Karin Perry was the librarian at Whittier Middle School in 2009 who won the Ellen Hopkins visit at a charity auction. When the visit was canceled and Hopkins’s books were challenged, she communicated with Hopkins frequently to set up alternative plans. Though she now lives and works in Texas, Perry was very receptive to our project and interviewed with us via email.
What are your feelings about the suitability of Glass and the rest of the Crank series for middle school audiences?
I feel these books are suitable for middle school. Especially, 7th and 8th grade students. In my experience, only those students ready for that level of seriousness gravitated toward the books anyway. I never had a 6th grader take one out that I remember.
The topics in Ellen’s books are very important for children to know about. The students need to see the devastation and consequences of these actions vicariously through these characters rather than them happening to the students in real life.
Reading books with these topics allows students to experience these things from the safety of a book.
Were you surprised by the complaint? How often did books get challenged while you worked there?
Yes, I was surprised. This was my only challenge in the 5 years I worked there. What irritates me is that the parent could have just asked for their student to sit out of the author visit. Why people think they have the right to force their feelings and opinions on everyone else is beyond me.
Were students and parents at Whittier Middle School aware that Ellen Hopkin’s books and visit were being challenged? If so, how did they seem to feel about it?
I’m not sure how much parents knew. The 8th graders knew and they were disappointed. Especially the ones that had ordered books to be autographed. They still got their book signed, but many of them didn’t get to see her speak in person since Ellen didn’t speak at the school.
To what extent do you think the complainant’s issues with the book reflected concerns of the Whittier or Norman communities? Do you feel as though it was an isolated incident, or indicative of larger trends?
I think it was an isolated incident. It doesn’t happen very often. It wasn’t a community outcry or anything. It was just one parent.
Do you feel like the administration of Norman Public Schools and Whittier Middle School handled the Ellen Hopkins case effectively and fairly?
I absolutely DO NOT. I was disappointed and felt completely let down by the entire situation. It was a knee jerk reaction to cancel Ellen’s speaking engagement. The student should have been asked to skip the speaking engagement instead of canceling it for everyone.
I am in complete agreement about following the procedure of the Reconsideration Policy which means forming a committee, reading the book, and making a decision as to whether the challenge has merit or not. (Which when our committee finally met the book was determined to be appropriate for the grade level and allowed to remain in circulation at Whitter. I checked the online catalog today, 3-25-19, and Whittier still has copies on the shelf.)
How did Ellen Hopkins handle the situation once her talk was moved?
Ellen was very understanding and flexible. She did speak out about the issue on her blog though.
What effect has this case had on the overall discussion about book censorship? Do you think censorship issues are important and still worth talking about?
I’m not sure if it’s had an impact on the overall issue or not. BUT, I do think it is very important to continue talking about censorship. Many people aren’t aware of the process of APPROPRIATELY requesting the review of material from a school. It isn’t right to just go and remove a book from the shelf because you don’t like it. As I mentioned before, we don’t have the right to force our opinions and beliefs on others. People that are willing to do that need to know that there are others willing to fight for the right to read.