Saturday, December 1, 2012

What Is Appropriate In Chidlren's Literature

The age old question of what children literature should discuss and shouldn't is about as old as the bible itself. Many public and school libraries have had to deal with concerns from parents over the years about suitable topics for children in books. Thus the American Library Association (ALA)provides support for libraries dealing with patrons challenging a particular book in the library's collection. Books from Are you there God, it's me Margaret (Blume) to Harry Potter Series (Rowlings) have survived the parental questionings and remained on the shelves. This may seem to be a Win for the library's advocacy of children's rights however, it may also be a reasons why some claim that librarians are not flexible and deaf to parents concerns and needs. The child, it seems, is the only one who has rights that are to be protected. Perhaps, this is as good as time as any to examine the concerns that parents have about topics that are controversial and sensitive. To get this topic out of the way, we will begin with discussing the "outing" of famous people in history. In the children's Biography Series Giants of Science, author Kathleen Krull is not shy about tackling topics such as Issac Newtnn's sexuality. suggesting that the brilliant scientist who discovered Calculus, may have been gay. If parents object to this book, (on a personal note: I have worked at a library where it was challenged.) there is good reason for them to do ask that it be removed. Why? There is no documentation that supports Newton's "sexuality" nor is it relevant to his contributions to science. In addition to that, nine year olds do not need to be side tracked with what Newton may or may not have believed in a book that is marked as "true". Children need to understand the difference between fact, fiction and it could be. At nine years old, let's make it easier on the child and stick with the facts and the facts only. Librarians who insist on leaving the book on the shelve on the basis that it had good reviews do a disservice to the community and to the profession. AS librarians, we are not to discriminate about the viewpoints of books on the basis of whether we agree or disagree. Having said that, librarians should also demand accountability from the author and publisher that what they put in print it accurate. If it is a personal opinion of the author that a historic figure may have been gay, then that should be disclosed as such. Also, as noted before if it is information that is essential to telling the story of a person's work, then by all means put it in the book. One question that never gets asked it seems is this: would a nine year old doing a paper on Great Scientists like Newton need to know that the scientist may have been a homosexual? Let's reverse that, would it be important to know he was heterosexual? Sex has always been a sensitive topic between adults and children. When is it too early to talk about the topic? There should be a common sense approach here. Not all children are the same. Not all parents think the same ways about sex. Librarians are to merely help locate information for the patrons not demand that all parents allow all children to read whatever they want. Parents often times feel as though they are looked down by "professionals" who think they know children better than parents simply because they have a degree. The gray area of the profession is leading patrons to the information they want and not necessarily what librarians think is a better and alternative information. Is this suggesting that all librarians have an agenda and steer patrons to information that may be misleading? No of course not but if the professional journals and publishers are any indication that all topics are on the table, controversial or not, there is a distinct possibility that protests against certain titles will continue. Librarians must be able to have the freedom to say that not all books are worth defending. Some truly have an agenda that is simply blatant propaganda. Again, harking back to the need for documentation. Another topic that ways heavily on parents mind is the topic of suicide. Should young adults novels delve into the topic and explore what happens when a friend decides that suicide is their only answer. Again it's touchy subject and one that should be treated with sensitivity. One of the complaints that parents may make is that these books may "glorify" suicide and tempt their children to see this as a way out of their problems. One of the best books that deals with this topic very well and does not glorify the act of suicide is Thirteen Reasons Why. It is a haunting book about a girl who has committed suicide and leaves behind an audio tape to her friend to listen to after she was gone. As the title suggests, she gives her friend thirteen reasons why she choose to end her life. It is sad, compelling and makes the reader think about the words that they say and how they affect their friends. Should this book be off the shelf? Yes, as in checked out by parents and their children. Dealing with difficult topics such as these does require some adult handling. It's not a bad idea for parents to read the books their children are reading and have an open discussion about the topic. Books can be a great communication. It is with great reluctance to leave the discussion with a sense that any books about homosexuality, drugs, suicide, sex or rape are topics should never be brought into books for children. There is a time a place to introduce sensitive topics to children. Sexuality does not belong in a picture book or chapter books written for children in lower elementary. For that matter, the other topics mentioned shouldn't be discussed to the young ones either. As a child grows older and a serious discussion can be held with them about sensitive topics than it should be up to the parent to decide when and how the topic will be discussed. Certainly there is a role for librarians and teachers to play here but it is a small part. Children's minds are inquisitive, imaginative and inspiring. It's the professional's responsibility to handle it with care and help them learn. Parents must handle their child's learning experience with care as well. Where professionals teach, the parents responsibility to help their children , take what they have learned and apply it to make life better. In the case of social cultural issues, it is important to trust that parents will do the right thing and help children deal with sensitive topics in positive ways.
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