Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Abandon all fear, ye who write for youth

I have always had qualms with censorship and as a future librarian, I stand rather firmly on the first amendment and individuals' rights to privacy regarding their reading preferences. I bring this up because my Library Materials for Children class is talking about challenged (or what once would have been banned or avoided) books this week.

Some of the controversial picture books we looked at were:
Gloria Anzaldua's Friends from the Other Side
Sarah Brannen's Uncle Bobby's Wedding
Eve Bunting and David Diaz's Smoky Night
Carolivia Herron's Nappy Hair
Toshi Maruki's Hiroshima, No Pika
Walter D. Myers' Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam
Parnell and Richardson's And Tango Makes Three
Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen

Children's books have become much more wide-ranging in topics, characters, and increasingly mature in themes. Simultaneously, more parents have complaints about the content which their children are exposed to.

I can see, easily enough, the controversy behind making certain books with mature themes available to children and young adults while with others, I did not see what the fuss was about at all. For example, Smoky Night is set during riots that actually happened, where children were actually present. Moreover, the story is much more about the forging of a relationship between a family and their neighbor during a stressful time. We tend to throw the baby out with the bath water when avoiding materials that are challenging because of their content. We are also making tons of possibly dangerous assumptions and low expectations of our youth if we decide to wipe out books rather than to monitor our own children's reading habits. It's good for us to remember that books are a safe way for kids and teens to explore realities of their world, and ones which provide openings for discussion rather than leaving them to find out on their own, or "on the street."

Christine A. Jenkins, associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says, "The goal of children's librarianship has been stated thus for over a century: 'to put the right book into the hands of the right child at the right time.' And it is ultimately the child - the reader - who determines what that right book might be."

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