Wednesday, September 24, 2008

what's appropriate?

As a librarian I have lots of choices to make. Every time I order or shop for books I am faced with multiple decisions. And the toughest of those questions is "Is this book appropriate for my school and our readers?"

Let's back up and I will give you a few facts. I teach at a K-8 charter school. It is a public school, not a private or Christian school. But I would bet cash money that the majority of people who send their kids here are Christian and would like a private school atmosphere without the hefty tuition bill. And that is kind of what we provide. But, like you might find anywhere, some families are more liberal and some are more conservative.

Also, with so many grades in one school, my library is divided into sections: general fiction and middle school fiction. We call this the Blue Dot section because the middle school books have blue dots on the side.

What makes it Blue Dot, you might ask? Is the book level high? Is the content a little more in the PG-13 range? Is there a lot of violence or kissing or (gasp) sex?

Now, I am one person. I cannot possibly read everything that Barnes and Nobles puts on it's shelves. And if I am ordering it from a catalog, I know even less. And while there are sites that can help you figure out what interest level the book is, I can't read about all 75 books I might buy in one order. I try to preview the most popular things, but again, I am one mind. What I might think is ok, you might label as smut. And what you might label as smut, publishers and critics might be raving about it.

And that has happened. Not recently, but it happens. Remember the Harry Potter controversy? All these people up in arms about a boy wizard? I still have parents that don't allow their kids to read them, and that's their choice. And I hate banning books. I really do. It makes me uncomfortable. I think it's easier to expose kids to tough things through books and discussion rather than through TV and movies.

And teenage girl books are the toughest! Some parents might think it's ok for their daughter to read about kissing and boys. Some don't. Some parents buy their daughters books I don't shelve here and I wouldn't recommend for a sixth grader. Some parents still have their daughters reading Little House on the Prairie. And don't get me wrong...I love some Laura Ingalls, but many seventh and eighth grade girls are beyond that.

So, all this floats around in my head everytime I shelve a new book. Who will love it? Who will it offend? Where do I draw the line?

I would love to hear from some Moms out there. Especially of teenage girls. Where do you draw the line?


Karrie said...

Let me preface this by saying that I am no prude. I just finished the 4 books in the Twilight series. I LOVED them. I read all 4 of them in 2 weeks... while working full time and raising small children... and my husband (I can say that here, because he won't read it :) ). But I think they are too sexually charged for my 12 year old niece, who told me to read them in the first place.
You are so right!! It's a very thin line to walk.


stefanie said...

That's a tough question. Everyone has their own line, but I have never thought that it was a library's (or librarian's) responsibility to know my own personal line and draw theirs in the same place.

I have two teenage girls. They are avid readers and I am too. They know that I might browse or read any book that they bring home. A couple of them have made me cringe, but I have just talked to them about the part that bothered me. I haven't had to make any censorship decisions with them, but there have been times that I have asked them to wait a while before reading.

One of them was never interested in Harry Potter, but the other was. She waited until 6th grade to read, and later said she was glad that she did. She appreciated the characters and the story and the humor so much more than she would have a few years earlier. I read them after she did, and enjoyed them immensely.

The older daughter did not want to read the Twilight books until 9th grade, and again, I followed her. We both enjoyed them, but I also was bothered by the obsessiveness of the whole relationship and was able to talk to her about it at an age where she could make sense of what I was warning her about.

She has made it her goal to read every book in the ya section of our library. If you want book reviews, maybe you should email me and I will ask her to give you her review!

Good luck, and remember most parents support you in your work and are not looking for the next book controversy!

Esther said...

I have a really GREAT Australian series called "Tomorrow When the War Began" about Australia being taken over and this bunch of kids who were having a camp are left behind (ie. not in a prisoner camp) and they decide to become guerillas. What I love about this (teenage) series is that it has sex and violence in it but the author (John Marsden) looks at it realistically and at how it emotionally affects the children. He doesn't glorify it all. My mum wouldn't let my 13 year old sister read them because two of the characters have sex (it's by no means explicit though) but I thought there wasn't any harm in reading it because it shows how you might get in that situation and the awkward aftermath. Things a teenager needs to know and it's good to have conversations about rather than sticking your head in the sand and pretend that it's not an issue or temptation that she going to face (when she's older hopefully.)I slipped them to her on the sly (that's what big sisters are for, after all.) I really recommend them, although I don't know if you can get them in America.

Belle said...

Just tagged you on my blog if you're interested in sharing a few things about embarrassed to say that I cannot figure out how to link it to you here in the comments section.

Sandy Toes said...

Well, I would say draw the line b/c I want my kids to read books that reflect good morals and values. There are certain ages to read certain books!
love your blog!
-Sandy Toes

Paige said...

My parents always let me read anything I wanted, which is how I came to be reading Stephen King in third grade. That may have something to do with how I turned out

How often do you have a complaint or issue? How big is the school?

Lula! said...

In the second grade I read "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" by Judy Blume. Mama got a note from my teacher, stating she felt it was "inappropriate" reading for an 8 year old. Mama ignored it.

I read "Gone With the Wind" in 5th grade. No biggie.

I read Judy Blume's "Forever" in 6th grade. It has a "sex scene" in it. Again, no big deal. Until a friend gave my mother a hard time for allowing me to read it. I was mature enough to understand every word, and also smart enough to not go out and tell all my friends about it.

If I'd been reading smut, Mama would've put an end to it right away. But she always encouraged my love of reading and never censored anything...then again, I wasn't reading Penthouse Forum, either!

I think the first 3 Twilight books are appropriate for a child as young as 12--provided she is mature and not all giggly-googly. The 4th one...well, I would've been fine reading it in 6th or 7th grade...but that's up to the parent's discretion. Each child is different.

Having said all this, I want my girls to read Twilight when they are 13 or so...because these books are so clean...and they do things in the proper order, you know? (Remaining spoiler free, Sissy!) It's rare these days to find young adult lit that's not full of sex and drugs and all that stuff.

I'm rambling. I'll stop now.

Frizzy and Bird said...

I don't envy you one bit! I wish I had a magic answer that would make everyone happy but I don't. Good luck and if I think of something I'll add it later.

Heather said...

I've never thought about that part of your job. That must be tough. I don't have any advice yet because my girls are still so little.

Caroline said...

Wow, you have to walk such a fine line and you know you can't please everybody. There's always going to be someone up in arms about something.

Evi said...

I personally think that WAY too many parents assume that schools are one their page (or should be on their page) for every kind of moral and ethical decision their child will ever face. They are not spending the time at HOME teaching their kids how to judge for themselves.
I am NOT suggesting that schools start cataloging Harlequin novels and hope for the best but we need to admit to ourselves (as parents) that we live in a world where are kids are going to be faced with a LOT more once they hit High School...and they need tools NOW to learn how to judge our families own ideas of right from wrong...not the worlds.
Did that make sense.

Good on Lula's mom. Love her. She had a good sense of what Lula could handle and what she was mature enough to do with it. THAT is what I am talking about.

You have a tough job Sissy. It must be SO tough to please everyone without outright censorship hey?