Friday, August 08, 2008

Don't Read That Book!

The thing I hate about getting up early is that then I do something other than my normal routine, such as checking my email, and then I see someone has posted a link on the listserv to My Say: When YA Might Not Be OK by Shannon Stevenson at Publishers Weekly, and by the time I'm done reading and posting somehow I am running late for work.


I'm torn about the article; on the one hand, knee jerk reaction of "no" to the idea of telling a child what not to read.

On the other hand, I agree that a good librarian helps a kid find the right book for them. Just because kids hear about a book doesn't mean it's for them. And Stevenson doesn't say "no"; she engages in wonderful readers advisory to find out what the child is really seeking in terms of a book.

Channeling Zaphod to get a third hand, I also am a big believer in kids self-censoring, and that the kid who picks up the book that is too "old" for them will either quickly put it down or simply not notice the stuff that is above their maturity/age level.* So I'm not too worried about "oh noes they read Gossip Girl and from now on will only wear Prada."

On the fourth hand, I think there is some terrific stuff in the children's section, and just as I hate the idea of teens being told (directly and indirectly) to "grow up and move to the adult section for the good book," I don't like that attitude being used towards the children's section. That is, a belief that "oh, you're the SMART kid, it's time to move to YA." There are so many spectacular books written for 6th graders, isn't the librarian's job to help those books find the right reader?

As I've run out of pretend hands, let me add that Stevenson also points out the age levels used to shelve in her library. So in responding, remember -- at her system, YA pretty much equals high school readers. Also remember -- those books you love for older teens, if that eleven year old came asking... seriously, what would you say? "The commercials for Nick and Norah are so cute, I want the book!" To say the F word appears every page would be conservative; and it has an incredibly hot almost-sex scene. If my friend's daughter who is entering sixth grade asked me for it, I would be showing her Sex Kittens. If I do that for her, why shouldn't I do it for the kid in the library I don't know? In all honesty, yeah, if I knew that kid was that young, I'd be engaging in the exact same interview Stevenson does. Fact of the matter is, some books ARE for high school students -- and older high school students, at that. Authors know that -- many authors agree that their intended audience is not just teens, but older teens.

So, as you can see -- yes, I'm conflicted much.

But, I imagine that the imaginary sixth grader who IS ready to read N&N isn't asking for my help in finding it. So I wouldn't really be that nasty librarian who said you couldn't read a book....

Anyway, much to think about and darn, yes, now I'm running late.

*Deenie had masturbation? As a kid, I had no idea.


christine M said...

Kids self censor. Yes. My son picked up a book he thought he would like - started reading - admitted he wasn't getting into it - so back to the library for new books.

Things go over their heads. Yup.

My daughter was thrilled that I let her read the Princess Diaries - and it was a matter of "I let her". I re-read it, decided that she was old enough for it and gave my permission. And she knew to ask too.

When a librarian can guide a kid to a book that is right for them it is a blessing.

When a librarian says to a kidnergartner "You can't read Junie B. Jones those are only for 2nd graders. That's not a blessing.

When a mother - like the one I heard in the library says to her son (about 5th or 6th grade) "That's a girly book go get something else" it makes me really wonder what book it was (I couldn't see the title, darn it) and kind of cringe. Because there are a lot of "Girly" books that a boy might really enjoy.

heather (errantdreams) said...

I agree that it's a complex issue. Helping a child find what's right for them is good---assuming you know best what's right for a child isn't necessarily good. I was reading way above my age level when I was a child, often reading adult books before most were reading YA (in fact, I kind of skipped most of the YA phase). Either I handled the adult material or I decided I wasn't ready for it or I self-censored. That doesn't mean I'd expect someone to let me check out a book with explicit sex in it at age eight... there are limits. But as the previous commenter says, assuming too much about a book being only for a certain gender or grade can cheat kids out of great books.

Eva M said...

I was old enough at age 13 to "get" Forever and also to know that these teens were light-years ahead of me in the sex department! One of my daughters (who has always been a bit squeamish/squirrelly) tried to read a certain YA book (can't remember which one - rats) at age 12 but was too overcome with embarrassment to even blip over the (fairly tame) sex scenes - just knowing they were in the book was too hideous to endure.
So yeah, I would never refuse to direct a kid to a book she or he asked for specifically, unless it was totally clear the book was way inappropriate (N&N for an 8-year-old,say) and the kid didn't realize.
There are "clean" titles in the YA section (historical fiction, fantasy) and plenty of really fabulous, challenging stuff in the juvy collection. If kids realize the huge variety of books available to them (and that's where we children's librarians come in!), they'll be less liable to ask for Gossip Girls simply because that's something they've heard of.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar reaction to the article. When a patron (whatever age) asks me for a specific book, I don't feel it's my place to put any judgment on their request-- hairy eyeball or something stronger-- unless they've requested my opinion, as parents often do for their children. On the other hand, if a kid asks for/is open to reading suggestions, *that's* when I pull out the great books I think are right on target for their maturity level.

I remember trying to read A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle as a middle schooler, and my mom-- not a book banner by any means-- actually went so far as to ask the library to move it from the YA section to the adult section (they didn't). Meanwhile, all the sex and other "adult" stuff had completely gone over my head. I thought the book was a total snooze!

Sarah Rettger said...

Count me as another one who didn't get everything in the "too-old-for-you" books - but read them anyway. I was nine when I first read Scarlett, and didn't catch any of the sex until years later. But I loved the book.

At least once I've made book recommendations for a mother who didn't mind her daughter reading scary or violent books, but absolutely no sex. I managed to keep my mouth shut, too. :-)

Stasia D said...

Hey Liz:
Well said. I think most librarians are at least a bit conflicted about this issue. I think the N&N example perfectly illustrates what I deal with on a weekly basis in my school environment.

Keri said...

If I kid asks me for a specific book, I hand it to them. In the Gossip Girl case, I'd probably hand it to them and also grab the first Clique novel and say, "Here's another one you might like." Depending on the teen, they may prefer the cleaner Clique books or they may like Gossip Girl better, or in most cases they'll probably like both.

Even for older teens, if I'm recommending something with extreme cursing or sex in it, I'll mention it and say "just wanted to give you a heads up in case you're uncomfortable with that" and then I'll leave them to make that decision for themselves. Most teens will take the books, some won't.

Jennie said...

When I was in 5th grade, my favorite books were Matilda and Remember Me. 2 very different books, for very different ages, but... they were both perfect for me.

And, I was SHOCKED! to find out Deenie had masturbation. I had no idea when I read it the first time!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I definitely think kids self-censor. Yes, parents and librarians can and should be interested in what kids are reading . . . but in the end you need to trust that you've raised them right and that reading some book isn't going to send them on a unprotected sexing/ swearing/ binging spree.

If a kid makes a request, help them find the book. The time to comment is when they bring it back -- and I've seen my local librarians do this a lot. When the book goes on the counter, the librarians ask "how did you like that?" "if you liked that, try . . . "

Anonymous said...

Nick and Norah! That would have been a much better example to use than Twilight or the Gossip Girl and Uglies series. Because, frankly, I don't see a problem with giving the titles mentioned in the article to an 11 or 12 year old when asked.

I wonder if part of the difference in opinion is due to the fact that Stevenson is a children's librarian, not YA? I also wonder if her library has a children's reference desk, and if she's getting asked for YA books at a children's desk instead of another reference setup. Not sure if it makes a difference in the end, but I do wonder if it might matter.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

In our Pre-K to 8th grade school we see a lot of 2nd and 3rd graders wanting to check out the books we have in the middle school section (YA ). We use the question "what do you think your parents would think?" about books we've described to them as being for the older kids. Sometimes I'll even say its a book we bought for the older kids because it's about high school or about something they are studying in health class. That usually puts it in perspective for them and they self select from there. We have classroom teachers who are strict about kids reading from their "just right" lists as well, so I try to find the balance by being more lenient. Sometimes a book slips by, like a kindergartener checking out a book on Crack because of the skull on the cover, (he thought it was a scary story, I didn't see it get checked out) and I have parents calling up complaining about what they are asked to read for bedtime stories. It's an interesting discussion and I enjoyed reading the article you linked to.

Liz B said...

Interesting varied comments.... if a kid is "reading up", I'm not into holding them back with stuff they don't want because it is too easy, but I also don't agree that the only "reading up" available is YA.

And a big point (which is why I think Nick & Norah is the good example) is so much saying "don't read this book" to the kid, as making sure the book is the book the kid thinks it is. Princess Diaries is a good example to use with younger readers (say, 3r graders). Those Princess Diaries readers (tho usually its the parent) who think they are getting the movie version are usually shocked, appalled, and loud in their complaining about the book being, gasp, a YA, even tho that is what it is.

Roger Sutton said...

I don't like "what would your parents think?" as a filter because it puts the librarian in the parent's camp rather than the child's. It also puts the child in the dubious position of feeling as if she needs to lie to get a book she is legally entitled to read.

Liz B said...

I recently had a request by an 8 year old for Meg Cabot's Read or Not : an American Girl book.

Instead of simply sending it out to the requestor, I gave the requestor the summary description of the book and said, just checking that this is the book you want.

At which point I discovered that the requestor thought the Meg Cabot books were the Kit/American Girl books.

I don't think any greater good would have been served by giving the Meg Cabot books when what they wanted was the Meet Kit books.

(The person asking for the book was the parent of the girl).

Personally, I prefer to work with kids instead of parents for a ton of reasons. Kids usually have a better handle on their own reading interests; and parents expect you to read their mind (and the absent child's mind) in terms of matching.

That said, in terms of the confusion of the American Girl books, or perhaps a belief that Cruising is a movie about cruise ships, yes, I think it's good to find out what the reader/viewer really wants when they ask for a title that seems to be a disconnect with their usual books/movies. (My stepgrandmother was the one who thought crusing was about cruise ships.)