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>Yes, it’s a book, but . . .

>Lane Smith’s It’s a Book got into hot water on Boston’s North Shore when a literacy foundation tried to donate copies to 340 first graders via their schools. While I don’t buy into the harrumphing that has plagued this book’s final page I do have two cautions. One, first-graders? I think It’s a Book is better for third. Two, foundations (and Scientologists and Baha’is and Bible-thumpers) should know that gifts do not trump selection policies in public institutions. Just because you want to give something away, it doesn’t mean that somebody has to accept it. If this were true, the nation’s public libraries would be swimming with copies of National Geographic, and the nation’s public schools would be swimming in Coke®.

I’m also bothered by the concept that one book suits all. Unless the publisher unloaded copies on the foundation, somebody had to pay for these books. Even at Amazon’s suspiciously deep discount of 57 percent, that would come to more than 1800 dollars, money that could have been spread around to give the kids some choice.

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.



  1. >While I agree with you about donations & choice (I may be the lone librarian who isn't a fan of One Book reading programs!), the comments at the article struck me as almost hysterical. It "violates everything" the school stands for?

  2. MotherReader says:

    >I don't know why the literacy group thought that would be a good book to give to a class of first graders. Didn't the last line even give anyone pause to wonder if it was an appropriate choice? As you know, I'm not a fan of the "jackass" line – but have also seen that school libraries are choosing not to purchase it – and public libraries are putting in with their children's fiction, not picture books.

    As to your point as to whether any one book would be a good choice to hand out to every kid, well it's certainly not the best approach. But if they were going to try it, they could have picked a book that was age-appropriate and non-controversial. (Like say, 99% of picture books.)

  3. >What is it about National Geographic, anyway? Why are those stacks of old copies so ubiquitous? Why not some other magazine? Was it because no one could bear to throw them out?

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >Emay, I think it is the perfect binding that makes it hard for people to throw NGs away. Too much like a book. Plus, it's so educational and all.

    The thing that bugs me about the controversy around It's a Book is that people are reacting to the word "jackass" as if it were a sexual term of some kind (the article even referred to it as a double-entendre). That's just embarrassing.

  5. >Liz, some of the comments on the piece seem to come from way far out on the fringe, but I didn't think the principal quoted in the article itself sounded hysterical. I think it would be really frustrating to spend your day telling first graders not to be mean to each other and not to call each other names, and then have 340 copies of Jackass! handed out.

    I think we can expect kids to read stuff in books and know that they can't reproduce that language in a school environment, but for first graders, this language, given as a gift from an authority figure, really seems to send a mixed message that I think many little kids would struggle to interpret.

  6. >I think the author is trying to have it both ways. He's made his little joke, and he can't then blather about the word "jackass's" being in there so that the final page doesn't end with the same word as the others. Right, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds doesn't stand for LSD.

    I also think the "everything we stand for" line is over the top (do you think he was sobbing as he said it?)–much like the hysterical reaction to the Beatles' singing about tripping–but the fact is that the punch line of the book is an insult. (And a double entendre; they don't have to be sexual.) If kids get the joke, they'll get the insult, and I appreciate that they're trying to teach the kids that it's not nice to call someone a jackass.

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