If your 12- or 13-year-old child or grandchild were being bullied, would you want her to hear a YA author–one who had herself been bullied–speak about hope and survival? Even if she wrote a novel about bullying that had the word “ass” in the title?
Students in the seventh and eighth grade at Cumberland Middle School in Virginia missed out on the chance to hear award-winning author Meg Medina address them at a school-sponsored anti-bullying event–one to which she had been enthusiastically invited–because of the title of her highly praised new novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick Press). The book features bullying as its central theme, and occasionally uses language that Medina–and a bullying expert–say kids use to torment their victims.
Medina, of Richmond, was invited in March by the principal of Cumberland Middle School to speak in advance of National Bullying Prevention Month in October. Less than three weeks before the September 17 event, he sent her an email canceling her talk. The reason? Concern over how some members of the community might react to her book's title. Ironically, September 22 is the start of Banned Book Week sponsored by the American Library Association.
The drumbeat of concern was actually rumbling for a few days. Prior to receiving the principal's summary cancellation, a school official sent Medina a message, asking -- at the principal's request -- that she refrain from mentioning the full title of her book, not use "offensive language," and not show the book's cover.
Here is an excerpt from Medina's response to the school, which she posted on her website's blog:
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. ... I believe that one way we adults can help is to acknowledge the reality of what our kids are experiencing...
Medina did suggest a compromise. Perhaps the school could send a letter home to the parents about her upcoming appearance and her books? Parents who would find the material offensive could opt out.
No deal. The door slammed shut after the Labor Day weekend.
When asked if she had intended to read from Yaqui Delgado during her presentation at Cumberland, she says: "I don't typically read from my books when I do school visits. If anything, I'll read a page. I speak about writing, and the kinds of books I write -- books with strong Latina characters. I tell the kids what my books are, and that I write for all age groups, and then I launch into the focus of the session."
The title of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass comes from the novel's opening line, a message delivered by Yaqui Delgado's lackey to Piddy Sanchez, the book's 15-year-old protagonist. Piddy is new at the school. She has no idea who Yaqui Delgado is or why she wants to hurt her. The book, praised in the Washington Post as "richly developed" and "unflinching," includes a harrowing example of cyber-bullying.
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