Hold Still Pulled after “Big Misunderstanding”
The Blue Springs (Mo.) School District has removed Nina LaCour’s young adult novel Hold Still from its library and classrooms in response to parental complaints about its language and sex scenes.
Kansas City television station KCTV reported November 8 that Stephen and Christina Brown complained to the principal at the Blue Springs Freshman Center after their 14-year-old daughter read the book, which is about a young girl coping with the suicide of her best friend, as part of an extra credit assignment in a freshman English class.
Christina Brown, the student’s mother, said the book is riddled with “F-yous” and called it “extremely inappropriate” for public school because it describes explicit sexual relationships. KCTV said the couple asked for the book to be banned from district reading lists.
When KCTV contacted officials about the Browns’ concerns, the district said in an email that Hold Still “has been removed from the library and classrooms” pending a review by a group of teachers and instructional staff members.
However, the Browns told the Blue Springs Examiner that they didn’t want the book removed from the library, but simply sought an alternative choice for their daughter to read for extra credit. “All we wanted was for our daughter to be able to pick another book,” said Stephen Brown. “Going out on this crusade to ban books was not and is not our agenda.”
As the controversy broke, the Missouri Association of School Librarians released a statement supporting the availability of the book. “Hold Still is a very well-written story of a young adult finding hope during trying circumstances. The teen years are often a challenging time for many young adults,” said Ellen Wickham, MASL Executive Committee member and librarian of the neighboring Raytown School District. “The story offers perspective and inspiration on dealing with difficult situations, and is written honestly and with great concern for how it will impact its target audience of students in grades 9 through 12.”
Hold Still was part of a 15-book reading list given to the class, the Examiner reported November 11. Students were required to pick one book in order to get a grade; those who read three would receive an award. Stephen Brown said none of the other books on the list suited his daughter better.
The student’s father also said that, contrary to the KCTV report, he and his wife never asked that the book be removed or banned. “A student should be able to pick another book to read for a grade,” he said. “We feel like when it comes to school, they should be more toward the middle and not push an agenda either way. It is a partnership between parents and the school. Together we need to guide children and keep up on what is going on. I am all for freedom of speech except for when my rights as a parent are being stepped on. I felt because the teacher was not giving us another option, my rights as a parent were not being considered.”
“It turned out to be a big misunderstanding,” Leslie Evans, the district’s public information director, told the Examiner, explaining that the school district “did not ask for the book to be pulled” even though it ultimately was. “What happened is that the teacher put out her own list and did not use the approved-book reading list. The district-approved reading list has safeguards included and gives parents and students alternatives if they do not like the options on the list.” Evans added, “If every book was pulled from the shelves with questionable themes, we could pull books that have been in the library since I was a kid. We did not want to do that.”
Despite the avowed misunderstanding, Evans told American Libraries that the book remained under review as of November 29.
In early November the Browns met with the school principal and other administrators to discuss their concerns. Stephen Brown told the Examiner the couple was given the district-approved reading list and his daughter was switched to a different English class, adding that he could not be happier with the outcome. “As a parent, I do everything I can to try to keep my child from things that can hurt them. That was all this was about. There was no conspiracy to go after books.”
However, the KCTV report said that before the agreement was reached, the Browns consulted their pastor, Hylton Lawrence, at Lighthouse Independent Baptist Church in Independence. Together, they reviewed the 15 books on the extra credit reading list and told the television station at least nine were inappropriate and should be pulled.
“I’m not for banning—going to the library and saying, ‘Let’s ban every book there,’” Lawrence said. “I’m saying we need to have oversight. These are young people, they are not adults. They are children, and so we need some oversight,”
“Are you aware of the vulgarity? Are you aware of the acts of sex, incest, and homosexuality? All of these. Are you aware of these?” asked Lawrence, adding that he believes it is “my job to be a watchdog” and help determine what are appropriate and inappropriate books.