Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Book Challenge to Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns- A Muslim Book of Colors

Recently, a parent approached the Scholastic Book fair volunteers, the School Board, and the Press to have the book Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:  A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan removed from future Scholastic Book fairs at the elemtary school my daughter attends.



Here are the links to the press coverage:
Marietta Daily Journal- Father Upset After Child Finds Muslim Book at School Fair

My Fox Atlanta - Father Upset Religious Book Found at School Fair

My initial response was disbelief; however, the disbelief quickly grew to rage. I felt rage over the potential that a book might actually be removed from a book fair. I felt rage over the comments that the parent made regarding this beautiful children's book. But mostly, I felt rage over the sheer hatred that would precipitate such a request.

But, my rage quickly swelled into a call to action as I realized that this hatred stemmed mostly from a fear of the unknown. My call to action led me to write a letter to the school principal. I wrote to the school superintendent. I wrote to the appropriate school board representative. However, writing these letters did little to quell this overwhelming sense that I could and should be doing more to prevent this type of censorship.

In my debate on whether or not to blog about this topic, my biggest fear with writing a blog post was that it would turn into an attack of the person making the complaint. Even though this person may be the one making the request to have the book removed, the challenge to the books is indicative of a problem that is much bigger than him. I feel compelled to state that I don't want this or any discussion in the comments on my blog to be about him, but I would like to focus on the root cause of the challenge itself: fear and a lack of tolerance of other cultures and religions.

I think it is helpful to share with you a segment of what I wrote to the school representatives:

Ray Bradbury once wrote, "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches." While it seems completely unreasonable to burn a book, challenges to books found in libraries and book sales often are quieted to prevent the match from lighting a fire by removing the book from the shelves. From 1990 and 2000, individuals raised 6,364 challenges to books. This daunting statistic is what compels me to write this email.
 [O]ne of the reasons we love the school is the diverse population. She goes to school with kids from different cultures, that speak different languages, and have different beliefs. We have raised our daughter to be kind and empathetic to her classmates, to learn from them, to listen to them with an open heart instead of shunning them away with fear. It is the fear that drives the request to have the book removed.
As a book fair volunteer, I watched as the children searched the shelves for books that were interesting, that were fun, and to which they could relate. Our school population has many Muslim students, and the students should not be taught that a book about their culture in a beautifully illustrated children's book is akin to terrorism, as [was] inferred from [the] comments [cited] in the paper. Also, there were many books about other religions and cultures available at the book fair, including books about Christmas, Hanukkah, and Greek Mythology, just to name a few. So [the] comment that there was not any representation from other cultures or religions is baseless.
I think Judy Blume put it best when she said, "Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear.”
I have complete faith that this school district will not let the fear of one man drive the decisions of the [School District]....“[I]t's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” ―Judy Blume
I look forward to the next Scholastic book fair and seeing "Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:  A Muslim Book of Colors" on the shelf.
It is my belief that if we ever hope to eliminate this fear, we must all commit to bringing books that represent a broad spectrum of cultures to our children. And, in the same breath, I challenge publishers to bring books to children that show them a true reflection of the world in which they are growing up.


If anything, the fact that Scholastic is bringing this beautiful book to the the book fair is a testament to Scholastic's commitment to address the persisting issue of a lack of diversity in children's books. I love this info-graphic from Tina Kugler (http://tinakugler.squarespace.com/) about the lack of diversity in children's books that were published in 2012. Diversity in children's books will help to create the tolerance that will prevent future challenges to books, which are based largely on fear.


While one person may "challenge" to have a book removed from the Scholastic Book fair, I feel compelled to place a challenge to the readers of my blog to become more aware of the "lit matches" running around in our community. We must defend our freedom to read. We must read about the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/). We must take action.



My commitment to this cause is so strong that I have purchased a copy of Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns:  A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan to give away to one lucky reader, in the hopes that it will start a chain of people passing along beautiful books that will have a positive impact on a child's life. My hope is that you will share this story, take action, give a book to a child that will broaden their view of the world, and become a volunteer and voice for the next generation of readers.


Thank you to all who entered the giveaway! Mary V was the randomly selected winner of the contest.
 

Update: At the Spring Book Fair, in spite of the requests from our PTA to have the book included, this book unfortunately was NOT found at our book fair.  This was a huge disappointment, and something I have been struggling with how to respond.

If you live locally, the fantastic Little Shop of Stories carries the book and has it in stock. Check it out. The store is tucked in the lovely downtown Decatur district.

39 comments:

  1. Jenny, well done, on a great article. I don’t normally write comments on blogs, not because I don’t have anything to say but usually because I am so busy with my own things, just too lazy or simply not inspired to do so. However, your article has inspired me to do so.

    I am a musician and now app and interactive book developer/author, born and bred in Belfast , Northern Ireland.

    Where I grew up may give you a little insight into why I was compelled to comment here.

    For 30 years Northern Ireland was a place of hatred and violence. I grew up in that environment and despite ‘The Troubles’ (an understatement), I am very proud of my background.

    Your approach of not attacking the person, who through fear and ignorance, attempted to remove what looks like a beautiful book from our shared, diverse and stunningly creative culture, is one I applaud.

    In Northern Ireland fear mongering was something that was used quite often to keep certain people in power and those not in power, apart. There was a culture of ‘Them and Us’, as we referred to it when I grew up. That has gone and will never return. Now in the Northern Ireland Assembly we have a First Minister, who many would have considered one of those fear monger’s and next to him the Deputy who was regarded by the British Government as a top ranking terrorist.

    These two men work hard and fearlessly for the benefit of all the people in Northern Ireland today. ‘Them and Us’ were brought to a table to talk and they are now just ‘Us’. My point is that I believe you are absolutely right in not attacking the person in question.

    I must also applaud you for writing the article in the first place. It is well tempered and does not seek to admonish but to educate. Often people shy away from sharing such opinions for fear that they will come under attack and although this is probably a well founded fear, it is also sometimes what prevents us from moving forward.

    People need to say, ‘No. That is wrong and I don’t want my children to grow up in a world of intolerance’, because if we don’t then we deprive people of our voices and what is culture if it is not our collective voices coming together through geographies and ancestries to better our future and that of our children’s.

    I have been a very lucky man. I am a musician, and as such, my job has been to explore cultures. I have had the joy of travelling to perform and one experience I had in Kazakhstan as a performer became a cliche to my music students.

    I was performing in Kazakhstan and after the concert the organisers held a reception for the performers at that concert. While at this reception one of the Arts officers came to me and told me that Arnie Lawrence wanted to talk to me. Arnie Lawrence was once the alto saxophonist for Dizzy Gillespie and a jazz legend. I was extremely nervous but I went to Arnie and we chatted.

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    1. He realised that I was Irish and he asked me if I knew another, particular, Irishman. Before I could reply to this with my well rehearsed ‘You’re asking me do I know one person in 9 million?’ I realised I did indeed know the person in question. It then came to me that he had also played in the Dizzy Gillespie band. It’s a small and talented world. Arnie gave me a message for him then asked if I would like to jam with him.

      I was petrified of playing with Arnie. After all he was a legend and I was just a mere mortal saxophonist. I agreed and we approached the Jazz band that had been hired to play at the reception. The band was made up of local Kazakh musicians who didn’t speak any English and here were two English speaking musicians approaching them. One from America but living in Israel at the time and myself from Ireland.

      It’s the next part that I used to make a point to my students. We went on stage and agreed on a jazz standard to play. Arnie played a few lines to the musicians who’s gig we were hijacking and we went from there. We didn’t speak Russian and they didn’t speak English but everyone on this planet speaks music. We played for the next half hour, each of us speaking to each other in a language we all understood and our conversation was listened to, intently, by the people in the audience. There was never a cross word, everything was beautiful and our minds were stimulated.

      Culture is our future and our past. It never stays still and it is never the complete answer. To remove a voice from our shared culture is to diminish it’s potential for beauty and greatness and only detracts from our children’s future.

      I have been planning on creating a book in the series of children’s books and apps that I develop, to promote tolerance and diversity. I think I may have to take it off the back burner now I have read your article.

      Thank you for article and thoughts. Thank you for your tempered response. Thank you for sharing your voice.

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    2. First, your comment brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart. What an amazing story. I am truly inspired by you! Music is such a truly beautiful way to bring people together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading and sharing.

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    3. You are very welcome. And sorry if I made you cry ;)

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  2. Oh and I forgot to mention... A banned book that I have read is Animal Farm by George Orwell. It was banned during WWII by the allies and is still banned in some countries.

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    1. What a great read! I remember reading it for the first time in high school and being in disbelief that things could be that way because my view of the world was so sheltered. I think it might be time to reread that text.

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  3. And Tango Makes Three is an important picture book that promotes the idea that families come in all different shapes, sizes and configurations.

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    1. We have not read that book yet. Thank you for the suggestion. We will have to check that out of the library.

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  4. Will share this post wide and far.

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  5. I hope Scholastic continues to offer a full range of cultures in their book fair offerings, especially in areas where one culture is dominant. In this way,students in the school will be able to learn about the world around them. I'll certainly be purchasing a copy!

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    1. Thank you for reading, and I am thrilled that you will be purchasing a copy. I will keep the blog up I date with what happens. I have no doubt that Scholastic will only broaden its offerings.

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  6. It's unfortunate that those that fear often project those fears to include not only their children, but yours. Bravo to you for standing up to this narrow minded mentality!!

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    1. Thank you so much. And, thanks for reading. I am overwhelmed with the support.

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  7. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was the first banned book that I fell in love with. It has not been the last.

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    1. What a great book! A must read for EVERYONE.

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  8. 1984 and Slaughterhouse Five are two banned books that had a profound impact on me.

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    1. I LOVE 1984, and I read Slaughterhouse Five for the first time a couple months ago. It completely changed my life. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. I had an experience with book banning. A parent tried to get Ellen Hopkins' GLASS banned from my school and Ellen Hopkins uninvited from speaking to my 8th graders. It was a tough week. It is so political.

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    1. How did it turn out? I am completely fascinated by the politics of it all, when I don't understand how it could be even a thought to ban a book. How did the author respond?

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  10. Well now I'll have to read this one. Thanks for keeping us informed!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I will update my blog with how things go and how the school board responds.

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  11. I've never commented on a blog post before but your post compels me to applaud you. I stumbled upon Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns on Amazon while trying to find interesting books for my young daughters. We own the book and read it often but I had no idea that anyone would take such offense to it. Good work for taking action!

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

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    1. Thanks! And thank-you for reading that book with your children.

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  12. I've never understood how learning about other people's religion, culture, and belief can threaten your own. Why, why do people feel so threatened by differences? Thank you for introducing me to this book, just put it on hold at our library so that my son, almost 5, and I can learn together.

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    1. I am thrilled you just put the book on hold for your son! I hope you both enjoy it as much as we do.

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  13. Thanks for sharing this book. Diversity brings strength and that is what will unite the world one day.

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    1. You are absolutely right! Thanks so much for reading.

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  14. Holy cow, Jenny! You have quite the following! Great work!

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  15. I love this article you wrote! It draws attention to a topic that is also near and dear to my heart. During the 80's the buzz words in Early Childhood Development were "Multi-Cultural" and "Anti-Biased" Curriculum. I was blessed to be on staff of the U.S. Army Child Development Services in Heidelberg, Germany at that time and helped our Infant/Toddler Program incorporate the concepts via literature, toys, activities, music, etc... It's mind boggling that all these years later we still need to advocate for cultural awareness and appreciation of variations in our communities. Thanks for being a part of educating others and making a difference through your blog!

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    1. What amazing experience! It is truly amazing how there always seems to be a need to speak up against hatred. Hopefully, someday that will change.

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  16. As usual your words are an inspiration. I look forward to sharing this book with Lu in the future! Thanks for being so bold, beautiful, and courageous. Much love.

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    1. You are so sweet Miss Angela! Thanks.

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  17. I was angry as well that an attempt was made to ban this book! I shared it far and wide. Hope it helped. Thanks for linking up to Multicultural Children's Book Day (Jan 27th).

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  18. I found your blogpost while searching for this book...it seems that Scholastic has unfortunately stopped selling it. But, thank you for your brave words and standing up for the right thing.

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    1. The book is available through Amazon if you search for it. It will be interesting because Scholastic promised us the book would still be available for our book fair that begins in a week. I can't wait to see if it is there.

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