November 25, 2013

When we think of the word “literature,” we associate it with catch-phrases like “creative liberty” or “freedom of speech.” Yet, literature can have an uphill battle being welcomed or even approved of, especially when a fiction writer is being candid about less-than-comfortable topics. Whether it’s being edited out during the review process, or banned from places of access, being candid can present a tough challenge for authors.

Recently, I came across an article in The Washington Post about author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Naylor lives in Montgomery County, MD and pens a book series about “Alice” who grows up in Silver Spring, MD. With 30 books in the Alice series, Naylor’s books have been banned more than any other writer this past decade. More than the “Hunger Games” series (for violence) and the “Harry Potter” collection (for witch-craft)… and yet Alice is just your average 8- to 18-year-old dealing with very normal schoolgirl challenges.

So, what’s the rub with Alice? What’s so awful that many believe these books have to be hidden from young readers? Not much at all, really… except that Naylor’s candor about the physical and emotional maturation of girls is terribly uncomfortable for many. In her series, Alice deals with everything from bad haircuts to how babies are made and many other topics parents may fear talking about with their daughters.  Naylor reacts to the question “Why?”:

“I think the fear is that the child is going to come to them and ask them questions that feel too personal,” says Naylor. “It’s not that their child’s not ready. It’s that they’re not ready. I’ve had a lot of lot of letters from people saying, ‘Oh, my daughter doesn’t even know about that,’ and I can only think, ha-ha.”

Candor is always hardest when addressing important, uncomfortable or sensitive subjects, but that’s when it’s most important. Practicing candor on the easy things helps. Then, we have to set aside our fears and stay on the path of being open and honest in the hardest conversations.

We learn candor from our authority figures and these mentors shape us long before we enter the boardroom.

(Naylor, who is now 80, has written 140 books and is best known for the “Shiloh” trilogy about a boy and his beagle, which won a Newbery in 1991. She is saying goodbye to Alice – the final book in the series, which spanned Alice’s life from age 8-18, was released at the end of October.)