Category Archives: school libraries

Censorship & parenting

I had two recent parenting experiences related to book censorship that I thought might be of interest to readers who liked (or liked to hate) my previous posts on creating house rules for my kid’s internet use and/or book rating systems.

1) Those adults don’t know what they’re talking about

I’m on the ALA OIF‘s listserv that sends out info on book/materials challenges all over the United States and occasionally beyond. (For non-librarians, a “challenge” is what we call it when someone wants a library to remove something from the collection, or move it from one section to another to try to hide/censor it.) The other night I followed a link on the list to this video clip about a mom in TX who just won an appeal to get “The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby” removed from her kid’s school library because the book contains the language “poo poo head” in it. This women’s son had previously been suspended for school due to an incident in which he called another child a “poo poo head.”

I showed the clip to my 8yo, because I knew he has and likes that book. I asked him what he thought, and he immediately said, “That’s silly. They don’t even say ‘poo poo head’ in that book.” He paused, thought for a moment and verified, “Nope, they never do.” He went and got the book from his bookshelf to show me. I skimmed through the whole thing, twice, and darned if he isn’t right! Oh, it’s chock full of potty humour: they say “poo poo” and “Deputy Doo-Doo” and “poopy” all over the place, but nowhere in the book does the phrase in question – “poo poo head” – actually appear.

Unless there’s some different Texas edition of the book, all these adults were arguing over a book they obviously hadn’t even read very closely, if at all. None of the online commentors on the news story seemed to catch this point eitherthat this entire book challenge is basically built on the premise that this book retroactively incited a child to say a phrase that doesn’t even appear in the book.

Following up on the concept, though, I asked my kid whether he thought a school library should have any books in which people do or say things they’re not allowed to do or say in school. He looked at me like I’d gone off the deep end, and asked if they were also making sure that Harry Potter and the Bible weren’t in the library too, because people fight in Harry Potter and they do a whole lot of bad things in the Bible!

2) Censorship vs Parenting

The very next day, I ended up having a conversation with a bunch of other moms about whether and how we guide our children away from books we think are too mature for them. One mom, with a young daughter who is an exceptionally voracious reader and capable of decoding material aimed at an adult audience, was having mixed feelings about having taken a book (one of the unquestionably-adult Southern Vampire Series) away from her daughter. On one hand she felt like it was unquestionably the right thing to do – this first grader was in no way ready for such mature themes – but on the other hand she felt a little bit like a censor. I’ve heard other parents express such mixed feelings before.

Here’s my take:

As someone who’s taken classes on the topic, read widely about it and even published about censorship, my take is that there’s censorship and then there’s parenting. People have all different definitions of censorship, but only very extreme views contest a parent’s right/responsibility to help their young (e.g. pre-adolescent) child select age-appropriate reading materials. (Unless your opinion of age-appropriate varies hugely from the norms around you.)

Lester Asheim has a statement to the effect that the goal of censorship is thought control. There’s trying to control what your kid thinks. And then there’s trying to help temporarily protect her from stuff she doesn’t have the emotional maturity to process at this time in her young life. This type of parental responsibility is the very reason we can insist that institutions such as libraries take stances *against* censorship – because it’s not *their* job to decide what your kid reads; it’s your job. It’s the library’s job to provide as wide a range as possible of materials from which you may make your selection.

I have no problem telling a kid of mine (or that I’m, say, babysitting) that a certain book they happen upon is a grown-up book and not for them right now. I would not do this as a library worker, however.While I would only recommend books that were clearly age-appropriate to a kid who was looking for something to read, I wouldn’t tell a child that a particular book wasn’t for them. That’s the parent’s job, not the librarian’s job.

Back to my parenting role, if there was a specific book my kid *really* wanted to read, and I was on the fence about in terms of appropriateness, I’d read it with him and discuss. A few times when my own son was considering a library book that was possibly disturbing, I’ve told him, “Hey, I don’t think you’ll like this book. It’s got some violence I think you’ll find upsetting.” Thanks to being a librarian and knowing other librarians to ask for recommendations, I can usually suggest a good substitute in lieu of the particular book, and so far my kid’s never decided he really wants to read any of the books I have concerns about. I find myself doing this less and less as he gets older, more socially adept and better at handling with scary and sad things.

I’ll never forget my grade 3 teacher telling me I couldn’t take a book she had (fairly bizarrely, in retrospect) deemed a “boy book” out of our school library. My mother came to bat for me and made it clear that she was the person to allow or not allow me to read a given (age-appropriate) book, and that my teacher should no longer try to control me or my thinking/reading like that. It was awesome. Not the book – I mean, it was good, from what I can remember – but the freedom from a teacher arbitrarily deciding what books I could or couldn’t read. Go mom.

In sum, there’s censorship and there’s parenting.

Censorship is deciding that no kid in the school should be allowed to read a book in which the villains use potty humour because it might give the impression that the school condones calling people bathroom names.

Parenting is helping your children find developmentally appropriate media, and working through the hard parts with them when they arise.

-Greyson

ps – Spellcheck doesn’t like “poopy” “poo poo” or “censor.” 

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Filed under censorship, Intellectual freedom, public libraries, school libraries, youth

House rules for kids & online gaming

One thing I learned when I became a parent is that there’s a big difference between being a non-parent who likes kids and being a parent. One of the ways this manifests, for me, is in advice. I’ve worked in a lot of family & children’s service programs over the years, and parents have often asked me for advice on various topics. The way I give advice has changed since I’ve had a seat on the other side of the table too. It’s a lot easier to give advice on many topics than it is to have to deal with the topic in real life.

Take kids & the Internet, for example. It was pretty easy to do projects in library school about why Internet filters designed to restrict children’s Internet access don’t work very well. However, I found it somewhat harder to conjure up something that *did* make me feel safe about my child’s online access.

This past summer I entertained a growing awareness that it was time to formally talk with the kid about his use of the computer & Internet. He’s had limited, highly supervised, computer privileges for a while now, but he’s getting old enough to have more responsibility and less micro-management on my behalf.

I was surprised to find myself at a bit of a loss as to what exactly our house rules should be! I’m a librarian, I thought. I’m the one who gives other people advice on these topics! Yet I wasn’t exactly sure what to do in my own home. Oh dear.

After having my moment of humility, I asked myself what I’d recommend to another parent who asked me for advice on the topic. Well, of course I’d send them to the ALA website, as I knew they had a bunch of resources on online safety. Wow, are some of those resources:

  1. seriously out of date,
  2. very US-American, and
  3. rather paranoid.

That said, some of the links were useful as inspiration. Feeling somewhat unsatisfied by my ALA website experience, I turned to an online parenting community of which I’m a part and asked for advice from other parents. Surprisingly few of them had specific rules or contracts with their kids governing Internet use either.

In the end, I ended up creating our own house rules for computer/Internet use. Some of the rules were negotiated with the kid, others were non-negotiable in my book, still others the kid came up with himself. We typed them up together, printed them out, and then I shared them with my online parenting community.

And now I’m going to share them with you. Why? Not because I think the rules in your house should be exactly the same as the rules in my house, but because they are up-to-date and might give you a template or some ideas for either your own house or the next time a parent asks you for advice.

I’m out of the youth services loop these days, so I’m not sure how common it is for children’s librarians to produce sample house computer/Internet use rules lists, but given recent news that kids are gaming online more than their parents know,such resources are worth considering.

If anyone reading this knows of really good sites with other guidelines/rules, or thinks there are rules that should be added to the above to make a suggested list, please leave a comment.

Greyson’s Computer Use Rules

(For context, these rules were made for/with a 7-year-old/grade 3 child who can read & type independently, likes to play Club Penguin and Super Mario, and has his own blog to which only I know the password.)

TIME:

In one day, you can have: 1 30-minute computer time OR 2 20-minute computer times with least 20 minutes in between

Computer time cannot carry over from one day to another.

PLACE:

Family computers can be used in the living room.

Other locations only by special arrangement.

INTERNET:

You can go to pre-approved websites on your own.

You have to have a grown-up with you to surf the net/search for new sites.

Nothing you have to pay for, without parental permission.

You never give out personal information online (phone #, address, what school you go to, pictures of you, etc.)

You never give your passwords to anyone, even friends, and if someone finds one out you tell us asap so we can help change it.

Agree to share any passwords to any sites with us (Gmail, Club Penguin…) and not change these without telling us.

Be polite online like in real life.

Never download anything without our permission.

On Club Penguin, you can add buddies without specific permission

GAMES:

No shooting games without specific permission to play that game

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Filed under Internet, public libraries, school libraries, technology, tips and tools, youth

How times change: Finally a gay character in Archie

A number of years ago, when I was on the teen librarian track, I decided to explore the world of graphic novels. I’d never really read comics that weren’t featured in the newspaper before, but I knew they were growing in popularity, especially among youth.

This exploration led to a paper I wrote for Ann Curry‘s intellectual freedom class (one of my best and most useful library school classes), and eventually published a revision of in Collection Building. The paper was about censorship of GLBTQ content in graphic novels/comics for youth, and it taught me a lot about comparative Canadian-US history (especially regarding obscenity laws) as well as the comics publishing world.

You can’t research the history of comics in North America without learning about Archie. One of the things I learned along the way was that Archie is the apple pie of comic books. Archie is to kids’ comics as The Family Circus is to the newspaper funny pages — that is to say: benign, kind of boring, but “safe” according to certain centre-right societal norms. Archie was (and as far as I know still is) one of the only comics publishers to still carry the Comics Code Authority‘s seal of approval (designed in the 1950’s as a sign of wholesomeness in the face of concerns that comics were turning boys into sociopaths and criminals, and mostly abandoned by today’s publishers).

However, the writers of Archie have been shaking things up in the formerly homogeneous fictional town of Riverdale lately. First there was all the  hubbub about an Archie engagement. Then an interracial dating relationship (a huge deal in the world of Archie comics, which has put the kibosh on such storylines before) in the current issue. And now, apparently, the world of Archie will be getting it’s first gay character. The Archie fan forums are abuzz with the news.

Beyond inching Archie slightly closer to the modern era, and gratifying some unknown number of folks who write gay Archie fanfic (of which there is an impressive amount – I had no idea), the inclusion of a gay character in Archie comics really makes a statement that a gay character can be part of a wholesome comic world (you know, if, as in Archie’s world, he is an upstanding, straight-looking, blonde, white guy, at least).

Okay, so it’s incremental change. Reeeeally incremental. But, honestly, 4 or 5 years ago when I was writing my paper on queer content in kids’ comics and censorship, I never would have expected Archie to feature a gay character this soon. People challenge comics in library collection a lot, because they are visual. A male-male kiss depicted in Archie (not that I expect new Riverdale High student Kevin to have a boyfriend anytime soon, but the door is now open) would be a BIG DEAL. For uber-wholesome Archie to carry feature a heterosexual interracial kiss on the cover and now introduce a gay character…in the world of comics read by little kids, the change this represents should not be underestimated.

-Greyson

ps – I remain a casual reader of comics & graphic novels (although I never did manage to develop a taste for recreational reading of superhero comics or most manga, nor for the blandness of Archie comics), and am currently pretty excited at the boom in really great graphic novels or graphic-novel hybrids for pre-adolescents. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go check out Sticky Burr, Baby Mouse, and The Fog Mound asap!

ETA – A student emailed me to let me know about this well-written Slate article on the topic of the gay Archie character.

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Anti-ethnic Penguins part 3

We’re getting a lot of new hits related to searches on why “And Tango Makes Three” might be anti-ethnic. I assume this is thanks to the ALA OIF’s recent release of their top 10 most frequently challenged books for 2008, and the fact that Tango again tops the list (for the third year running!).  Due to this interest, I thought I’d just give my most recent update on the question.

I did hear back from the ALA OIF in response to my previously posted follow-up questions, and in summary:

  • they can’t tell us what type of institution the “anti-ethnic” charge came from (but I assume it has to be public or school library, and more likely a school)
  • but they can tell us it happened in North Carolina
  • they don’t know of any books beyond Maus and Tango that have been charged as anti-ethnic but have non-human characters
  • they’re not sure how the anti-ethnic category came to be, and
  • it’s entirely possible that it was checked off by mistake on the report form for And Tango Makes Three

I’m resonably satisfied, but not sated, you know? I’d like to find time sometime in the coming year to dig deeper into the “anti-ethnic” category, try to uncover some of its evolution, and compare the US and Canadian use of the category.

If you’re finding this post first, here are the first and second posts in this series about our dearly beloved anti-ethnic penguins.

-Greyson

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Filed under Intellectual freedom, school libraries, The Profession, youth

And Tango Makes Three: anti-ethnic penguins?

It was recently called to my attention that on the ALA’s list of the “10 Most Challenged Books,” And Tango Makes Three is listed as being challenged not only for the to-be-expected reasons such as “homosexuality” (although at least one of those penguins could probably be considered bi), being “anti-family” (ironic, yes, when alleged regarding a book about a young family, but not unexpected), and “religious viewpoint” (because we all know those penguins can have pretty strong views on religion), but also as being. among other things, anti-ethnic.

Anti-ethnic, I thought.  Hmm, that seems odd.It’s a non-fiction story about penguins. I wasn’t aware that penguins even *had* ethnicities.What does anti-ethnic mean, anyway? Is it the same as racism?

And so began my little search, which is currently in-process.

1) Anti-ethnic?

The source of the information that Tango is allegedly anti-ethnic is the aforementioned ALA list, which says:


The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2007” reflect a range of themes, and comprises the following titles:

1. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

Interestingly, if you dig up the 2006 top 10 challenged books list, Tango had a much shorter list of offenses:

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2006” reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

* “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group

From this, I assume anti-ethnic must be a new-ish allegation (along with religious viewpoint and sexism).

2) Where did the term “anti-ethnic” come from?

Source of the allegation documentation pinned down, I wondered if perhaps “anti-ethnic” was just something someone made up in a fit of anger about the book.  “It’s not just homosexual and against my religious viewpoint, it’s also, uh, em, sexist!  And…uh….anti-ethnic!  Yeah, anti-ethnic, that’s what.”

However, I found “anti-ethnic” as a checkbox category on the ALA book challenge form (PDF here).

Anti-ethnic’s checkbox on this form is a separate category from racism, which has its own checkbox. Now I really want to know how this distinction was drawn, and how library staff all over the continent are supposed to know which box to check for what type of complaint!

And I am still curious about what makes penguins anti-ethnic.

3) What else is “anti-ethnic”?

I thought that maybe if I found what other books had been challenged as anti-ethnic, perhaps that would shed some light on the allegation.It turns out that anti-ethnic is not a common challenge category, comparatively.  However, there are other examples.

Such as Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning graphic novel, challenged as anti-ethnic in Oregon.

And Tintin – specifically The Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh in Canada. (Interestingly the same 2007 Canadian survey lists Tango under the categories of homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint & age inappropriate, but not anti-ethnic.  Maybe next year?)

I’ve sent a query to the ALA OIF and will update when I hear back about the detials of the anti-ethnic allegation in general and as it pertains to penguins in particular.

-Greyson

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Brand Sponsorship of YA Novels?

As a major YA novel fan, this made me want to cry.

A NYT article this week discusses what happened with the innovative and bestselling “Cathy’s Book” and what is in the plans for a new tween series, “Mackenzie Blue.”

After Running Press/Perseus Books, publishers of Cathy’s Book, revealed that they had agreed to have the characters wear particular brands/lines of makeup in the novel, they experienced a big backlash from public advocacy groups and authors alike. The Press has issued a revised paperback edition with the specific product references removed.

The Cathy’s Book fiasco would feel like a victory if there weren’t other attempts – such as Mackenzie Blue – waiting in the wings. Harper Collins has hired not an author, but a marketing executive to write these books. A marketing exec who specializes, of course, in marketing to teens and pre-teens. *shudder* The NYT article quotes this woman explaining how the partnerships will work:

Ms. Wells said she would not change a brand that she felt was at the core of a particular character’s identity merely to cement a marketing partnership. “Mackenzie loves Converse,” she said, referring to the series’s heroine and the popular sneaker brand she favors. “Does Converse want to work with us? I have no clue. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Mackenzie loves Converse.”

However, when asked what she would do if another sneaker company like Nike (one of her clients) wanted to sponsor the books, she said, “Maybe another character could become a Nike girl.”

Oh, well, that’s a relief! For a moment there I was worried that corporate sponsorships might influence content! (<–sarcasm) (…also, does it skeev you out too to hear the phrase “a brand…at the core of a particular character’s identity”? I’m all for realism in teen books, and I understand that some young – or old – people identify strongly with a particular brand, but seriously now, a brand should not be at the core of every character. That is not realism; that is advertising.)

As a a librarian, parent and book reviewer, I have many concerns about product placement in books for youth. Will authors eventually be expected to write in specified products to their stories, in order to get a publishing contract with a major press? How will we know about these sponsorship deals? Presumably all publishers won’t be (haven’t been?) as forthcoming about their “sponsorship” agreements as Running Press.

    And what can we do to send a strong message back to publishers that we do NOT approve of such meddling in our YA literature?

    When I teach college courses in Women’s/Gender Studies, I always sneak in media literacy stuff. Learning how to read and question health reporting, the sad state of our media “democracy” these days, what is “net neutrality,” etc. Invariably, many students are shocked and appalled after reading an article about product placement in TV shows. What does this say to me? Educated, bright, young Canadians – even those who choose to take elective courses that focus on critical thinking – have no idea about all the marketing that surrounds us.

    Like many librarians I am a bit of a bibliophile.  Books are sacred things, and somehow the idea of novels becoming as corrupt and marketing to our youth as much as television upsets me. Can we do something about this? Exclude books from the running for awards if they have paid product placement or some such, perhaps?

    And what of book buying for libraries? When the “select for literary quality” philosophy bumps up against the “give them what they want” ideology for collection development, does product placement in books ever cause them to be removed from a list? Should school libraries, who do have some responsibility to act “in loco parentis” eschew sponsored books? Is this different from commercial popular books like those modeled on TV shows, toys, etc.? (It feels different, somehow, because it’s more sneaky.)

    Other than the makeup fiasco, Cathy’s Book sounds like an interesting concept…but should I not read it on a moral stance? Fortunately, I checked my local library catalogue and it appears that they have bought the revised, paperback edition. But what if the publisher was brash enough to refuse to offer a non-commercial edition?

    Off to tear my hair out now…right after I put a hold request on Cathy’s Book.

    -Greyson

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    Filed under media democracy, privatization, publishing, school libraries

    Indigo and Canadian school libraries

    Dalton McGuinty, newly elected premier of Ontario, made a campaign promise of increased funds for school libraries – increased funds to the tune of $80 million for books. According to McGuinty, this is “the biggest investment of new books in Ontario in a generation.”

    Great, right?

    The catch: McGuinty named pal Heather Reisman’s company, Indigo Books & Music, as the “sole supplier” of this $80 million worth of books.

    Indigo assures us that the books will be passed on “at cost,” which is cold comfort for many independent publishers and booksellers, existing school library book suppliers, and intellectual freedom and media democracy advocates.

    Ontario is such an influential province that there is concern that this could be a trend that sweeps the country.

    Is Indigo qualified to serve as major supplier to school libraries? Concerns have been expressed over materials processing (not a service of Indigo), as well as Indigo’s book selection (known for being skewed toward the mainstream and “inoffensive”) being ill-equipped to meet the diverse needs of our school library collections. The many small, niche publishers and distributors who have served the school library market for years and thus built developed an expertise in Canadian curricular requirements may not be Liberal party insiders, but they seem to be doing their job well as is.

    The increased funding should go directly to school librarians, for them to use for the selection and purchase of new materials from whoever may be the most appropriate distributor.

    Of course this is all being couched in the charity and “good works” of Indigo Books, which has recently released a film about Canadian (il)literacy and provides some grants to schools through its “Love of Reading” foundation. I’m sure there’s no need for me to launch into my full rant on “corporate social responsibility” and the limits thereof right now – let it just be said that when materials are being provided by a monopolistic big box store “at cost,” part of that cost is increased squeezing out of independent competitors.

    Other coverage:
    Very uncritical interview of Heather Reisman by SLJ

    More critical article in the Globe & Mail, which unfortunately requires subscription access:
    Adams, James. (2007, October 8 ) Educational book sector alarmed by Indigo deal. Globe & Mail, p.R1. (*cough* but try searching the title of the article in your favourite web browser if you don’t have a subscription *cough*)

    Girard, D. (2007, September 20). Library books for schools have a McGuinty imprint. Toronto Star. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from
    http://www.thestar.com/OntarioElection/article/258604 .

    Doble, M. (2007, November 2). Indigo in election pledge row. The Bookseller.com. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from http://www.thebookseller.com/us/us-news/47474-indigo-in-election-pledge-row.html .

    -Greyson

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