Reading Group Guide
About the Book
Young adults making tough decisions about life and the importance of communication are the underlying themes that unite these twelve short stories by well-known writers of young adult fiction. Like in real life, these adolescent characters find themselves in unintended situations. There is a mugging, a fire that may have been set by a teenager, an adult bully at a baseball camp, an infatuation with a teacher. There is a homeless boy's need for a family, a teenager's first experience with sex, and a boy who learns the real meaning of bigotry. The writers of these stories never compromise the truth. Their stories are honest and faithful to the emotions of real teens. And the writers celebrate their genuine respect for their readers by becoming the guiding force behind free expression for children and young adults in this nation. School Library Journal says, "A short, meaningful anticensorship essay by the author follows each story and should be required reading for anyone studying the effects of censorship."
Places I Never Meant to Be has a twofold purpose, which is to help young adults understand the meaning of censorship and to benefit the National Coalition Against Censorship. Ask students to define censorship. Have the class prepare a survey that includes the following questions:
1. What is the First Amendment?
2. What is censorship?
3. What is intellectual freedom?
Ask students to survey ten adults, using the questionnaire they prepared in class. Then have students share the results of their survey. What does the survey reveal about public knowledge regarding the First Amendment, censorship, and intellectual freedom? Read aloud the letter from Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, Discuss the purpose of and the need for such an organization.
Judy Blume states in her introduction "A Personal View" that her desire to read A Rage to Live by John O'Hara grew when she was forbidden to read it. How do the words "forbidden" and "restricted" enhance a person's curiosity? How do ratings on films affect your desire to see them?
Communication is a common theme in young adult literature. It is the lack of communication that sometimes causes censorship. Why is it important to talk about issues with your family and friends? Discuss the underlying theme of communication in each of the short stories in this book. Which character suffers most from a lack of communication? What is wrong with the way Paul Creese communicates in "Baseball Camp" by David Klass? How does Roger communicate the thoughts of all the campers? How does his willingness to speak up affect the other characters and the outcome of the story? What does Norma Fox Mazer mean when she says censorship is "crippling, negating, and stifling"? How is an unwillingness to communicate "crippling, negating, and stifling"? How does the First Amendment encourage and support communication?
Katherine Paterson says that teachers and librarians who stand up to censors are heroic. Discuss the qualities of a hero. How does it take courage to be a hero? How does Adrian in "Spear" by Julius Lester demonstrate courage? Compare and contrast Adrian's courage to that of his father. How does Norma, the white girl in the African American literature class, show courage? What does she teach Adrian? Is Black Spear's way of communicating his beliefs similar to the way book burners communicate their beliefs? Does it take more courage to deal with an issue in a peaceful manner?
Rachel Vail says, "I made a vow to myself when I was a teenager that I would never forget, and never disrespect, the intensity of the adolescent experience..." Discuss what Vail means by the "adolescent experience." How does Vail show respect for the "adolescent experience" in "Going Sentimental"? How do the writers of the short stories in this collection demonstrate an understanding of young adult emotions and a respect for the "adolescent experience"? How is censorship about disrespect? How does intellectual freedom promote respect?
Discuss what Harry Mazer means when he says, "Books are our windows on the world." Which of the short stories most represents your thoughts and feelings? Which of the stories opens your mind to other ways of life? Katherine Paterson writes about another culture in "The Red Dragonfly." How does she reveal that the adolescent emotion of love and infatuation is universal? Why is it important to read about other cultures and to explore the way other people think? Why are censors threatened by diversity?
What does Chris Lynch mean when he says, "Challenge me? I challenge you back"? How does this statement reflect what the First Amendment is about? How can intellectual challenge result in a healthy debate?
The late Norma Klein once stated, "I still can't believe there's anything objectionable about telling it like it is." All of the contributors to this short story collection believe that censorship stifles truth. Discuss why censors are so frightened by truth. How does each short story in this collection reflect the writers' commitment to telling the truth?
In each of these stories, the young adult main character must make an important decision. Compare and contrast Jon's decision in "The Beast Is in the Labyrinth" by Walter Dean Myers to the decision Ashleigh makes in "Ashes" by Susan Beth Pfeffer. How do the decisions they make affect themselves and their families? One is often faced with tough decisions in life. How does intellectual freedom support and promote the ability to make tough decisions?
REACHING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM
ACTIVITIES AND RESEARCH
Judy Blume tried to get John O'Hara's book A Rage to Live from the public library when she was a teenager, but was told she would need parental permission in writing. Find out the policies of the public library in your town or city regarding young adults' access to the adult collection. Write an editorial for the newspaper either defending or opposing the policies of the public library.
David Klass says, "There is no way I can truthfully render characters if I must constantly worry about offending censors." Ask students to select a passage from either "Baseball Camp" by David Klass or "Lie, No Lie" by Chris Lynch that might offend someone. Ask them to rewrite the passage omitting the offensive parts. How do these omissions change the characters? How does it change the message of the story? Why is truth in characters essential to a good story?
What is the importance of the First Amendment? Discuss the relationship between the First and the Fourteenth Amendments. Research one of the following court cases: Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969); Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico (1982); Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988). What do these cases have to do with free expression? What do they reveal about students' rights?
Margaret Mead once stated, "Thanks to television, for the first time the young are seeing history made before it is censored by their elders." Find out what parts of our history have been censored. Debate the value of television in reporting history as it is happening. How does the news media sensationalize the events they report? Divide the class into groups and assign each group one of the major television channels to watch. Select a local, national, or world event and view the news coverage of the event on the assigned channels. In class, compare and contrast the way the event is covered. Why is it important to gather information from several sources before forming an opinion regarding past or present history? How does ignorance promote censorship?
One of the most well-known censorship cases in the United States was the Scopes Trial. Ask students to research this case and discuss how the issue of evolution remains a volatile subject among some people. What other areas of science might provoke a form of censorship? How does the advancement of science require intellectual and free thought? Debate whether the government has the right to enforce health regulations on people like the Christian Scientists who do not believe in medical treatment. How might this be viewed as a First Amendment issue?
One of the current issues regarding free speech is young adult access to the Internet. Ask at least fifteen adults and fifteen teenagers whether young adults should have free and unrestricted access, limited access, or no access to the Internet. Using the data from the surveys, construct a graph that reveals public opinion regarding this issue.
Throughout history, many great artists have been censored. Using pictures from magazines and newspapers, create a poster collage that interprets the meaning of the First Amendment.
Judy Blume is one of the most censored writers in America. Stage a talk show featuring a parental challenge to one of her books. Include a host who gives an introduction to the book and an overview of the challenge; parents who oppose the book; parents who support the book; a school or public library official who defends the book; several young adults who have read the book. Allow students in the audience to ask questions and make comments.
Places I Never Meant To Be
Original Stories by Censored Writers
SIMON & SCHUSTER
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Available wherever books are sold.
Guide ISBN: 0-689-00918-6