>Hitting Them over the Head

>Child_Lit has been unusually lively the last couple of weeks, with discussions of The Dark is Rising, Love You Forever (again), gypsies, and gay-seeming children all perking along nicely, but what has intrigued me most is a thread inspired by a post from GraceAnne DeCandido, who has given me permission to reproduce it here:

Dear colleagues,
it is one of those teaching days that make one want to scream and
throw things (the Yankees loss last night did not help, but I

Several of my students (graduate students all) think that if they
buy a book or give a booktalk or promote a book to a teacher or a
class it means somehow that they condone and approve everything
that takes place in a book. They cannot, for example, buy or
promote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist because that means
they approve of the language (which is salty and true to life). One
student objected to the grammar and usage in Walter Dean
Myers’ books because she felt it didn’t model good and
appropriate speech.

This is of course all connected to the teaching book/didacticism
thread we have had. I am teaching a literature course to adult
people studying for the MLIS degree. I need to find ways of
addressing this issue, although I am puzzled so much by their
attitudes that I scarce know where to begin.

Well my dear GA, I think three things are going on here. First, either these students aren’t readers or they’ve forgotten that kids read the same way grownups do: just as reading a Donna Leon mystery does not overwhelm me with the urge to push someone into the Grand Canal, reading Nick and Norah . . . isn’t going to introduce the word fuck into a spoken vocabulary from which it was previously absent. So, I think we’re talking about library school students who don’t love reading, which makes me want to jump into the Grand Canal.

But here’s the second thing, which is worse: humans over time have demonstrated an inordinate fondness for the ability to push around those of their kind who are smaller and weaker. And some people, especially people who don’t like to read, use books as weapons in service to this objective. This goes for books that are either suppressed or required when the point of either action is to control what another person thinks or does.

The third thing, though, can give us all hope; namely, that these grad students are laughably deluded if they think any child really cares what the librarian thinks.

But I wonder if these students really are the grammatically correct Polly Puremouths they’re presenting themselves as. Are they truly worried about modeling bad behavior, or are they just afraid to get in trouble with other adults? That fondness for picking on the vulnerable doesn’t look so good when the vulnerable is you.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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  1. >Here’s the chilling thing I see: should they become librarians, they won’t buy the offending books, thus denying the children the opportunity (rightly) not to care what the librarian thinks. Well, I suppose there’s always Borders or Barnes and Noble.

  2. >Off topic, but Nick and Norah is total reluctant-reader catnip. So’s Tyrell; I suppose the not-so-surprising common denominator is oral sex in the first fifty pages.

  3. >Yea, hooray, Roger! You go, guy! You’re such an antidote to the prissy world!

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >I don’t know why GraceAnne’s email looks like a YA verse novel; it looks normal in “edit” mode so I don’t know how to fix it.

    Hey, speaking of verse novels, are we seeing fewer of them (he hopefully exclaimed)?

  5. Elizabeth says:

    >The language in Nick and Norah’s Ultimate Playlist might worry a graduate student? I had forgotten (until now) the oral sex that Ilemma mentions, but believe me, I have never entered the Mariott Marquis in Time Square since reading Nick and Norah without remembering my favorite scene from that book. Why aren’t the students worried that teenagers are going to start making love over the ice machines in their hotel?

    (And Roger, you stole that “He exclaimed” thing from me.)

  6. >Whenever I’ve participated in a book discussion group with children’s librarians, it’s depressed me how much of the conversation centers around the lessons a child would learn from the book. Even if you’re having a Newbery discussion, which should presumably center around the writing, they still look at the book in terms of the good or evil things a child might learn.

    If I had spent my childhood reading time learning lessons, I’d be riding around in my convertible solving mysteries, or perhaps peeking through my neighbors’ windows. Or maybe I’d be a nurse having lots of adventures. But here I am, a children’s librarian, who might occasionally peek at a neighbor’s living room while walking my dog at night, never solving mysteries, and not being even a student nurse, much less an army nurse. Apparently, I was just not that easily influenced by what I read.

    I don’t understand why so few children’s librarians approach books from a literary point of view.

  7. >When I was in library school a mere handful of years ago, I confess that I sort of felt bad about making aesthetic judgements – as if librarianship has moved from “No novels!” to “Novels, okay, but not genre fiction!” to “Genre fiction, okay, but no comic books, God forfend!” to a position where we recognize how stupid those preceding positions were… and to the point where we say, “Okay, read what you want, not my place to say whether it’s good or not.”

    Maybe moral judgements seem more cut-and-dry, less a matter of personal taste.

    Me, I’ll continue to be angry at the Disney books, the media tie-ins, the M&M counting book (note: I have no power to order or not order these books, though I did giggle a lot when I weeded the kiddle Left Behinds that weren’t getting checked out.) And I’ll continue to be thrilled with a book like Nick & Norah.

  8. Kelly Fineman says:

    >Sounds to me like some of the students simply lack balls – they don’t want to make a call because someone else might think it’s the wrong call. But if I had to find books I could wholeheartedly endorse, it’d be tough going. I really enjoyed most of the Harry Potter books, but egad! The author’s use of adverbs! And don’t you hate it when bad things happen to characters you like, like in Good Night Moon, when the old lady whispers “hush” or in, well, any book when a parent dies? I’m not in favor of parents dying. How could I give a book talk on such a book?

    Sounds like they need to get themselves some stones.

  9. david elzey says:

    >“And some people, especially people who don’t like to read, use books as weapons in service to this objective.”

    I’ve been trying to pin this thought down for a long time, Roger, and you nailed it. The same is true for music and art, theater, movies, all of it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >may a naive outsider ask: who or what is NICK AND NORA? surely not THE THIN MAN? all you professionals seem to know. will be grateful for enlightenment.

  11. doin' it at the Marriot says:

    >Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a novel by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. The two celebrated YA authors collaborated, with Cohn writing Norah’s sections of the book and Levithan writing Nick’s, I believe.

  12. >thanks to DOIN’ IT for prompt explanation!

  13. >Ah, and now today brings us even more fodder for book banning and over reacting. Nick and Nora had language, but now the perilous Potter can beat that: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20153399,00.html

  14. Anonymous says:

    >sdl, you are just talking to the wrong children’s librarians. Please don’t throw the accusation at us all, based on your unpleasant personal experience.

    “Whenever I’ve participated in a book discussion group with children’s librarians, it’s depressed me how much of the conversation centers around the lessons a child would learn from the book. Even if you’re having a Newbery discussion, which should presumably center around the writing, they still look at the book in terms of the good or evil things a child might learn.”


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