Asking an author not to speak about their book, or in general, is akin to book-banning or censorship, according to many in the literary world. Kate Messner, author of The Seventh Wish, was saddened to hear that a school she was supposed to speak at rescinded their invitation. According to Publishers Weekly, the librarian at an elementary school in Vermont requested that Messner visit and talk about her book. After the school cancelled her visit, because they were uncomfortable with a heroin addiction subplot in her book, Messner responded: “When we decide a book is inappropriate for a school library because it deals with a tough subject, we’re telling kids in that situation that their problems can’t even be talked about.”
Messner’s statement shows why such censorship can be detrimental; it perpetuates a culture of silence. The Seventh Wish, based on the Brothers Grimm folktale “The Fisherman and his Wife”, is a hopeful fairytale about a young girl who catches a special fish while ice-fishing. The fish can grant her wishes, but asks for it’s freedom in return.
After an encounter with a neighbor who’s daughter was suffering from heroin addiction, Messner decided to add a subplot about heroin addiction. She explained, “I felt it was important to tell a story about this through the eyes of a young person because so many families are shattered by addiction and nobody talks about it.”
Kate Messner. Image courtesy of PBS.
While some argue the school was censoring the book, Messner believes that there was a “breakdown of communication” between her, the school’s librarians, and school officials who feared how parent’s would respond to Messner’s visit. The Seventh Wish is reportedly on the school’s bookshelf, and Messner will speak at an independent bookstore (which students are welcome to attend, if the parent allows them).
However, Messner is not the first author to be asked not to speak at a school. In May, author Phil Bildner was supposed to speak at a school in Round Rock, Texas, but school district official decided to cancel his appearance. The cancellation has been controversial. Officials claim it had to do with budgeting as well as comments Bildner made during a previous visit suggesting children disobey their parents. Bildner, on the other hand, argued that he was being censored for suggesting George, a book about a transgender fourth-grader, to students. While the situation with Bildner has remained unresolved, many people have been coming out in support of the author.
Bildner with his book, ‘A Whole New Ballgame’. Image courtesy of Kirksville Daily Express.
R.J. Palacio wrote a letter urging the Round Rock school district to reconsider their decision. He wrote that no matter the reason for Bildner’s cancelled visit: “the message you are sending to those of us who have ever visited – or plan to visit – your schools is the same: unless every comment that comes out of our mouths is in ‘alignment’ with your belief system, we will be subject to the same treatment as Phil…The fact is, Round Rock, when you disinvited Phil Bildner, you disinvited me. You disinvited all of us who may have opinions that differ from yours.”
Kristin Pekoll, the assistant director of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom responded to Messner and Bildner’s cancelled school visits. Pekoll urged librarians to “build a network of pro-active engagement ahead of time,” in order to avoid such situations – particularly Messner’s. “Don’t let people be blindsided. If there’s a mature aspect of a book you think is important, talk about it with teachers, the principal, parents,” she said.
Featured image courtesy of NCAC.