Vivian Vande Velde Main Page

I'm not well-known enough for there to be an organized effort to suppress my books--but I'm working on it.

The first time I became aware that someone could object to my books because of the fantasy content was with User Unfriendly, which came out in the late 1980's.


   

Publishers send copies of reviews to their authors, which includes not only articles from the regular journals, but sometimes recommendation notices written by individuals for a school district or a library system.

The people at Harcourt sent me one of these school district reviews which said User Unfriendly was exciting and that kids would enjoy it. (Yay! I LIKE this reviewer.)

The reviewer also pointed out that the story opened up opportunities for discussions on such topics as peer pressure, pirated software, violence in entertainment, and becoming aware of one's own mortality. (I really, really like this reviewer.)

Then the reviewer said she could not recommend the book for the school because some of the parents would have a problem with the fantasy elements.

I felt as though I'd been left at the altar.

I became aware that--of the many schools in the Rochester area which regularly have authors come to speak to the students--there were certain schools to which I was never invited. (I prefer to think it's because of my books rather than because of me personally.)

Some schools have invited me only to dis-invite me once someone (for example a PTA parent) sees the list of titles of my books.

Other times, when I'm speaking to several groups in the day, parents will come to an earlier session to preview me, to determine whether what I say is appropriate for their children. Although it can be disconcerting to look out over an audience which includes parents with their arms folded across their chests, wearing "Go-ahead/Make-my-day" expressions, I whole-heartedly approve of this: Those parents have taken time out from their day to learn exactly what's going on--rather than dismissing me out of hand as unwholesome.

So I'll give my presentation, which includes a lot of encouragement to any would-be writers among the children (basically, what I'm saying is: If I can be a writer, anybody can); I talk about using everyday events to help in writing (start from any situation and ask yourself "What if...?"); often we do a little exercise where we describe something using all five senses. I also show a page in first draft, revised, revised again (this is before I even send the manuscript out to a publishing company, when the editor will make suggestions or changes)--so that the students don't become discouraged when their teachers tell them their own work needs to be rewritten.

After all this, some of the parents will declare that I am mostly harmless and allow their children to come to one of the later sessions.

But other parents decide I'm just as bad as they feared, and their children are not allowed to come.

My ego is not so huge that I believe those children who do not attend my talk have not had a complete education--even though all their classmates have participated in something together and now have a common base of reference the excluded student does not. But I wonder what happens when those other kids ask, "So how come you weren't at library?" and the lone child has to say, "My mother wouldn't let me come."

I figure this has to be embarrassing.

I also figure it has to be enticing.

After all, I have been labelled as someone too dangerous to hear; I have become forbidden, and--to many--that means interesting. Now they're going to be looking for my books.

(When I'm talking to students in 7th grade and up, sometimes when I'm showing the covers of some of my books (and letting them know that the author very rarely has any say in what that cover will be), I'll ask: "Do you want to see the covers of Companions of the Night the way it looked in Europe?" Some of the kids look interested, but not all. Then I say, "I don't show this to the younger kids, because the images are kind of disturbing, but I guess you're old enough." Now everyone is watching me. I take out the manilla envelope in which I keep the pictures, and slowly unwind the string. "Are you sure?" I'll ask. The kid who's been kicking the back of the chair of the girl sitting in front of him, the doodlers, the girls who've been checking out their nail polish--they're all sitting on the edges of their seats, eager to see what's forbidden to others.)


Indonesian

Italian

French

My advice to those who don't like fantasy: Much better than declaring a whole category of books off limits is to read a few of them with your kids. Discuss them. Ask: "Do you believe in ghosts?"

Ask: "Since there isn't such a thing as wishes coming true, what should the girl have done to get out of her tough situation?"

Ask: "What would you have done in this boy's place?"

After all, parents are willing to go to their children's sports events and music recitals; reading and sharing a few of the same books is a great opportunity to talk together.

Do I believe in ghosts, vampires, people who can take on the form of different animals? No. So why do I write about such things?


   

If I describe a story to a child as: "This is a book that will teach you about those trying to escape slavery in the mid 1800's"--this will appeal to only a limited number of readers. But if I say "This is a ghost story," and the story just happens to teach about the underground railroad, then I will probably get more children reading and learning.

Also, fantasy books open up the opportunity to think about issues that sometimes mainstream novels can't handle as well.


   

Dragon's Bait is about a girl who gets accused of something she hasn't done. Just about everyone has found him or herself in this situation at some time or another. I wanted to explore her reactions, I wanted readers to connect with her, but I didn't want people to connect so closely that their own experiences got in the way. So I had her be accused of something I figured the majority of my readers had probably NOT been accused of: being a witch. That way, they can recognize her problem, they can relate it back in a general way to their own lives, they can judge her actions, but they aren't so caught up in the specifics that they lose track of the fact that being accused of something you didn't do is a universal theme.


   

And as for stories about girls falling in love with bad boys, you can't get much worse than the blood-sucking undead. Again, close to real experience, but far enough different to avoid sounding preachy.

But do we absolutely need fantasy? If it's going to cause trouble, can't we just keep those books off the school library shelves and get on with reading books that nobody objects to?

It's dangerous to give in to bullies with political agendas. You don't know what they'll find offensive next.

My own friends have taken me to task for the dedication I wrote for Heir Apparent:

"This book is dedicated with affection for but no patience with those who would protect our children through humorless moralizing and paranoia about fantasy."

They wanted me to take out the "with affection for" part.

I understand that many who would censor books are doing so in the belief that they are protecting children. I, too, want to protect children. Just about everyone wants to protect children.

But you don't protect children by not talking to them.

And you don't protect children by trying to prevent them from thinking for themselves.

 

To learn more about banned books, Link to ALA