, came out in October of 2008 from a wonderful, but very small, publisher in Texas, Blooming Tree Press/CBAY. Like most small presses, it had a hard time attracting national reviews. Thanks to bloggers though, word did get out. (See the nearly three- dozen Amazon reviews, for example). It was nominated for a Cybil and was a finalist for the Publisher's for Children's Best Books 2008 list. Nonetheless, it made nary a blip on the national radar.

Volume II was just released, and it seems to have brought out the worst in some folks. I'm happy to say it's also bringing out the best. It's difficult to describe the controversy without divulging critical plot points, but the gist of the issue here is that the series turns in a "Da Vinci Code"-like direction as the teen protagonists uncover historical facts at odds with traditional Biblical stories. The book, mind you, is fiction and has no aspirations to be taken as anything else. This, as you might not be surprised to know, isn't good enough for some. Here are some recent headlines. This from a suburban Portland paper: "Beaverton teacher’s latest tome tinkers with sacred texts” and “Sacred Books’ series may be banned by Christian Groups for fictional recounting of Bible stories"; This from Ron Charles of the Washington Post: "High school teacher in Oregon sees condemnation by conservative Christians spurring sales of his YA SACRED BOOKS series"; and this from Margie Boule in The Oregonian: "Beaverton teacher's teen adventure series is stirring up a storm.” Perhaps you can predict the reactions, but feel free to go here to read them, and please feel free to join the conversation (and see what I mean about the best and worst coming out): http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/margie_boule/index.ssf/2009/12/beaverton_teachers_teen_advent.html. It seems someone has been trying to hack into my website since this all began, which is to say the least, very concerning.

I'm not sure how to give an honest response about my feelings. I certainly never dreamed of getting my books noticed because people want to burn them. They were supposed to be celebrated for their unique combination of wit and wisdom and clever, thought-provoking plots. (Stop smirking!) But now, after publishing nearly 20 small press books (picture books, teen and adult novels) in the last nine years—not one of which garnered any attention remotely close to this—what I can say? I'm thrilled. I'm handing out cans of lighter fluid and asking only that folks buy them before they burn them. This is the real measure of how far I've fallen. But hark: in the span of two weeks they've gone from Beaverton to BoulĂ©, and now requests have come in for copies from The Jim Lehrer Show, The Progressive, Publishers Weekly, and the AP. Soon the chains might even notice them (gasp!). Taking umbrage at this point would be disingenuous. So, I'm not taking it. 'Tis the season anyway to remember that it's better to give than to receive.

I can’t say how much I appreciate the help beginning to pour in, help in the form of e-mail, blogs and a general message that people care when censorship rears its ugly head. If folks want to spread word about my books to express their righteous anger, I can only say…thank you.

Sincerely,

David Michael Slater

www.davidmichaelslater.com

I plan on making sure that I read and review these books for myself in the near future.

6 comments:

Eyes Wide Open said...

I can't believe anyone would swallow this absurd "It's just fiction" bunk. It's an age old screen for people who have anti-Christian agendas to attack sacred Truth with impunity, as if anything goes if you called it FICTION. In my opinion, books like these are especially insidious because they lull people, Children no less into lowering their guards. This book with its oh so clever revision of Genesis, if it reaches a wide audience, will have millions of kids wondering if God really did abandon the world. At the very least, these books should not be allowed in school libraries. They always start with our children.

Anonymous said...

Eyes Wide Open: You Sir or Madam, are an idiot. In my world, and the world my children live in, there is a difference between fiction and non-fiction. It's not confusing at all. Really. But I suppose if your worldview and faith in God is based entirely on stories that claim to be facts, maybe it makes sense that you can't tell one from another. Maybe I'd be afraid of these books too if I were you.

Anonymous said...

I can see it from both sides - I'm not in favor of censorship, generally, but I also don't see why this author would be using these overtly religious books as a public school teacher. I would tend towards recommending that they Not be in school libraries, but that they stay in state libraries.

Marya Jansen-Gruber said...

I am delighted that we have a dialog going here about this issue - which is one that is dear to my heart. First of all let me say that I think anyone should be allowed to write any book they wish, irrespective of what they do for a living. If you have a story to tell you should be able to tell it. With regard to the whole censorship idea, I think there is a very simple solution to the problem - judicious parenting. If your child brings home a book that you don't approve of, send it back. That way you decide what your child does or does not read. I for one would not want anyone else deciding for me what is or is not in any library. If Slater's books are pulled from shelves that means that my rights of free reading have been infringed upon. Or the rights of my child for that matter. Yes, I could go out and buy the book but why should I have to?

I have been to countries where you cannot say what you wish or read what you want, where certain books are not allowed. Let me tell you that I never want to see something similar happen in my country. Here we all are freely expressing our opinions, surely none of us what that to be taken away.

White Flag said...

You know what, I wont be surprised if no one challenges these books anywhere. We christians have thrown in the towell after seeing that these kind of noble efforts always wind up helping the authors of such evil books and getting us villified in the process. No one has the guts anymore. if i lived in that school district, you bet i'd have the paperwork filed by now to have the books removed. who cares if makes some people buy the book, it gives lovers of truth a chance to speak that truth right to the media powers that always work to undermind it.

Believer said...

Hear Hear WF! The more I read, the more its clear this guy abuses his position as a teacher. He should have his license immediately revoked! And he can take his blasphemous books with him on his way out.