Us Asif! authors have been chatting more than a little about the whole books-being-banned situation and we don’t always agree. Some of us do think there are books that are inappropriate for kids. For instance, I would not be totally wild about a ten-year-old reading the Marquis de Sade.
On the other hand, when I was ten I picked up Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (I blame my parents!) and promptly put it back down ’cause it was not only gross, it was really really really boring. I read it again in my late teens and had the exact same response. I imagine the ten-year-old me would have had the same response to the Marquis. As a kid, much like the kid in The Princess Bride, I skipped all the kissing bits. Boooring!
Most of us Asifers agree that there are books that kids shouldn’t be reading, but none of us can agree on what those books are or what the magic age of being able to read “adult” stuff is. I read and loved Alexander Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet at an early age, along with a slew of other “inappropriate” books. I think it had no ill effects on me (others may disagree).
The problem with the banning of books in the US of A is that there are different rules in every state. Hell, there are different rules in every school. In a lot of cases individual principals (head masters) and school librarians are removing books from shelves, or not ordering them in the first place.
Now, obviously school librarians need a certain amount of discretion. They have budgets. They can’t buy every book and it’s their job to buy books that are appropriate for their students. You can’t do that without making judgements.
The school librarians and principals are the ones on the frontline. They’re the ones dealing with parental complaints. They’re the ones looking at catalogues and deciding what to order. If their school is in a particularly conservative area they might see a book titled Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs fall in love listed as a middle grade book and decide that ordering it just isn’t worth the grief, no matter how tame the content.
As it happens that’s exactly what’s happened to Maryrose Wood’s book despite it being as pure as the driven snow and its title being the raunchiest thing about it. And yet the title fits the book to a tee. Should her publishers have called it something else? Should people read books before they rush to ban ’em?
Is banning books ever a good idea? How about just limiting access? There are some kids who are horribly freaked out by books. I babysat for this one little boy and if I read him stories that were even a teeny tiny bit scary he would not be able to sleep for a few nights. When he was a little older and reading on his own, Grimm’s fairy tales deprived him of sleep for weeks. He wasn’t ready for it and was a much happier and saner kid when he stuck to sport and pony books.
But there are young kids who adore the scary stuff. Why should they be deprived of their reading pleasure cause some other kid is scared by the same books? Kids mature at different rates. One size really does not fit all. And besides, that kid I babysat for—he self-regulated. He stopped reading the fairy tales after the first two. Every time he decided a book was scary he stopped reading. I suspect a lot of kids do the same thing.
So usually it’s not a question about what a kid does or doesn’t want to read; it’s about what their parents do or don’t want them to read. And, yes, parents have every right to do that. But they do not have every right to regulate what all the kids at their child’s school can read.
And, frankly, I worry about parents who are that controlling. When I was in primary school one of my friends was not allowed to read any books her olds deemed sexist or racist. So she read those forbidden books (mostly by Enid Blyton) over at my place and we’d pretend to be members of the Famous Five (with huge fights over who got to be George) or pretend we were in boarding school at Mallory Towers and have midnight feasts (though sadly we never managed to stay up till midnight for them).
Forbidding her those books and not allowing her to watch television did not protect her from racism or sexism. It just made the forbidden items more desirable. It’s incredibly hard to control the cultural artefacts your child comes into contact with and even harder to control what they make of them.
I understand the impulse, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. (I also understand why authors feel compelled to respond to bad reviews.) I also wonder what exactly is the harm that parents think their child will contract from reading books they deem “inappropriate”. Is it a bid to put off having awkward conversations? To protect the child from how foul the world is? Is it an attempt to mould your children in your own image? (Good luck with that, by the way.)
What do you lot reckon?