And that brings me to today's post. The ALA (American Library Association) has announced the 10 most challenged books of 2009. Some books that have been on the list for years have been replaced. Others are still there. But the message is still the same. There are books in school libraries and that are required reading that parents feel aren't appropriate for their children to read.
Now, I am not and never have been a proponent of censorship. The quickest way to get to me is to start talking about taking books off the shelf or burning them. Nor am I saying the parents who challenged these books were right in doing so. I know too many people who object to books and feel they should never see the light of day simply because someone else told them how evil the book is -- the Harry Potter series is a prime example of that. The number of times I've had people challenge me because I let my son read those books that "encourage the practice of witchcraft" are too numerous to count. Worse, most of those telling me that had never read the book.
That said, I do take issue with the educators and professionals who feel they have to "prepare" our children for adulthood by having them read books that aren't age appropriate. These books more often than not are written for high school students and deal with issues most high schoolers are familiar with. Yet, they suddenly become required reading for 5th and 6th graders. Worse, in a variation of the mistake some parents make when they condemn a book without reading it, teachers assign the book without reading it because it comes from the "approved" list.
This was rammed home for me the summer between my son's 5th and 6th grades. We were on vacation and he was reading the last book on his summer reading list. Imagine my surprise as we lounged in our room at my aunt's house in Cleveland and he started reading aloud an attempted rape scene that would make most adults blush. Gone was the nice gothic mystery we'd been reading together. For more than a dozen pages, the author described the attempted rape and subsequent killing of the villain -- in graphic detail. Now imagine my reaction and the conversation I had with the English teacher as soon as we returned home.
That is when I discovered that the summer reading lists were prepared by committee, members of which were librarians and businessmen and not teachers. Nor were they librarians from the districts where these lists were being used. This particular book had been written for high schoolers. Not for kids entering the 6th grade. But that apparently didn't matter to the committee. They wanted to teach about rape and abstinence. Just as they wanted to teach about drug abuse and mental illness with the other books on the list.
So do we, as writers, have a responsibility to keep in mind that what we write might be used in ways we don't anticipate? What can we do -- or should we do anything -- if we discover a book we wrote for an adult audience with adult situations is on a middle school or high school reading list?