The Original ‘Alien’ Returns to Movie Theaters for “Alien Day” This Month!

Written and Directed by Stevan Mena on a budget of around $200,000, Malevolence was only released in ten theaters after it was purchased by Anchor Bay and released direct-to-DVD like so many other indie horrors. This one has many of the same pratfalls as its bargain bin brethren, which have probably helped to keep it hidden all these years. But it also has some unforgettable moments that will make horror fans (especially fans of the original Halloween) smile and point at the TV like Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Malevolence is the story of a silent and masked killer told through the lens of a group of bank robbers hiding out after a score. The bank robbery is only experienced audibly from the outside of the bank, but whether the film has the budgetary means to handle this portion well or not, the idea of mixing a bank robbery tale into a masked slasher movie is a strong one.
Of course, the bank robbery goes wrong and the crew is split up. Once the table is fully set, we have three bank robbers, an innocent mom and her young daughter as hostages, and a masked man lurking in the shadows who looks like a mix between baghead Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 and the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Let the slashing begin.
Many films have tried to recreate the aesthetic notes of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween, and at its best Malevolence is the equivalent of a shockingly good cover song.
[embedded content]
Though the acting and script are at times lacking, the direction, score, and cinematography come together for little moments of old-school slasher goodness that will send tingles up your spine. It’s no Halloween, to be clear, but it does Halloween reasonably proud. The nighttime shots come lit with the same blue lighting and the musical notes of the score pop off at such specific moments, fans might find themselves laughing out loud at the absurdity of how hard the homages hit. When the killer jumps into frame, accompanied by the aforementioned musical notes, he does so sharply and with the same slow intensity as Michael Myers. Other films in the subgenre (and even a few in the Halloween franchise) will tell you this isn’t an easy thing to duplicate.
The production and costume designs of Malevolence hint at love letters to other classic horror films as well. The country location not only provides for an opening Halloween IV fans will appreciate but the abandoned meat plant and the furnishings inside make for some great callbacks to 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. All of this is buoyed and accentuated by cinematography that you rarely see in today’s low-budget films. The film is shot on 35mm film by A&E documentary filmmaker Tsuyoshi Kimono, who gives Malevolence an old-school, grainy, 1970s aesthetic that feels completely natural and not like a cheap gimmick.

Malevolence is a movie that no doubt has some glaring imperfections but it is also a movie that is peppered with moments of potential. There’s a reason they made a follow-up prequel titled Malevolence 2: Bereavement years later (and another after that) that starred both Michael Biehn and Alexandra Daddario! That film tells the origin story of our baghead, Martin Bristol. Something the first film touches on a little bit, at least enough to give you the gist of what happened here. Long story short, a six-year-old boy was kidnapped by a serial killer and for years forced to watch him hunt, torture, and kill his victims. Which brings me to another fascinating aspect of Malevolence. The ending. SPOILER WARNING.
After the mother and child are saved from the killer, our slasher is gone, his bloody mask left on the floor. The camera pans around different areas of the town, showing all the places he may be lurking. If you’re down with the fact that it’s pretty obvious this is all an intentional love letter and not a bad rip-off, it’s pretty fun. Where Malevolence makes its own mark is in the true crime moments to follow. Law enforcement officers pull up to the plant and uncover a multitude of horrors. They find the notebooks of the original killer, which explain that he kidnapped the boy, taught him how to hunt, and was now being hunted by him. This also happened to be his final entry. We discover a hauntingly long line of bodies covered in white sheets: the bodies of the many missing persons the town had for years been searching for. And there are a whole lot of them. This moment really adds a cool layer of serial killer creepiness to the film.
Ultimately, Malevolence is a low-budget movie with some obvious deficiencies on full display. Enough of them that I can imagine many viewers giving up on the film before they get to what makes it so special, which probably explains how it has gone so far under the radar all these years. But the film is a wonderful ode to slashers that have come before it and still finds a way to bring an originality of its own by tying a bank robbery story into a slasher affair. Give Malevolence a chance the next time you’re in the mood for a nice little old school slasher movie.
Malevolence is now streaming on Tubi and Peacock.

The Original ‘Alien’ Returns to Movie Theaters for “Alien Day” This Month!

Written and Directed by Stevan Mena on a budget of around $200,000, Malevolence was only released in ten theaters after it was purchased by Anchor Bay and released direct-to-DVD like so many other indie horrors. This one has many of the same pratfalls as its bargain bin brethren, which have probably helped to keep it hidden all these years. But it also has some unforgettable moments that will make horror fans (especially fans of the original Halloween) smile and point at the TV like Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Malevolence is the story of a silent and masked killer told through the lens of a group of bank robbers hiding out after a score. The bank robbery is only experienced audibly from the outside of the bank, but whether the film has the budgetary means to handle this portion well or not, the idea of mixing a bank robbery tale into a masked slasher movie is a strong one.
Of course, the bank robbery goes wrong and the crew is split up. Once the table is fully set, we have three bank robbers, an innocent mom and her young daughter as hostages, and a masked man lurking in the shadows who looks like a mix between baghead Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 and the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Let the slashing begin.
Many films have tried to recreate the aesthetic notes of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic Halloween, and at its best Malevolence is the equivalent of a shockingly good cover song.
[embedded content]
Though the acting and script are at times lacking, the direction, score, and cinematography come together for little moments of old-school slasher goodness that will send tingles up your spine. It’s no Halloween, to be clear, but it does Halloween reasonably proud. The nighttime shots come lit with the same blue lighting and the musical notes of the score pop off at such specific moments, fans might find themselves laughing out loud at the absurdity of how hard the homages hit. When the killer jumps into frame, accompanied by the aforementioned musical notes, he does so sharply and with the same slow intensity as Michael Myers. Other films in the subgenre (and even a few in the Halloween franchise) will tell you this isn’t an easy thing to duplicate.
The production and costume designs of Malevolence hint at love letters to other classic horror films as well. The country location not only provides for an opening Halloween IV fans will appreciate but the abandoned meat plant and the furnishings inside make for some great callbacks to 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. All of this is buoyed and accentuated by cinematography that you rarely see in today’s low-budget films. The film is shot on 35mm film by A&E documentary filmmaker Tsuyoshi Kimono, who gives Malevolence an old-school, grainy, 1970s aesthetic that feels completely natural and not like a cheap gimmick.

Malevolence is a movie that no doubt has some glaring imperfections but it is also a movie that is peppered with moments of potential. There’s a reason they made a follow-up prequel titled Malevolence 2: Bereavement years later (and another after that) that starred both Michael Biehn and Alexandra Daddario! That film tells the origin story of our baghead, Martin Bristol. Something the first film touches on a little bit, at least enough to give you the gist of what happened here. Long story short, a six-year-old boy was kidnapped by a serial killer and for years forced to watch him hunt, torture, and kill his victims. Which brings me to another fascinating aspect of Malevolence. The ending. SPOILER WARNING.
After the mother and child are saved from the killer, our slasher is gone, his bloody mask left on the floor. The camera pans around different areas of the town, showing all the places he may be lurking. If you’re down with the fact that it’s pretty obvious this is all an intentional love letter and not a bad rip-off, it’s pretty fun. Where Malevolence makes its own mark is in the true crime moments to follow. Law enforcement officers pull up to the plant and uncover a multitude of horrors. They find the notebooks of the original killer, which explain that he kidnapped the boy, taught him how to hunt, and was now being hunted by him. This also happened to be his final entry. We discover a hauntingly long line of bodies covered in white sheets: the bodies of the many missing persons the town had for years been searching for. And there are a whole lot of them. This moment really adds a cool layer of serial killer creepiness to the film.
Ultimately, Malevolence is a low-budget movie with some obvious deficiencies on full display. Enough of them that I can imagine many viewers giving up on the film before they get to what makes it so special, which probably explains how it has gone so far under the radar all these years. But the film is a wonderful ode to slashers that have come before it and still finds a way to bring an originality of its own by tying a bank robbery story into a slasher affair. Give Malevolence a chance the next time you’re in the mood for a nice little old school slasher movie.
Malevolence is now streaming on Tubi and Peacock.

‘She was a fighter till the very end:’ Keeping Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo alive through Barrio Books

SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — On April 1, Syrena Arevalo-Trujillo lost her battle to pulmonary hypertension. She leaves behind her legacy of Barrio Books.“Syrena believed in making space for BIPOC authors and especially people of her community to bring access to literature that sometimes goes underrepresented,” said Walter Trujillo, her husband.

Barrio Books

Arevalo-Trujillo launched Barrio Books in 2018, and received a double lung transplant in 2019. Still, she built her dream, starting from her pop-up book shops, to a small shop in Hotel McCoy in 2021. “You could just feel her love for books. It was super passionate,” said Amber Parker, a friend of Arevalo-Trujillo. The next step in her journey was just months away.Her goal was to open a new location of Barrio Books in South Tucson and make it a space for the community. Now, her family is determined to make her dream a reality.

Reyna Preciado

“I really want that bookstore to be a haven for children and families that look like us, sound like us, eat the same food that we eat, I want them to see themselves in those books,” said Anna Tarazon, her mother. Her family was a part of Barrio Books as Arevalo-Trujillo fought through her battle. Her sister, Sarah Arevalo, said, “I knew how much the bookstore meant for her, and how much it meant for us to keep it going.”Her family was able to step in to help her achieve Barrio Books, but she could no longer continue her passion for performing in mariachi groups while sick. “She was a violinist and she was a part of Los Changuitos Feos,” said Walter Trujillo.That was just one of the many groups she played in throughout her life. Her love of mariachi eventually introduced her to her husband.

Walter Trujillo

“We ended up competing against each other at the Las Cruces Mariachi Conference. She ended up being a winner, I always say she won the competition and I got the prize.”

Walter Trujillo, Syrena’s Husband

Walter Trujillo

“She was very goofy, very, her own person.”

Sarah Arevalo, Syrena’s Sister

Barrio Books

“We continue to speak her name, she was a guerrera, she was a warrior, she was a fighter till the very end.”

Ramon Munoz, Syrena’s Friend

“She would say things… when I’m gone look for me in the monsoon rain. She had such an affinity for the rain and the monsoon that brought her peace and joy.”

Walter Trujillo, Syrena’s Husband

In her honor, the family hopes to fast track the opening of Barrio Books to within the next four months. The family shared their gratitude of the community’s support in making that happen.

——-Reyna Preciado is a reporter for KGUN 9, she joined the KGUN 9 team in July of 2022 after graduating Arizona State University. Share your story ideas with Reyna by emailing [email protected] or by connecting on Instagram, or Twitter.

Nicaraguan Filmmaker’s Relationship with the Sandinistas

Gloria Carrion: “My voice is critical of the Sandinistas, but it comes from Sandinistas”
Nicaraguan filmmaker Gloria Carrión during the filming of her movie “Heiress of the Wind”. Photo: Courtesy
Nicaraguan filmmaker Gloria Carrion narrates in her upcoming film “Pantasma” how she was forced to leave the country, despite her parents being revolutionaries.
By EFE / Confidencial
HAVANA TIMES – Exile is the theme of the film Gloria Carrion is working on, a filmmaker who always draws from her own experience. In “Pantasma,” she recounts how she was forced to leave her country, Nicaragua, something unimaginable when she shot her first feature film based on the story of her parents, both Sandinista revolutionaries.
The events her country experienced in recent years turned her into “a critical voice on the Sandinistas that grew up with the Sandinistas,” as she defined herself on April 16, 2024, in an interview with EFE, just before participating in a colloquium at Casa de America in Madrid, Spain.
“Dialogue spaces like this one in Madrid, with different voices, are important, while we hope that in the future there will be genuine dialogue that allows Nicaragua to recover democracy,” said the filmmaker, who was forced to emigrate in 2021 and now lives in Italy.
The anguish of exile
Exile is “a tear that causes a deep wound because you not only leave a place, you also leave your childhood, your memories, the smell of the dish you like, and the color of the sunset.”
“You carry all that weight wherever you go,” but exile can also be a window of hope because, in her opinion, “the abrupt departure of so many people can have a transformative potential.”
Gloria Carrion insists that she is just one more in “the exodus of hundreds of people” who left Nicaragua after the protests of 2018, and although the Ortega regime “uses exile as a form of repression,” the filmmaker believes it can backfire.
In her next film Carrion deals with another theme that obsesses her, the concept of the enemy, because it was “a very strong shock” to realize that she, who was born into a militant family, where the Sandinistas were friends and the “contras” were enemies, suddenly became the enemy of her former friends.
“It is very interesting and painful to see how enemies are constructed and what is behind those constructions, which are never random and always have an objective,” she reflects.
Reconciliation as a solution
This theme was already present in her first feature film, “Heiress of the Wind,” in which she narrated how her parents risked their lives for the revolutionary cause; how she lived a lonely childhood, and how later, over the years, she began to understand that she had to let go and seek reconciliation, not only with her parents but with their entire generation, including those who fought on the opposite side.
In the film, which is being screened this Tuesday at Casa de America, she interviews her parents, but also those who fought against her parents, and it ends with a glimmer of hope.
But after the release of this film in Nicaragua in 2018, the demonstrations took place, resulting in hundreds of deaths, arrests, and exiles.
Gloria Carrion’s second film
This is the theme of the second film being screened at Casa de America, “Hojas de K” a medium-length film that could not be released in Nicaragua and whose team sign with a pseudonym “for security reasons.”
“I wanted to open a dialogue with my first film, and what happened was an uprising and an unexpected repression —she reflects—. Now I see that the wound reopened because the Nicaraguan war of the 1980s never ended. It continued through other means.”
“The wound is very old -says Gloria Carrion- who besides being a filmmaker is a social researcher. Nicaragua is a country historically immersed in violence, with a colonial legacy and an exploitative economic model that continues to be based on social and racial discrimination.”
“We have many unresolved conflicts and a pile of pain that is transmitted from generation to generation and is like geological layers, with a weight that does not allow us to move forward, she reflects. However, the solution, then and now, remains reconciliation.”
Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.

Nicaraguan Filmmaker’s Relationship with the Sandinistas

Gloria Carrion: “My voice is critical of the Sandinistas, but it comes from Sandinistas”
Nicaraguan filmmaker Gloria Carrión during the filming of her movie “Heiress of the Wind”. Photo: Courtesy
Nicaraguan filmmaker Gloria Carrion narrates in her upcoming film “Pantasma” how she was forced to leave the country, despite her parents being revolutionaries.
By EFE / Confidencial
HAVANA TIMES – Exile is the theme of the film Gloria Carrion is working on, a filmmaker who always draws from her own experience. In “Pantasma,” she recounts how she was forced to leave her country, Nicaragua, something unimaginable when she shot her first feature film based on the story of her parents, both Sandinista revolutionaries.
The events her country experienced in recent years turned her into “a critical voice on the Sandinistas that grew up with the Sandinistas,” as she defined herself on April 16, 2024, in an interview with EFE, just before participating in a colloquium at Casa de America in Madrid, Spain.
“Dialogue spaces like this one in Madrid, with different voices, are important, while we hope that in the future there will be genuine dialogue that allows Nicaragua to recover democracy,” said the filmmaker, who was forced to emigrate in 2021 and now lives in Italy.
The anguish of exile
Exile is “a tear that causes a deep wound because you not only leave a place, you also leave your childhood, your memories, the smell of the dish you like, and the color of the sunset.”
“You carry all that weight wherever you go,” but exile can also be a window of hope because, in her opinion, “the abrupt departure of so many people can have a transformative potential.”
Gloria Carrion insists that she is just one more in “the exodus of hundreds of people” who left Nicaragua after the protests of 2018, and although the Ortega regime “uses exile as a form of repression,” the filmmaker believes it can backfire.
In her next film Carrion deals with another theme that obsesses her, the concept of the enemy, because it was “a very strong shock” to realize that she, who was born into a militant family, where the Sandinistas were friends and the “contras” were enemies, suddenly became the enemy of her former friends.
“It is very interesting and painful to see how enemies are constructed and what is behind those constructions, which are never random and always have an objective,” she reflects.
Reconciliation as a solution
This theme was already present in her first feature film, “Heiress of the Wind,” in which she narrated how her parents risked their lives for the revolutionary cause; how she lived a lonely childhood, and how later, over the years, she began to understand that she had to let go and seek reconciliation, not only with her parents but with their entire generation, including those who fought on the opposite side.
In the film, which is being screened this Tuesday at Casa de America, she interviews her parents, but also those who fought against her parents, and it ends with a glimmer of hope.
But after the release of this film in Nicaragua in 2018, the demonstrations took place, resulting in hundreds of deaths, arrests, and exiles.
Gloria Carrion’s second film
This is the theme of the second film being screened at Casa de America, “Hojas de K” a medium-length film that could not be released in Nicaragua and whose team sign with a pseudonym “for security reasons.”
“I wanted to open a dialogue with my first film, and what happened was an uprising and an unexpected repression —she reflects—. Now I see that the wound reopened because the Nicaraguan war of the 1980s never ended. It continued through other means.”
“The wound is very old -says Gloria Carrion- who besides being a filmmaker is a social researcher. Nicaragua is a country historically immersed in violence, with a colonial legacy and an exploitative economic model that continues to be based on social and racial discrimination.”
“We have many unresolved conflicts and a pile of pain that is transmitted from generation to generation and is like geological layers, with a weight that does not allow us to move forward, she reflects. However, the solution, then and now, remains reconciliation.”
Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.

Florida revises book removal law in omnibus education bill

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WPEC) — Gov. DeSantis signed a comprehensive education bill Tuesday that quietly revised Florida’s current book removal law. Included in a bill containing over a dozen items, the book banning provision is intended to dispel claims that the state is being too restrictive on education, DeSantis said at the bill signing in Jacksonville.The new law, HB 1285, limits residents who don’t have children in the school district from reporting more than one book per month.”Community members who don’t have kids in school, some say, ‘Well why should they be able to get involved in this curriculum?'” DeSantis said. “Some of them pay taxes. I wouldn’t say someone who doesn’t have kids in school doesn’t have interest.” This comes nearly a month after DeSantis called on the legislature and Department of Education to “reform” the book banning policies in response to public criticism. Since the original bill, HB 1069, became law last year, thousands of books have been banned or flagged for removal around the state, including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and “The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.”Images of emptied libraries and classroom shelves floated around social media, posted by teachers and librarians who said they were trying to comply with the law’s restrictions. The governor has since stepped back from the original policy pushed by his administration and the education commission, saying people have been using the book bans to support a “false political narrative.””We’re not trying to create a cottage industry of people that are trying to use this to advance themselves,” DeSantis said, calling bans on classic literature like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “absurd.”HB 1285 covers both K-12 and higher education touching on everything from charter schools to dual enrollment. The new law provides benefits for military families and allows private schools to use public facilities, such as libraries and museums. It also bars higher education institutions from prohibiting students from working full or part time while seeking a degree. A focal point for the governor and Florida Commissioner of Education, Manny Diaz, Jr. was an expansion on “classical education,” which is an alternative to public schooling that is heavily oriented toward liberal arts.”The classical model is very different,” Diaz said. “It’s going back to our founding impetus of education.”

Gov. Bill Lee signs bill making the Aitken Bible an official state book

The Aitken Bible, along with nine other works, including George Washington’s “Farewell Address” and Alex Haley’s “Roots,” became Tennessee’s first officially-designated state books under legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Bill Lee.Lawmakers last month passed House Bill 1828, sponsored by Sen. Paul Rose, Covington, and Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, making the Aitken Bible — the first edition of the Bible printed in the United States during the Revolutionary War — an official state book, along with the nine works with varying degrees of connection to the Volunteer State. Legislation passed along party lines, with Democrats objecting with constitutional concerns.The Aitken Bible is now the only religious text designated by law as an official state book. With Lee’s signature, it joins the exhaustive list of state symbols, including the state amphibian (the Tennessee Cave Salamander), the state rock (limestone), and the state dog (bluetick coonhound).Separate legislation that would designate November as “Christian Heritage Month,” and “encourage citizens to learn more about Christian heritage in this state” is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.While the legislature has repeatedly voted on proposals to make the Bible a state book, this is the first bill to be successful. In 2016, then-Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill designating the Bible as a state book, citing state and federal constitutional concerns. Lawmakers sought to override Haslam’s veto, but the House of Representatives fell short.Lawmakers who previously had objected to designating the Bible as a state book alongside other more trivial symbols in the past, supported this legislation.The bill makes the following designated state books: “Farewell Address to the American People,” George Washington (1796)”Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville (1835 and 1840)Aitken Bible (1782)Papers of President Andrew Jackson “Roots,” Alex Haley (1977)”A Death in the Family,” James Agee (1958)”All the King’s Men,” Robert Penn Warren (1947) “American Lion,” Jon Meacham (2009)”The Civil War: A Narrative,” Shelby Foote (1958-1974)”Coat of Many Colors,” Dolly Parton (2016)“Tennessee does have a rich political and cultural history dating all the way back to its founding on June 1, 1796,” Rose said last month when presenting the bill. “Together, these works help Tennesseans understand American identity, politics and culture.” But the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which promotes the separation of church and state, criticized the Bible bill and “Christian Heritage Month” legislation on Tuesday.“Secular rights and principles in America, not just Tennessee, are truly under attack,” the group’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said in a statement. “We’ll continue to oppose these sorts of laws that trample on the rights of non-Christians in Tennessee and in every state.”Tennessee has already designated a host of state symbols. In 2009, lawmakers designated milk as Tennessee’s state beverage. In 1999, the legislature adopted an official state tartan. In 2014, the legislature designated “Sandy,” an ancient sandstone statue of a prehistoric Native American kneeling as the official state artifact. In 2016, lawmakers adopted the Barrett .50-caliber as the official state rifle.Already this year, lawmakers have designated hot slaw as an official state food of Tennessee, and Cleveland, Tennessee, as “the hot slaw capital” of Tennessee — and are considering adding Brenda Lee’s classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to the list of official state songs.Vivian Jones covers state government and politics for The Tennessean. Reach her at [email protected].

Jason Rapert demands removal of books he dislikes from Arkansas libraries

Jason Rapert, an evangelical preacher and former state senator who now serves on the State Library Board, can add aspiring book banner to his resume.
In a post on social media Monday, Rapert discussed results of a survey of public library systems over books he finds offensive. The Conway Republican inaccurately proclaimed, “My request for a survey of #Arkansas public libraries to report to us on having any books with obscene, pornographic or objectionable materials accessible to minor children has been received. As a member of the Arkansas State Library Board, I thank those who have reported honestly and for answering the request.”

Books about sexual assault aren’t pornographic. Schools are banning them as ‘obscene’ anyway.

Published

2024-04-16 14:46
2:46
April 16, 2024
pm

A new trend is emerging in book banning: School officials are pulling works about sexual violence from library shelves, often by labeling them “obscene.” That’s the finding of a report released Tuesday by freedom of expression advocacy group PEN America. 

Nineteen percent of banned books during the 2021-2023 school years included passages about sexual assault, the report found. What’s more, school officials are banning books at a faster pace. PEN recorded 4,349 book bans in 23 states and 52 public school districts during the first half of the current school year. That figure tops the 3,362 books banned during the entire previous school year. 

Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read program, said that after noticing a pattern of policymakers generalizing broadly to label books “sexually explicit,” the organization decided to investigate.  

“When we dug a little bit deeper, what stood out to us was, ‘Oh, wow, these are stories about violence against women,’” she said. “These are stories told from female survivors.” 

Banning books because they describe sexual violence raises concerns that survivors will be deprived of the chance to read literature that reflects their experiences, ultimately increasing their feelings of alienation instead of aiding with their recovery. About 27 percent of 17-year-old girls and 5 percent of 17-year-old boys say they have experienced sexual abuse — figures that range from 23 to 62 percent for LGBTQ+ youth. 

Roughly half of individuals who contact the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) for help are minors, said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the nonprofit that works to combat sexual violence and to support survivors. 

“This is something that’s already very much a part of their lives,” Berkowitz said. “Pretending that sexual violence is just an adult topic might make some people feel better, but kids know the truth.” 

He added that banning books about sexual assault plays into the common misconception that such acts are about sex when they’re really about violence.

In states all over the country — from Idaho to Pennsylvania — books with sexual violence have been banned on the grounds that they’re “pornographic,” “disgusting” or “obscene,” according to the report. Literature targeted for their passages on sexual assault include Amy Reed’s “The Nowhere Girls,” kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, “A Stolen Life,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Rupi Kaur’s poetry collections. Even works on consent haven’t been spared, with one Kentucky school district briefly banning the book “Defining Sexual Consent,” a decision that faced pushback from parents.

“We want to be teaching kids about consent so that they can interact in social situations and know warning signs and things to look for and help protect their friends,” Berkowitz said. “The last thing we want to be doing is hiding this information from kids. Keeping information from kids is… going to actually make things harder for them. It’s going to make them more ashamed to talk about something that happened to them and less aware that there are lots of other people that it also happens to.”

Many survivors blame themselves, but when they realize how common sexual violence is, they piece together that the abuse they suffered had nothing to do with them and everything to do with the perpetrator who decided to harm them, he said. 

Censoring books because they reference sexual assault also disproportionately impacts women and nonbinary writers, groups more likely to engage with this subject matter. In Idaho’s West Ada School District, women authored nine out of the 11 books school officials banned in the fall, and more than half of the works discussed sexual and other forms of violence against women, PEN found. One of those books, “The Nowhere Girls,” Meehan said, “is about teenage girls who are resisting sexist culture in their school and resisting sexual abuse of women.”

Niki Scheppers, the communications chief for the West Ada School District, told The 19th in a statement that the books West Ada removed aren’t children’s literature but “represent works of a more explicit nature.” She also said, “In the careful curation of knowledge, the decision to remove certain books from our library shelves is not made lightly. It is a deliberate choice aimed at fostering an environment that encourages diverse perspectives while ensuring the protection of our students.”

Since First Amendment protections do not cover obscenity, categorizing reading materials as such makes it easier to remove them from school libraries. There’s just one problem: The works targeted don’t meet the legal threshold for obscenity, according to PEN. The group referenced the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Miller v. California which characterized obscene materials as being totally devoid of “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

To skirt this definition, states and school districts have “increasingly introduced new terms” or “manipulat[ed] other existing statutes,” according to PEN. Sometimes, terms such as “sexually explicit,” “sexually relevant” or “sexual conduct” are used to justify removing books, but these phrases don’t have a standard legal meaning, causing confusion among school personnel about which books should be permitted or prohibited. Florida’s HB 1069 singles out any book that “depicts or describes sexual conduct.”  Enacted last year, it has led to the ouster of books such as Melissa Marr’s “Ink Exchange” from school libraries. Marr’s book, however, does not detail the rape that figures heavily in the storyline. 

Florida leads the nation in book banning cases, with 3,135 bans across 11 school districts from July 2021 to December 2023, the PEN America report found. Escambia County Public Schools, the district with the most censorship in the country, enacted more than 1,600 of those bans. Wisconsin came in second, imposing 481 bans in three districts. There, the Elkhorn Area School District alone barred 444 books based on the complaints of one parent, according to PEN. With 142 bans in three districts, Iowa came in third, followed by Texas (141 bans), Kentucky (106 bans) and Virginia (100 bans).

PEN America points to the website Book Looks as a driving force of book bans. Started in 2022 by a former member of Moms for Liberty, a national group focused on parents’ rights in schools, the website ranks books based on their content about gender identity, sexual orientation, race relations, profane language and violence. Supporters of censorship have used the site to challenge books in school districts nationwide. A Maryland Moms for Liberty chapter used the site to suggest the removal of more than 50 books in Carroll County schools, PEN found. Of these books, 96 percent contained sexual references and 36 percent mentioned rape. 

“We are well aware that allowing students to read and learn about sexual violence doesn’t cause more violence,” Meehan said. “In fact, research has shown us that the opposite is true, that students who learn about rape and rape culture can actively work to help prevent it.”

In Brevard County, Florida, school officials in June imposed an eight-year ban on three works by the poet Kaur that reference sexual violence: “Milk and Honey,” “The Sun and Her Flowers” and “Home Body.” She responded to the development by stating on X, “Banning books about sexual assault is not going to stop sexual assault from happening. Lawmakers are taking away tools that help students feel seen and that’s what breaks my heart.”

Meehan said that giving young people access to books about a wide range of topics, including sexual violence, helps to improve their sexual health, just as providing them with comprehensive sexuality education does. Like Kaur, she also acknowledged a grim truth: “Rape and harm against young people and young girls is not being censored away in the real world. So why would we censor it from our libraries?”

Children’s book author sparks Bethel Park students’ creativity

When she was young, Jean Reidy wrote stories and stapled the pages together to make books.
She continues to do so, minus the stapler.
The native of suburban Chicago recently visited two Bethel Park elementary schools to talk in part about her experience as an award-winning children’s author. Her main purpose, though, was to inspire creativity.
“Put your hand on your head if you are a daydreamer,” she told students during an April 12 assembly at George Washington Elementary. “We need daydreamers.”
And later:
“Raise your hand if you’re an artist. We need more artists in the world.”
Following her introduction by Washington librarian Becky Minella, Reidy immediately developed a strong rapport with the youngsters.
“I don’t know if it has as much to do with giving assemblies or presentations. I think it has more to do with my background,” she said after the program. “I’m an aunt to, like, 47 nieces and nephews. I’m a grandma to seven now. I have four kids of my own. And I was the one who always preferred to sit at the kids’ table at the family dinners.”
Apparently, that means plenty of time with the smaller kids.
“A lot of my friends will say, ‘I’m a 13-year-old, and the write middle-grade novels.’ And my heart probably lies around age 6,” Reidy said. “Those are essentially the books I write, as well. So when those kindergartners, first graders, even those third and fourth graders, come in, I feel like they’re my people, that I can really relate to them.”
She discussed how writers, especially of fiction, tap their imaginations and suggested the students carry notebooks to capture their otherwise fleeting thoughts. And she acknowledged that not everything is going to click.
“Some of my ideas are awesome, but others, not so much,” she said. “That’s part of the creative process.”
Whatever the case, she strives to excel at her craft, “because you, my readers, deserve the best writing.”
Speaking of which, Reidy’s work has received numerous accolades, from the 2011 Colorado Book Award for Children’s Literature for “Light Up the Night” to the selection of “A Book About You and All the World Too” for Illinois Reads 2024.
Helping arrange for her visit was Milana Popovic, librarian at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, which hosted Reidy the day before her turn at Washington.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to meet a real author and gain inspiration for their own writing journeys,” Popovic said.
Reidy’s own journey shows no signs of slowing.
“There are days when other things take over in life, when I think, oh, maybe it’s time to retire. But then I can’t turn off the stories,” she said. “It is one of my favorite things to do. So I feel very, very fortunate that way.”
For more information, visit jeanreidy.com.

Harry Funk is a TribLive news editor, specifically serving as editor of the Hampton, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine Creek and Bethel Park journals. A professional journalist since 1985, he joined TribLive in 2022. You can contact Harry at [email protected].