For the past few weeks I have been mulling over a topic: finding your voice. This is the theme for the Alabama Library Association Convention where I am scheduled to participate in an author panel in late April. I have been asked to give a fifteen to twenty minute speech addressing this topic and be prepared to answer attendees’ questions afterward. Great! Or is it?
There are two slight problems with this theme—finding your voice. First, I identify with it. Heavily. Largely because it took me a very long time to find mine. But I won’t get into that now. Just know that keeping my speech down to a twenty-minute time slot will pose quite a challenge. I could wax poetic on this topic for hours. (However, the shy, intimidated, introvert inside me believes I will speak for a mere five minutes before I pass out cold. But I refuse to let myself dwell on that issue.) Saying everything I feel I need to say concerning finding (and more importantly, using) one’s voice, and saying it in a timely fashion will take effort. It is an effort I am most willing to make.
The second (and more significant) problem is that each and every time I start to contemplate finding voice, I inevitably wind up on my soapbox about protecting voice. No, I am not referring to throat drops or scarves. I am referring to protecting our First Amendment right to free speech. After all, what good is discovering your voice, having something important to say, and then once you begin to speak, having someone shush you. It is not good. For anyone. Ever. Sure, it is easy to jump on the bandwagon and defend free speech when we are the ones being silenced. But perhaps our own right to free speech comes with an inherent responsibility to use that right to protect the free speech of others—whether or not we agree with them.
Banned Books Week is months away: September 22-28. But why must we wait till September to consider this highly important issue? Shouldn’t this be something we discuss and ponder and mull over daily? Shouldn’t this be an issue we as authors and librarians and teachers and parents and human beings are passionate about every week of the year? I know you all agree that it should. Banning books is simply another way of quashing someone’s right to free speech.
The most recent example of children’s book banning that I am aware of took place in Colorado. The book is question is THE MARBLE QUEEN by Stephanie J. Blake. Stephanie’s book was banned from a school library because the main character’s father is an alcoholic. Yes. You read right. Because I want to convey the utter senselessness of the situation, I’ll type that sentence again: Stephanie’s book was banned from a school library because the main character’s father is an alcoholic. I can’t even begin to imagine what is so controversial about portraying an alcoholic father in a middle grade novel. Maybe I’m shallow. I don’t know.
The fact is we live in a cruel world. Our children live in a cruel world. There are alcoholic fathers. There are. Should we avoid addressing the issues and emotions those children face day in and day out because it makes an adult uncomfortable to read about them between the covers of a book? I say no. I also say that we adults should not assume that a child experiencing that situation would not find some level of comfort in reading about a peer going through the same trials.
I never had to live with an alcoholic father. Neither do my own children. I consider myself blessed, and my children blessed, to live the lives we have lived and do live. It is true that it’s often easier to push certain taboo topics into the recesses of our minds and go about our daily lives as though nothing at all is wrong with the world and nothing bad is happening to anyone in it. But that is a mistake of the worst order. How can we fight to protect people and change situations if we choose to ignore all the bad? We can’t.
I am about to step down from my soapbox, but before I do, I want to make a plea to all us debut authors who were lucky enough to get into print precisely what we needed or wanted to say, to all the librarians who so tirelessly make sure the right book is being placed in the hands of the right child, to all the teachers who daily go into the trenches to be the hero for kids who have none at home, to all of us grown-ups who sincerely care for the welfare of our children and each other: don’t forget to use your voice, to say what you need to say. But, perhaps more importantly, don’t forget to protect your voice and the voices of others. Someone, somewhere, could desperately need to hear a voice that has just been silenced.
Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about a young girl learning to let go and find her own way amidst the trials of the Great Depression. It is set to release from Delacorte Press/RHCB on June 11. You can learn more about Laura and EVERY DAY AFTER by visiting her website or following her on Twitter and Facebook.