Jane Gangi, professor of Education at Mount Saint Mary College, discusses banned literature at the Banned Books Symposium. To her left are Kate Sprague-Hicks, middle school librarian at Arlington Central School, and Marie-Therese Sulit, an associate professor of English and director of the Honors Program at Mount Saint Mary College.
Mount Saint Mary College hosted the Banned Books Symposium on campus early this month, featuring a keynote presentation by Nick Bruel, author of the Bad Kitty series.
This symposium, for librarians and educators, consisted of small group workshops detailing banned, challenged, or controversial books that may come up in one’s local library or classroom.
Bruel’s keynote speech discussed his Bad Kitty series of picture books, which feature the adventures of a mischievous housecat. While seemingly an unlikely candidate for criticism, some of the books have indeed offended readers over the years, he revealed.
Perhaps the most prominent example, he said, was in Bad Kitty for President. In this book, Bruel twice used a grawlix – that is, a serious of symbols such as %#@$ that are often used as stand-ins for curse words.
Bruel sees a grawlix as a sort of wildcard. “This could mean holy cow, holy smokes, or holy salami,” Bruel explained. “Of course, it could also mean holy blank – insert bad word of your choice here. But by using a grawlix, I allow the reader to choose what that word could be.” He added, “They are, in the long run, just words.”
What’s worse than “bad language” – real or imagined – is hurtful language, he said. But as an author, “I recognize that words can be powerful, so I use them wisely... The one thing I try hardest to do is to never use words that will hurt the feelings of my readers,” he explained.
The event also featured a reading from a children’s book – A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo – that was challenged due to its LGBTQ content. The book was read by Victoria Precise, an advocate, organizer, and LGBTQ event producer in New York State.
Following the reading, a panel comprised of children’s literature professors, school librarians, and public librarians discussed the current status of access to LGBTQ literature in children’s libraries. In addition to Precise, panelists included Jane Gangi, professor of Education at Mount Saint Mary College; Marie-Therese Sulit, an associate professor of English and director of the Honors Program at Mount Saint Mary College; Cheryl Baker, Children’s Services Librarian at Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library; Kate Sprague-Hicks, middle school librarian at Arlington Central School; and Carolyn Bennett Glauda, of the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council.
Attendees enjoyed breakout sessions, featuring presentations on all aspects of banned, challenged, and controversial books. Sessions included “Banned Books Programing,” “Banned Books for Bibliotherapy,” and “Going Beyond the Drill: Using Young Adult Literature to Embrace Difficult Conversations About School Shootings.”
The Banned Book Symposium was cosponsored by Mount Saint Mary College’s Kaplan Family Library, the college’s Division of Arts and Letters, and the college’s Division of Education. It was hosted at the college in partnership with Southeastern New York Library Resources Council and Dutchess School Library Systems.