Category Archives: youth

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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Anti-ethnic penguin update

I have received a reply to my query about the “anti-ethnic” allegations against “And Tango Makes Three” (for background see previous post on the topic).

The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom was kind enough to explain to me that the OIF compiles their reports based on both newspaper reports of book challenges and the forms people send in when an item is challenged. My understanding from the email is that the only info that can be made public from the forms (most is confidential) is: the state and type of institution in which the challenge was made, item title, and the categories of the challenge. Hopefully we can find out a little bit more about the specific challenge(s) in which “anti-ethnic” was selected as an objection to “Tango” (e.g. did someone just challenge in every category possible, or what).

Second, Angela from the OIF also gave me some more examples of books that have been challenged under “anti-ethnic” grounds, such as: The Good Earth, Little Black Sambo, The Summer of My German Soldier, Song of Solomon (which happens to be one of my favourite books of all time), Little House on the Prairie, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. You might notice that all of those books, unlike “Tango” actually deal with ethnic and/or racialised portrayals of human beings. In my follow up query I have also asked whether she knows of any items other than “Tango” and “Maus” that have non-human characters and have been challenged as anti-ethnic.

Finally, I’ve gotten quite curious about the evolution of the ALA challenge report form. How did the categories develop/evolve? I understand that there is no guidance as to how to interpret the different challenge categories, but I am now quite curious as to how the form was made, revised, etc. I’ve asked the OIF, but I know they are quite busy at ALA central, so if anyone reading this has any scoop on the history of the report forms, please let me know.

-Greyson

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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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OLPC Give 1 Get 1 for 2008 launches Nov 17

Tipped off by the Digital Copyright Canada blog, I heard that the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project is gearing up to launch another “Give 1 Get 1” (G1G1) campaign.

This is awesome, and I think I know a number of folks who were considering getting computers for young people for the holidays and might buy in to this project. I have certainly spoken with a number of people who were disappointed they couldn’t participate in G1G1 earlier in 2008.  It’s a nice way to get an inexpensive general-use laptop, promote OSS, and make a donation all in one. And if the “get one” laptop is a gift for a young person in your life, it’s a great teaching moment about the value of openness, building the practice of making donations into your life, and the issue of the global digital divide.

Official word is:
“One Laptop per Child is launching its second ”Give 1, Get 1” [G1G1]
program starting November 17, 2008, following last year’s popular
program which received donations from over 80,000 people.  This year
the XO laptops will be shipped to donors through Amazon.com.

The laptops feature the latest release of the Sugar window manager, running
on a Linux-based Fedora Core operating system.  For answers to frequently
asked questions, and for other XO giving programs, see the OLPC wiki.

More on G1G1 2008:  http://wiki.laptop.org/go/G1G1_2008
More about the XO:  http://laptop.org/en/laptop/”

OLPC is setting up a storefront on Amazon.com.  Giving a laptop to a child in the developing world will be $199 this year, and G1G1 (giving a laptop to a child and getting one of your own) will be $399.

I’ve seen a few librarians with the XO laptops at conferences and thought what an awesome solution it is – for those who don’t want to risk damage or confiscation of their regular laptop while travelling.

I’d think about doing G1G1 myself, but it appears that G1G1 will only be available to US residents this year.  Hopefully by the time the hand-me-down computer my son uses crashes and burns, G1G1 will be available to us Canucks too.

Now that my mind has started spinning, I am starting to think of all kinds of ways to take advantage of G1G1 here, such as a campaign to donate the “get one” computers as well, to domestic under-resourced communities, class or school fundraising to both get computers for the school and to donate to the program…anyway, pass the word!  G1G1 is back!

-Greyson

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