An Interview with Kelly Jensen

By David Nilsen 

I recently had the privilege of talking to Kelly Jensen, former librarian and current editor at the wonderful book culture site Bookriot. Kelly has been in the book-savvy press lately for responding brilliantly to an attempted ban on the young adult novel All Girls Are in a school system in Charleston, South Carolina. Today is the beginning of Banned Books Week, which makes this the perfect time to read about a book hero like Kelly. Enjoy!


girlsDavid Nilsen: Tell us about the challenge that arose to Some Girls Are. What was found to be objectionable in the book? How did you become aware of the issue?

Kelly JensenHere’s where the information initially emerged. I found out about it through Courtney, who wrote this amazing response to the situation.

David: What led you to do something about it, and have you faced a book challenge like this before?

Kelly: I talked about what led me to do something about it here.

I have indeed faced push back before–and I talked about those two experiences here.

This one seemed like a great battle to follow through on, in part because I found copies of the book so inexpensively on Book Outlet. $1 for a book is a steal.

David: Are challenges to YA books like this common?

Kelly: According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, they received 311 reports of challenges in 2014. In terms of how common they are to YA, I think that a number of the titles in the top ten list speak to the frequency of that. And again, these are only the challenges reported to the OIF.

A few years back. I did an assessment of challenges to books that occurred in a one month period. You can see the results of that and some of the implications here.

And I can never not plug this piece, as I think it speaks to something worth addressing, which is that the books tending to be challenged most frequently are those written or featuring females or people of color or people who are open about their sexual identity as LGBTQIA+.

David: What has the response been like online to your call to action? How many copies of the book have you received?

Kelly: I received over 1000 copies, as well as $600 to ship the books down to SC. More about the response here.

I’ve been blown away and I’m really proud of how many people helped out, from sharing information about the donation to making large donations to get the books down to Charleston to the teens. Every little bit helped. And I think the amazing response we saw by local news in Charleston–which I rounded up here–showed what an impact it made.

David: How are you actually getting copies of this book into the hands of teens who want to read it?

Kelly: See: http://bookriot.com/2015/09/04/rising-challenge-book-internet-delivered-books-teens/

Also the link to the news pieces from Charleston, in question #4, will show the how!

David: Given the initial hostility to the book, have you faced any backlash from the community since you put your response plan into action?

Kelly: Nope. And that’s because the hostility was limited to one individual, one parent, who thought she had the right to make a choice about the reading rights of everyone in that particular community.

This initiative was embraced openly, and even folks who were a part and didn’t quite know the role they played — like my post office employees! — were thrilled to help out. I would have been toast without the kindness of everyone.

Now I’m known as the book lady at the post office, and it’s been awesome to talk about the project with the women who work there.

David: Is there anything you wish had been handled differently during this process? What lessons can be learned by schools, libraries, and communities from a situation like this?

KellyKelly: I can only speak on my end, to which I say, I don’t think so! I think we planned this out well and it went off without a hitch. The end goal was to let teens know how much their right to read matters, and teens in this community know that now . . . and more, Andria is doing a spectacular job getting the word out and talking to and with teens about the book and about their right to make decisions about their intellectual freedom.

David: Finally, would you say you’re more of a librarian or a superhero?

Kelly: I’m not either! I’m an editor for the largest independent book website in North America, and I used the resources available to me to advocate on behalf of teens–the exact group I once worked and advocated for while I did work as a librarian.

I have tried to stay invisible through the process because this isn’t about me. I’m just fortunate to have the platforms that I do, and I want to use them for good. This is good.

David: Thanks so much for talking to us, Kelly. Keep doing what you do!

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