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>Gratuitous or essential?

>Watching the Grammys the other night and finally succumbing to the hook they seemed to be playing over and over (reminding me of the night, now and forever, the Tonys would not let go of “Midnight . . . all the kitties are sleeping . . .”), I became curious about the apparently runaway success of “Need You Now.” (The original is fine but I love this tribute even more.) I was interested to discover that the label had some concern about the line “It’s a quarter after one, / I’m a little drunk, / And I need you now.” Luckily, the band and wiser heads prevailed, as I think the song became the ubiquitous hit it is because its slight whiff of realism gives those who disdain “adult contemporary” or “smooth country” permission to go ahead and enjoy the song. I wonder if the inclusion of what we used to call swear words do the same thing in books for kids. That even if a sentence would read perfectly well without the fuck thrown into the middle of it, does the use of the offending word gives readers permission to trust the book?

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. >I've admitted that I regret keeping my language G-rated in the GONE series. I won't do that in future books. (As a matter of fact I settled that up-front on my next few YA projects.)

    I don't think I need to say fuck to be taken seriously, and if I did have to then I shouldn't be taken seriously. But when a kid gets stabbed in the neck it's just idiotic to have him yell, "Darn it!"

    It requires a lot of wasted effort to work my way around the language that way, and it's work I have to do that then yields a less believable book. I have to work harder to write a lousier book. How is that a good thing?

    All it takes to get fools on school boards or those cretins at Common Sense Media to attack your book is to have a kid say, "fuck." It's childish, it's profoundly ignorant, it's often damaging to the books, and I'm ashamed that I went along with it.

  2. >Don't make the mistake of assuming that all children swear and therefore, all children welcome profanity in literature written for them.

  3. > does the use of the offending word gives readers permission to trust the book?

    God, I fucking hope not. If this is true, they aren't kids they are sheep.

  4. >Anon 6:37.
    It's not about what they welcome. It's about what I feel is necessary to tell a story.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >I'm thinking of books like Fallen Angels, where there are no curse words even while in the real world of that place and time (Vietnam War) you might expect a few. But, yes, Anon 11:05, they can also seem pasted on in a pandering way, too.

  6. Another fucking anonymous poster says:

    >I tend not to miss them if they're not there, and plenty of writers have dealt convincingly with dark and serious material without the use of the them. Plus if we all start saying fuck just to convince the readers that we're not schoolmarms, what are we going to have to do to convince them of same in, say, five years?

  7. Anonymous says:
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