Don’t miss Leonard Marcus’s latest column about picture book covers, and speaking of that, SLJ stalwart Rocco Staino reports on a gallery of ‘em that would make Judy Blume blush. Or would they? The pictures were created by several well-known picture book artists in service of raising money for the National Coalition Against Censorship.
They are hilarious (see the link for the gallery), far funnier than the lists of “fake dirty children’s books” that periodically meme their way around the Internet, but I wonder about the, um, blowback. At least in regard to intellectual freedom for children, the argument promoted by the American Library Association is less about the freedom of expression than it is the freedom to read. And the reason for the freedom to read is that reading itself has value, and that those who seek to ban or restrict Forever, Harry Potter, or Goosebumps are misunderstanding (or misrepresenting) the fundamental good of these titles: Forever speaks honestly about sexuality, Harry Potter celebrates the power of the imagination, Goosebumps provides safe thrills and encourages reluctant readers to take up the habit. I don’t think the ALA has ever met a book for kids that didn’t have redeeming social value.
But what if Holiday Hummers were real? Would we still stick up for it? I put the question to NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin and she responded (entirely sensibly) that “the whole thing is completely hypothetical and unlikely in the extreme. However, in general our position is that we defend the right to publish legal non-obscene content of any kind. It’s up to individuals to decide if they want to buy/read it.” That makes perfect sense when you approach intellectual freedom from the First Amendment rights of writers, but I wonder if when we defend books for their case-by-case value to readers (which is what ALA does), what we do when a book seems indefensible? A lot of fifth-grade boys would find a book called Holiday Hummers (not to mention Blow Me: A Book About Whistles, not to mention the real-life Go the Fuck to Sleep) irresistible, so we can’t argue that such a book would not be of interest to kids. My point is that a defense of books on the basis of their worthiness will only take you so far and is ultimately thin: “IS worthy!” “Is NOT!” A fair percentage of the population already thinks Daddy’s Roommate IS Holiday Hummers without the choir robes, anyway; are we prepared to defend both?