Friday, January 14, 2011

Books for Everyone?

Now that the "new and improved" Huck Finn is coming out, there is controversy at every turn.  I looked up book challenges and bans on Google today, and the majority of hits were related to Mark Twain's classic tale of boyhood and racism.  Some people don't seem to mind the sanitization of words, while others vehemently point out the problems associated with this decision.  I have already stated my opinion, for the most part, in an earlier post, so I won't go on about it again.  There has yet to be a consensus on either side, and some schools are still having to deal with the fallout.

Florida's Westside Elementary School, recently in the news for a mother's request to ban Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz (which I covered here), is still waiting for a decision from the school board.  But they are being featured in Hernando Today in regards to book policies in their library.  The difficulty today seems to be the complete lack of consensus (I know, I just used that word in the last paragraph) on what makes a book appropriate, or inappropriate:
...definitions of inappropriate differ from reader to reader.  Lena Betancourt, who brings her daughter Destiny, 6, to the library at least every other day, said it depends on a book's topic if it should be banned from school libraries or not. But Betancourt said the language of the classics like Huck Finn should be left as written to help teach children right from wrong.  "I certainly think certain books shouldn't be in their sight or area," she said. "Kids at a younger age are starting to understand more about what's right and what's wrong. If we keep changing things how will they know?"
One problem I see here is that this mother finds censorship and book banning alright in some cases, but not others, and yet agrees that there is no set rule for what is appropriate or inappropriate because of each person's perspective.  These sorts of comments confuse me, allowing for some ability to censor and ban literature, but with no criteria under which this can be enacted.  And this has difficulties that relate to the censoring of history:
Ralph Smith said too much censorship can hinder the up and coming generations.  "That's history. They're trying to change history," he said.  Debbie Pfenning, Hernando County School District's elementary curriculum supervisor, said it wasn't the first request to have a book banned from schools, but it is the first book challenge that has made it to the district level.  "There have been challenges in the past but the decision has never been to ban a book. It usually gets worked out at the school level," she said.
Books in elementary school libraries are there to appeal to children of all ages throughout the school, whether in grade one or grade six, and some books are not going to be appropriate for the entire age span.  So how can it be said that books should not be available to younger children when the older children will then be deprived?  The books that are available have been chosen for the shelves for a reason and it is up to the children and their parents to decide what is appropriate for them.  The books are not responsible for being appropriate for every reader!!  The book can't decide this!
Pfenning said school library books are picked based on received proposals and input from the media center staff and administration at each school, but the school board doesn't necessarily have to approve every book on the shelf.
"The books put in the media centers are age appropriate. There's a difference between a book being used for instruction purposes and a book that's on media center shelves for student selection," she said.
Oh, the craziness of it all!


  1. It is a challenging situation. You say that it is the child & parents' responsiblity to decide what is appropriate for themselves. Where do you see the teacher & librarian in that equation? For example, a 1st grader may want to select a book to take home - he/she maybe able to read it, but the subject matter is inappropriate for the age. Should the school stop him from checking it out? Should he be able to take it home and risk reading it before the parents are able to make a decision?

  2. I think the librarians and teachers have some responsibility, but how is a librarian to know exactly what the child, or parent of the child, will find appropriate? It is the duty of the librarians to know about the books and the organization of all of them, but they are not responsible for deciding (in most situations) what is inappropriate. If a 1st grader is taking out a YA novel, sure the librarian can step in (or the teacher) and suggest different material. But if a 2nd grader gets a book meant for someone a year or two older, how can the librarian or teacher decide if that is beyond the appropriateness of that child? It's a tricky situation.

  3. ... and have you heard about "Money for Nothing"? Sigh...

  4. Now "Money for Nothing" is just a weird situation... Has the Canadian Gov't not heard other songs in which words were "bleeped" out? It's really not that difficult...