Vivian Vande Velde on Banning Fantasy Books

We are a few days into Banned Books Week, an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read and draws attention to banned and challenged books led by the American Library Association. Fantasy books are regularly in the top ten booklists reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom for including “the occult/Satanism”—in other words, simply for being magical, fantasy—fairy.

Vivian Vande Velde, author of many fantasy books for young readers, has this advice for parents who might be wary of their children reading fantasy:

“Much better than declaring a whole category of books off limits is to read a few of them with your kids. Discuss them. Ask: ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’

“Ask: ‘Since there isn’t such a thing as wishes coming true, what should the girl have done to get out of her tough situation?’

“Ask: ‘What would you have done in this boy’s place?’

“After all, parents are willing to go to their children’s sports events and music recitals; reading and sharing a few of the same books is a great opportunity to talk together.

“Do I believe in ghosts, vampires, people who can take on the form of different animals? No. So why do I write about such things?

“If I describe a story to a child as: ‘This is a book that will teach you about those trying to escape slavery in the mid 1800s’—this will appeal to only a limited number of readers. But if I say ‘This is a ghost story,’ and the story just happens to teach about the underground railroad, then I will probably get more children reading and learning.

“Also, fantasy books open up the opportunity to think about issues that sometimes mainstream novels can’t handle as well.

Dragon’s Bait is about a girl who gets accused of something she hasn’t done. Just about everyone has found him or herself in this situation at some time or another. I wanted to explore her reactions, I wanted readers to connect with her, but I didn’t want people to connect so closely that their own experiences got in the way. So I had her be accused of something I figured the majority of my readers had probably NOT been accused of: being a witch. That way, they can recognize her problem, they can relate it back in a general way to their own lives, they can judge her actions, but they aren’t so caught up in the specifics that they lose track of the fact that being accused of something you didn’t do is a universal theme.

“And as for stories about girls falling in love with bad boys, you can’t get much worse than the blood-sucking undead. Again, close to real experience, but far enough different to avoid sounding preachy.

“But do we absolutely need fantasy? If it’s going to cause trouble, can’t we just keep those books off the school library shelves and get on with reading books that nobody objects to?

“It’s dangerous to give in to bullies with political agendas. You don’t know what they’ll find offensive next.”

  • This is only part of Vivian Vande Velde’s essay—what we excerpted is about half way through. The first half is a little off topic for FairyRoom, but is still a must read about having your books banned because of the fantasy elements of your books. Read the whole piece at Vande Velde’s website.
  • In Dragon’s Bait, one of Vande Velde’s novels mentioned in her essay, fifteen-year-old Alys is not a witch. But that doesn’t matter—the villagers think she is and have staked her out on a hillside as a sacrifice to the local dragon. It’s late, it’s cold, and it’s raining, and Alys can think of only one thing–revenge. But first she’s got to escape, and even if she does, how can one girl possibly take on an entire town alone? Then the dragon arrives—a dragon that could quite possibly be the perfect ally…
  • Enjoy an excerpt of Dragon’s Bait on
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Vivian Vande Velde (born 1951, currently residing in Rochester, New York) is an American author who writes books primarily aimed at young adults.

Her novels and short story collections usually have some element of horror or fantasy, but are primarily humorous. Her book Never Trust a Dead Man (1999) received the 2000 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Novel. She’s frequently seen at school talks, book conventions, and writing classes.