Books, Collection Development

Carrying a small stick

Over the weekend, a veritable firestorm erupted over this editorial calling for the banning of the books Speak and Slaughterhouse Five.

I wonder if this isn’t exactly what people like Scroggins want: people of relatively little importance and influence voice an incredibly stupid/wrong headed/conservative opinion and suddenly the Twitterverse and blogosphere are alive with the sound of their name and their opinion.  Suddenly, they matter.  In this case, there’s verifiable proof of his thoughts, unlike the Palin Book Banning Scare of 2008.  The two books in question are, in his mind, wrong for school age readers.

Without getting in to the merits of those two books, or of Common Sense Media‘s reviews of books, I think the idea of outsiders censoring books is just wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with reading reviews and saying “I don’t think this book is right for my child” – as a matter of fact, it’s great when parents are interested and involved in their child’s reading.  What’s wrong is when Parent A says that the book isn’t right for Child A and for Child B, Child C, etc..  Because I’m pretty sure that Parents B and C have different ideas than Parent A do, and that Parent A would have kittens and cows if Parent B dictated to Child A.

I was lucky in that my parents allowed me to read whatever I wanted (Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn at age 10, for example).  My mother was far more concerned with images, and much tv was banned; she also refused to let me see Saturday Night Fever when all my friends were seeing it, but a friend’s mother allowed me to go while on Spring Break in – of all places – Boston (where the movie wasn’t banned!).  I also, along with many friends, “snuck” into American Gigolo.  Methinks I’m none the worse for the reading and the watching.  So perhaps I’m never the best person to ask if a book is appropriate for a particular person: there are adults I know now that I wouldn’t recommend either movie, or many books to.

Having said that, I do talk to my students.  It’s obvious to me when they’ve reached a part of a book that makes them feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps it’s because they know their parents won’t approve, or perhaps they’re just not ready for whatever the content is.  Whichever, they usually stop reading and return the book; sometimes they just skim quickly until they reach a more interesting part.  More distressing is when the disturbing content is part of their required reading: they can’t get away from it, and they start to resent the book and the teacher.  That’s when a conversation – not a mandate, a conversation – is important with the teacher and the student.

Giving this man the power to hijack book conversations and book buying is wrong.  Amen to the first commenter, who went right out and bought the books to read and discuss with their child.

2 thoughts on “Carrying a small stick”

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