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THIS, my dears, is censorship.

reathingWe talk a lot in this field (and on this blog, I guess) about censorship. And most of the time we use the term loosely, describing those who challenge a book’s distribution by a library, for example, as “censors.” I’ve always found the term in this context alarmist–it’s not the challengers who are censors, the censor is the library that accedes to the pressure and removes the book.

But Judith Ridge brought to my attention a case that actually deserves the name. Ted Dawe’s YA novel Into the River (which I have not yet read) has been banned by New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review, an agency of the NZ government. While it is not forbidden to read the book, it is illegal to sell or share it, meaning that bookstores,  libraries, and schools must withhold it from customers, patrons, and students. This is the real thing. I can’t imagine our own federal government doing such a thing nowadays, restricting itself as it does to child pornography and allegedly important state secrets. I don’t think we even have a government department equivalent to that Board of Review, do we?

I don’t mean to say that the freedom to read is absolute in this country, either–pressure groups and vigilante librarians as well as individual parents and teachers strive mightily to keep the young, or even a young, from books all the freaking time. But imagine if they had recourse to an agency such as this one.

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. I haven’t read the book and I’m only specifically answering your one question about America not having the board of review type of thing. The reason might be that we in America are more sophisticated and inside the structure of the trade and otherwise bigger publishers, we have enough agents to not allow certain things to even get published so we don’t have to ban it later.

  2. Just a correction: the board of review has not banned the book; it has temporarily suspended distribution of it while it decides — once again — whether or not the book should be restricted. If so it will probably be given an ‘R14’ or ‘R18’ status, meaning that it will be illegal to allow anyone under these ages access to the book.

    This is big news here in New Zealand, since the last time a book was restricted was in 1961!

    The other awkward issue is the discovery that the President of the Film and Literature Board of Review is a conservative Christian. In this secular country a person’s beliefs are usually of little interest to those around them, but many people are now wondering how much the president’s religion had to do with his decision to review ‘Into the River’.

  3. Parents strive mightily to raise their children according to their own values. That doesn’t necessarily mean that parents who don’t give their kids free reign at the library or book store would jump at the chance to have a censoring branch of the government.

    It is only good and right that parents should have a say (perhaps THE say) in what their children are reading. It is no less important than choosing appropriate movies, or restricting where they can go and when and with whom. It’s called parenting.

    There are plenty of Christian, politically conservative parents in the world who are perfectly content to make decisions for (and with) their own children, while allowing other parents make their own decisions for theirs.

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Tom, that sounds like a ban to me! All bans are temporary, he added sententiously, but wonders what the most durable bans have been.

    Becky–eh, while I would never support a law that STOPPED parents from controlling their children’s reading, I can’t support the behavior, either. One of the great things about public library work is supplying kids with books their parents won’t allow them to read. Kids should have the right to think for themselves.

    Mina, the governing law of American trade publishing is: can we sell enough copies to make publishing worth our effort? While this undoubtedly marginalizes worthy voices, it does not constitute censorship, to my mind.

  5. The vast majority of the Film and Literature Board of Review’s work load is watching films and computer games for the purposes of classifying them (‘G’, ‘PG’, ‘R13’, etc). All such works are required to have such a classification by law.

    Books and comics are not required to do so, and are only looked at when a member of the public officially complains about a particular work. Only very occasionally is a complaint held up and a classification given (Alan Moore’s ‘Lost Girls’ was one).

    Out of interest, what agencies do this work in the U.S? Is it illegal to give minors access to certain films/games/comics?

  6. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Movie ratings and the like are in this country determined by industry associations, in large part to keep the government off their backs. So while it is not illegal for a minor to attend a movie rated for adults, the movie theaters generally agree to abide by the rating or risk their licenses with the distributors. There has long been in debate in our public libraries about whether to allow kids to check out R-rated DVDs. The position of the American Library Association is that age should not be a barrier to access but I suspect that there are many libraries who keep the good stuff out of the hands of the young.

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