Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book You guys have no idea how much I hate when I can’t find a single picture on the entire interwebz for a book I’m reviewing. Especially because this cover is awesome. Both Maudie and Kate are so pretty on it, unlike so many other Y.A. books of the 80’s where the characters are weird looking. Sigh.
Anyway, Kate Harris is a normal almost twelve year old girl. She just recently started Junior High and misses her old small Elementary School. She feels a little lost in the much bigger Junior High, because four different Elementaries matriculate there. Kate has three best friends, Jackie, Laura and Rosemary. Jackie and Laura are start to act older…you know they like boys and fashion and whatnot. Also, they’re fucking bitches.
One day Kate’s favorite teacher, Ms. Plotkin, announces a project where the sixth grade students would go read to some first grade students at one of the local elementary schools. Kate thinks this sounds awesome and immediately volunteers. She did it a little too quickly as she realizes the only other person to volunteer is Maudie Schmidt. Maudie is…well, she’s a little bit of an outcast. She’s overweight and doesn’t seem to have many friends. She’s also crazy-awkward in the beginning, telling Kate openly that she (Kate) is the only reason that she volunteered to do this project. Because she wants to be friends with Kate. How…odd and awkward that conversation was for Kate.
We meet Kate’s parents, who work together and own a real estate company. These are the two most enthusiastically supportive parents in any YA book ever. To that point that Kate even thinks they go over board with their support. Also we meet Kate’s brother Josh, whose only personality trait is that he’s a vegetarian who bitches out other people about eating meat. We’ll just call him Josh ‘Dawn Schafer’ Harris.
Kate and Maudie go spend a class with the first graders they’re going to be reading to. They have a good time getting to meet the kids and Kate starts to warm up to Maudie. She also pities her just a little bit. Kate’s non-bitch friend Rosemary also tells Kate that she thinks Maudie is nice. Kate and Maudie go to the library to choose books to read to the class. Maudie chooses Little Bear, and Kate decides to read a book called The Birthday Dog, because one boy in class was talking about his new puppy. The basic plot of The Birthday Dog is that there’s a little boy who wants a puppy and asks for one for his birthday. On the day of his birthday, he gets a card that says he is going to get one of the puppies that a neighborhood dog is ready to give birth to. The boy and his dad watch the puppies be born and the boy eventually chooses one and names it Happy, in honor of his Happy Birthday.
Sounds sweet, no? The kids love it. But after the book they have all kinds of questions about exactly how the puppies ended up in the momma dog’s belly. Kate does her best to answer plainly. She tells them that the mother dog and the father dog mate. One of the kids yells that the dad dog plants a seed into the mom dog and another kid yells ‘He plants it into her vagina!’ Then all the girls start yelling that they have vaginas and the boys start yelling that they have penises. The teacher calms them down and all the kids say bye bye to Kate and Maudie.
Kate was embarrassed by what happened, but she and Maudie both think it’s kind of funny. Until the following Monday when their English teacher pulls them into a conference with the principal. Turns out, one of the parents complained about the contents of the book, believing it to be a book about sex. This parent, as the censoring ilk are apt to do, goes on the warpath and demands this book and any other smutty books out of the library. The worst part is that Kate had to tell the Principal what happened, and she wants to freaking die having to use the words penis and vagina in front of him.
Kate’s mom and dad are, naturally, crazy supportive of Kate and the book she read. Dad is worried because a censorship battle could tear their beautiful small town apart. It’s not all bad, Kate manages to land her first babysitting gig for one of the kids in class, whose parent is supportive of her having read the book.
As it will in a small town, this issue takes off with the original complaining parent creating a group called Parents United for Decency (really? PUD?) whose mission is to get rid of books in the library that don’t support good values. At the top of the chopping block is The Birthday Dog. Because holy fucking shit, a dog gives birth in the book. There are letters to the editor and the townspeople are fighting with each other. Finally, there’s a big school board meeting, whose purpose is really to determine if the sixth graders reading to first graders project is to continue. But we all know it’s going to turn into a big fight over censorship, right?
Maudie, who Kate has grown very close to, wants Kate to speak at the meeting, Kate resists at first, but when some PUD people start speaking, Kate can’t stop herself and she stands up and makes an impassioned speech about how much she loves the program, how the book didn’t talk about sex at all and how she and the kids both learned a lot. Kate gets a round of applause. The school board voted 5-2 to allow the project to continue.
So of course at the end of the book, Kate now hangs out with Maudie and Rosemary. And a lot of other people want to get involved in the reading project. Also, the class cutie, Steve Bader, is interested in Kate. His mom was a strong anti-censorship voice working with Kate’s mom against PUD. So….awww…there love of fighting book banning brought them together.
- Maudie is an anachronistic name. My pet peeve! This book was published in 1980, meaning Kate and Maudie would have been born in 1969. According to the awesome Baby Name Voyager at the ridiculously addictive website Baby Name Wizard, Maude was out of the top 1,000 girls’ names by the 1940’s.
- Thanks, Betty Miles, for writing this book which I read when I was about eleven and turning me into a crazy anti-censorship geek. Who else here celebrates Banned Books Week every September? Anyone? Anyone? *crickets chirping*
- Kate has a great time when she goes to Maudie’s house. Evidently, they both love the Marx Brothers. Because much like Ann M. Martin, Betty Miles has a firm grasp on what eleven year olds from 1980 like.
- Kate’s surprised to see that Maudie’s mother is pretty. Because Maudie is a tad overweight, she must have an ugly mother or something?
- One of Kate’s points is that it’s wrong to make up cutesy words for kids to use for their privates. I tend to agree. Parents think up crazy words so that they can avoid saying penis and vagina in front of their little kids, which is so stupid and just makes kids think that a penis or a vagina is something to be ashamed of. Very astute for twelve year old Kate to think that.
- Josh’s girlfriend’s dad is on the pro-censorship side at first. Josh thinks that he isn’t going to be able to see his girlfriend ever again, and Kate thinks he’s getting off on the Romeo and Juliet aspect of it.
- The whole issue did manage to open up a really good dialogue in their English class about censorship, and the teacher stresses how important it is to look at a whole book, its theme, its plot, its voice before judging it dirty or not.
- So out of this battle, the library decided to start a book club. And Kate’s mom has even been checking out some books for teens. (Loser. What kind of adult reads kids’ books? Oh…..) Kate isn’t so happy about that. She feels like it’s spoiling her privacy.
*Steps on soapbox*
After the school board meeting, Kate thinks to herself “What if one person’s freedom of speech bumps into another person’s right not to hear something? Wow, this is complicated.” Um, Kate? Not really. Freedom of Speech (in America anyway) is granted to us in the Constitution. The Freedom not to hear something that might make us uncomfortable is NOT granted to us. Freedom of Speech wins. None of us has the right to be perfectly comfortable with the ideas of others at all times and none of us has the right to approve of every book on the shelf at the public library.
Book banners and other censors are really a scourge in this country, trying to subvert the very ideals that the country was founded on. There is no greater freedom than our intellectual freedom, and every time someone tries to ban Harry Potter for being satanic or Forever….for being about open and honest about teen sex we all lose part of our freedoms. Libraries should not be forced to use their meager resources to fight censors.
If you want more info on the anti-censorship movement, check out Freedom to Read Foundation, started by the American Library Association. You can also get information on the ALA’s yearly Banned Books Week if you’d like to join me in celebrating.
*Steps off soapbox*
EDIT: What the fuck? I totally checked Library Thing for the cover before posting this and I swear it wasn’t there. Anyway, thanks to the alert readers for letting me know the cover is, in fact, at Library Thing.