Yesterday, NCAC, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and 5 other free speech and education groups defend Ariel Schrag's acclaimed anthology Stuck in the Middle, which had been challenged in a school library in Oklahoma. NCAC and CBLDF came together to ask Schrag for her thoughts on the challenge.
What’s your initial reaction when you hear that Stuck in the Middle is being challenged?
Sad, but it’s happened enough times now that I’m not surprised.
What would you say to parents who consider some of the subject matter of Stuck in the Middle inappropriate for their middle school-aged kids to read?
Every parent has the right to monitor his or her child’s reading (or TV watching, or movie watching, etc.), and if you don’t want your child reading Stuck in the Middle, I completely respect that choice. However, there’s a big difference between making that choice for your child and making it for every child, which is what banning the book does.
My intent in editing this book was to help children who might be experiencing some of the things the characters in the book experience — bullying, rejection, acne, depression, etc. — feel less alone. These ‘messages’ are expressed through art and humor to make them more accessible and fun. In terms of foul language, sexual content, and teen smoking in the book, all the authors strove to present the teens and pre-teens in a realistic light. We may not like all of the decisions teenagers make, but if we sanitize their speech and behavior in our stories, our characters won’t be authentic. Real teens and pre-teens sometimes use these words and say and do these things. A book like this can present a good opportunity for dialogue between children and parents. Banning the book isn’t going to change children’s behavior or somehow save them from the hard truths of teenage life — I find it very hard to believe that a child would hear a swear word for the very first time in the book or that he or she would be made aware that teenagers sometimes have sexual relationships or smoke cigarettes. The only thing that can make an impact in the way children act is communication, and this book provides a platform for that.
What would you say to students in Mid-Del School District who want to read your book?
Thankfully, it is available in public libraries and for purchase at stores or online.
Do past challenges affect the way you currently write about controversial issues?
Do you think that Stuck in the Middle would have been challenged if it were written in traditional prose rather than graphic novel form?
No, I don’t. I’ve read a lot of middle-grade and young adult prose fiction, and I know that Stuck in the Middle is fairly tame compared to much of what is currently available in school libraries. Many books written for middle school-aged kids tackle similar subjects and use realistic language and scenarios. Stuck in the Middle is targeted because, being a graphic novel, it’s visual and the content is more immediately recognized. For instance, if a parent has a problem with their child reading about someone being bullied, they would have to spend more time reading through the prose of a novel to find the objectionable section, whereas opening up a comic to a drawing of a kid calling another kid a name can be recognized instantly. Comics also have a history of being considered “low brow” or “corrupting,” so despite the high caliber of the artists and work in Stuck in the Middle, people sometimes bring this prejudice to the book.
In your opinion, how does Stuck in the Middle help its teenage readers grapple with real-life problems?
As I said earlier, my intent in editing this book was to help children who might be experiencing some of the things the characters in the book experience, such as bullying, rejection, and depression. The goal was also to let kids who aren’t experiencing these things, but who might be engaging in some of these negative behaviors (i.e., the bullies) read the book and think about how kids who are dealing with these problems might feel. I believe that seeing fictional characters navigate these problems and then talking about these issues with other students, teachers, and parents can really help children going through the same.