Selecting Children’s Literature (Module 3)

How have your various roles based on your age, family background, societal position, religious beliefs and profession influenced your stance on censorship of children’s literature collections?

I come from a conservative Christian background, and still attend church.  I grew up in the middle class suburbs of outer western Sydney and (with extended family help) I was able to go to private schools.  My parents were both educated.  My mum has a diploma of teaching (it wasn’t a bachelor’s degree in the 1970s) and my Dad went to uni when I was a 8, studied part time while working full time, got a Bachelor’s degree and then eventually went on to get a Masters degree, and was studying for a second Masters degree when he died.

Along the way I absorbed the information that comics were trashy, series books weren’t good enough and that it was shocking that we should read “Debbie Has Two Mummies” in an early childhood setting.  Growing up, people who were LGBTQIA were viewed as “other” and to be shunned.  The experience of meeting (in my situation) men who were gay, and realising that they are just normal people, did a lot to change my attitude.  I now see it as my responsibility to serve my students and library patrons by providing them with literature that represents their families, the families of people they know AND the families of people they may never encounter so they can see the breadth of diversity in human experience.  Through this subject I have come to appreciate the value of series fiction, and the skill involved in producing comics graphic novels as well as the history behind the format and the cultural significance of the comic.

In a primary school setting, I would place some censorship on books but only in the sense that we, as a society, place ratings and restrictions on movies and tv shows to protect our most vulnerable people.  I would also avoid stocking books that were racist, ableist or overtly discriminatory in any way.  Implicit discrimination is sometimes harder to see, but I would try to examine titles critically, and encourage my students to do the same.

Censorship

I produced this image for my last session, to highlight books that have been banned.

Banned Books

As part of my investigation for this subject, I decided to explore the most banned books of 1990-1999, an era that encapsulates my high school years.  The thing I found most fascinating was the number of books on that list that I had studied, at my conservative Christian high school, that appeared on that list.  The Chocolate War, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Brave New World (my husband studied that), Of Mice and Men.  Then there are a tonne of books written by Judy Blume, S.E Hinton and Robert Cormier that I read of my own accord.  Obviously there is no context as to the library they were banned from. There are some I would support not being in a primary school library, but belong in a high school library (for example).  There are some I wouldn’t personally ban, but would understand why some people would struggle with, such as Fade by Robert Cormier which includes an incestuous relationship.  Looking at the top ten most challenged books of the last few years, there are some surprises and some books I would never purchase for a school library. For example, I would not purchase Fifty Shades of Grey for any school library.  To Kill A Mockingbird has the “n” word in it, but is still a valuable literary text.  Perhaps it just needs some teacher guidance?  Or even a notice inside the book that it contains this word which is no longer acceptable?  Eleanor and Park – I’ve read that (as an adult) and would have loved it as a teenager.  I’d let my high school kids read it.

Ockerbloom (2015) outlines many titles that have been banned over the years, and I’ve read about what happened to these books in the US.  They became part of the Library of Congress’ Omega Collection, accessible only inside the library and only by arrangement and contained a vast array of materials, including seditious materials, pornography and materials pertaining to homosexuality (that became demonised around the McCarthy era) (Adler, 2017).

Children’s Book Awards

The Indie Book Awards are decided by independent booksellers, and often highlight books that are missed by the bigger booksellers and bigger awards.  They have two categories relevant to schools – Children’s (up to 12yo) and Young Adult (12+).

The Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards highlight Australian books that enhance children’s language development.  Of particular note is their Indigenous children award, and the list of award winners in this category would provide a good basis for enhancing a library’s indigenous literature collection.

Do award winners inform you own reading choices? How much weight should they have when selecting books to support a unit of work (i.e. what comes first – award or relevance/appropriatness)?

Books that win awards are more likely to come to my attention through media coverage after the award is won, and so may pique my interest as I would read about the book, in a way that I may not read about other books.  This is how I came to read The Long Road to the Deep North by Richard Flannagan (for example).

As to planning units of work, award lists have some of the work already done for you in that you don’t have to check for both quality and relevance in the same way, hopefully the quality of the book is good since it has won an award, however I wouldn’t stop supporting a unit with literature simply because there aren’t any award winning books that cover that topic.  It is just a good starting place when looking for relevant  books.

Literature Map

Literature Map was mentioned in Horn Book Magazine (Stevenson, 2006) and it was fun to play around with and possibly discover some new authors.  This one is based on my most recent favourite, Ben Aaronovitch.  I’m particularly intrigued by the proliferation of male authors in this map.

Author map for Ben Aaronovitch. His name is in the centre surrounded by a cloud of other author names, their proximity to BA relating to how frequently the authors were both read by a reader.

In contrast to this, is the Literature map for Cassandra Clare, a YA author my daughter enjoys reading. The cloud is filled with the names of female authors, James Dashner being a notable exception (although he’s some distance away from the centre).

Literature map for Cassandra Clare

References

Adler, M. (2017). Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge. New York: Fordham University. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1xhr79m

Ockerbloom, J.M. (2015). Banned books online. In The Online Books Page. Retrieved from http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/banned-books.html

Stevenson, D. (2006). Finding literary goodness in a pluralistic world. Horn Book Magazine, 82(5), 511-517. Retrieved from https://www.hbook.com/

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