Thursday, July 7, 2011

Can We Talk About THAT?

"In 6th grade I read something about father's [sic] molesting their daughters. So, I stopped hugging my dad for over a year. I love my father. I can't imagine how much I hurt him." (Warren, Frank. MY SECRET. 2009.)

Did #yasaves her?

"We used to have these “Scholastic Book Fairs” in elementary school. They gave me a book for free. The girl gets raped! In detail! I was nine! I was not prepared for that!" (kaylen. Commenter on "Think of the Parents" from the blog SCOTT WESTERFIELD. July 7, 2011.)

What about her? Did the supposed "catharsis" the reader achieves by reading about evil make it worth the harm she feels that book did to her?

There are ideas and realities that young readers are not yet ready to face. When they're exposed to those ideas too early, it does real, demonstrable harm to their lives. Can we talk about that?


  1. See--this is the sort of thing that was missing from the WSJ article. Concrete examples. Thanks for backing up the other point of view, Heidi! How are we supposed to have a great debate about something when one side is all sloppy like Gurdon was?

    The truth, of course, is that some books can really scar some readers, if they don't have a worldview prepared to deal with them (and having that sort of worldview is OKAY). Other (demographically similar) readers can read those same books and be inspired, strengthened, or otherwise enriched.

    I can't watch horror movies. They give me nightmares, daymares, and all other sorts of mares. (Ironically, I can READ about the same sort of thing and usually be just fine.) My world is severely shaken by movies about horrible things happening to people, and I can't get those images to leave me in peace.

    Which is why I know I, personally, need to avoid horror movies. No matter the deeper message, no matter the morality tale being conveyed, horror movies are right off my list.

    My husband loves them. They are pure entertainment for him, and for millions of others.

    Which is why parents need to help their individual children decide which books will help them more than hurt them. And which will scar in ways they're not ready to be scarred.

    You rock. Thanks for this.

  2. Being given a book outside a reader's comfort zone isn't the same as a kid choosing to read something they find apropos to their own situation, which is what #YAsaves was about. It was about having books available to the kids who need them, rather than treating the subjects swept away like something to be ashamed of.

    I'll say it again -- the biggest issue with the WSJ's article is that's it's willfully false information. There are NOT ONLY dark books in the YA section. There are certainly not only dark books in YA section in a store the size of B&N. The idea that the mother in that article couldn't find anything that met her desired sort of book and that she had no recourse but to leave empty handed was garbage.

  3. Putting the WSJ article aside, I think there's an opportunity, as long as everyone is thinking about this topic, to discuss if and how professionals in the YA industry can help guide readers toward books that will be good for them rather than books that will harm them. Ratings? More specific library guides? Reader discretion labels? Are all of these things too close to censorship?

  4. Also, Josie, what if a young reader selects a book that will be good for them because they don't know what the book will actually contain? I'm NOT advocating not allowing young adults to read certain books, but are there things that can be done to help young adults be aware before they pick up a book that looks like a mystery or simply seems to have a good plot line that there's a disturbing rape scene in the book? I know that kind of thing has blindsided me before, and I'm sure it has others. Can we help to mitigate that? Should we even try?

  5. Robin: I agree that it's vital for parents to be involved in their kids' reading choices. However, what about when they don't get the chance? If I'd been kaylen, I wouldn't even have hesitated to read a book handed to me by a literacy professional in my school, and I probably would have read it before I even got home. Does the concept of in locos parentis extend to literacy professionals on school campuses? If so, what is their responsibility when they begin handing children books that their parents know nothing about?

  6. I also agree that teachers and librarians and others in schools should be sensitive. It is irresponsible to just hand a child a book with some potentially harsh element without at least a warning. I don't even do that with my adult friends! I'll always warn about language, violence, sex, etc. That should go double with children--and if something is graphic enough, perhaps the child's parents should be consulted before the book is just blithely handed over. That child might get a lot out of that book, but unless they know the child VERY WELL, they're taking a huge risk.