In response to unrelenting backlash following the decision to remove Emily M. Danforth’s young adult novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post from their high school summer reading list, the Cape Henlopen district school board cancelled the Blue Hen List reading program entirely and removed the remaining books on the list from their curriculum.
The Blue Hen List was part of the district’s school assessment, which required ninth-grade students to read one or two books from a selection of young adult novels chosen by local librarians. The full, uncensored list featured an impressively diverse range of young adult novels, including Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, More Than This by Patrick Ness, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Boxers by Gene Luen Yang.
While students of Cape Henlopen will now be assessed on books of their own choosing, Danforth feel that further censorship was not an appropriate action and will only further limit Delaware students’ choices.
“I’m disappointed in the school board’s decision. While, on the surface, it does give students and parents freedom of choice in selecting reading material for this assignment, it unquestionably undermines the invaluable work of the librarians who crafted the Blue Hen list. I’m honored, truly, that Cam Post was included on this list alongside so many books that I respect and admire. In fact, I’ve spoken with several YA writers and readers about this, and many of them have commented on what an interesting and diverse list of books it is, which just underscores the expertise of the people who created it. School districts rely on lists like the Blue Hen for precisely these reasons, and it’s always the students who benefit. Lists like these so often introduce readers to books that they mightn’t otherwise be aware of, books that end up speaking directly to their own experiences, even – and especially – when those experiences are unspoken or frightening or uncomfortable,” said Danforth.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming-of-age story set in sleepy Miles City, Montana during the early 1990s. When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl. But just as Cameron’s life starts to look brighter, her ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece.
The Cape Henlopen reading program was first altered after a parent challenged Danforth’s novel. The school board voted to remove the book, citing several instances of language deemed unsuitable for the intended age group. Immediately following the book’s removal from the school curriculum, lesbian and bisexual news website AfterEllen began a campaign to restore The Miseducation of Cameron Post to the Blue Hen List, pointing out the hypocrisy of Cape Henlopen’s decision as several unchallenged books on the list also contained profanity. Readers and authors alike took to social media to protest the censorship, using the hashtag #LeaveTheBlueHenListAlone.
The school board promised to revisit the issue at their board meeting on July 24th, but instead of reinstating Danforth’s novel to their curriculum, Cape Henlopen school board members voted 6-1 to remove the entire list, on the grounds that none of the books on the list were considered age appropriate.
“This was the only way we could make each side somewhat happy,” said board member Allison Meyer to Delaware Online.
Young adult author Robin Talley (Lies We Tell Ourselves) expressed her fury over the board’s decision, calling the removal of the Blue Hen List “the ultimate coward’s way out”.
“The school board was faced with a difficult decision, and essentially decided to not decide. Kids in Delaware will still make choices about what to read — but now they’ll be doing so in the dark, despite the team of librarians who had carefully selected a list of books they thought would be good matches for their students,” said Talley on her Tumblr.
Danforth sees the removal of the Blue Hen List as an uninformed decision which has cost the students of Cape Henlopen a potentially valuable educational and literary resource.
“I think it’s very important to remember that, in its original incarnation, this particular summer reading assignment asked students to choose one or two of the books from the Blue Hen list – it required no student to read a book that they or their parents had objections to. However, now the Cape Henlopen school board, a board that already appears to have a worrisome history of censorship attempts, has sent the message that if anyone has strong objections to any content in books being taught in that district, then even if others in the community don’t share those objections and are equally vocal in their opposition, and even if experts, [like]teachers and librarians, support those texts for educational and literary purposes, those doing the objecting still probably have a fairly good chance of convincing the board to attempt to take some sort of action against those materials. And I think that’s a very troubling message to send, particularly because this board has shown just how little expertise they have in this field, and also just how willing they are to take material out of context in attempts to shock and anger parents and other community members,” said Danforth.