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August 30, 2014

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How Low Can You Go?: What to do when young students want to read ‘The Hunger Games’ | Scales on Censorship

Our fourth and fifth graders (and a few third graders) have been asking for The Hunger Games. I love the novel, but it’s not in our elementary school’s library collection because it’s a YA book. I think my students would enjoy reading it when they’re a bit older. I need your advice.

Elementary school students aren’t the novel’s intended audience. I have no doubt that some of your students are reading The Hunger Games because the movie is so hot right now. They’re also attracted to the book because many older siblings are reading it. Don’t worry. You aren’t censoring. It’s wise to base your purchasing decisions on the reviews you’ve read. A librarian has to make book-selection calls all the time, and reviews serve as our professional guidance tools.

One word of advice: I wouldn’t tell your students that they’re too young to read the novel. Instead, I’d say, “I’ve read The Hunger Games, and I think it’s exciting, but there’s not enough money in our budget to buy it. If you decide to read the story, I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.” If a parent asks you about The Hunger Games, I’d tell them it’s recommended for older readers.

A group of parents recently visited our private school and demanded to know if the library had any gay and lesbian books. We have And Tango Makes Three in the elementary school library, and Annie on My Mind in the middle and high school library. The parents haven’t filed a formal challenge, but they assured me they would if I didn’t remove those titles. What should I do?

I suspect that you’re in a fairly conservative community or you probably wouldn’t have this problem. Many private schools have a narrow mission statement to accommodate the families they want to attract. Don’t give in to those parents. Instead, let them file a challenge. I hope your school has a selection policy you can use to defend the titles. If not, now’s the perfect time to develop one. I’d suggest that you look at similar independent schools’ mission statements and selection policies as you create or tweak your own.

A group of parents appeared at the school board meeting and insisted that we remove all fairy tales from our elementary schools. Their complaint was that the violence and magic in most of these tales promote evil behavior. What should I do?

You didn’t tell me how the school board responded. I hope it had the good sense to let the parents know that fairy tales are classics, and their children will eventually have to call upon their knowledge of these tales when they’re referred to in other literature. Maybe you need to have a parent session and expose them to the many versions of popular fairy tales. I bet that will solve your problem.

My district offers eighth graders the option of taking ninth-grade honors English. Parents want their “accelerated” students in the class, but they don’t want them exposed to some of the required readings, such as Romeo and Juliet. The teacher is frustrated because she’s expected to teach the prescribed ninth-grade curriculum. What should I tell her?

Teach the curriculum. The parents have the option of taking their kids out of the class. If they want them “accelerated,” they have to accept all that goes with it.

I read a newspaper article about a South Carolina middle school teacher who was placed on leave because he read aloud in class excerpts from Ender’s Game, The Devil’s Paintbox, and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. Have you heard of other teachers who have gotten into similar trouble?

I’ve been following the press on this case. Placing a teacher on leave for reading aloud from a novel is a drastic move, unless there’s more to the story than we know. There have been other attempts to censor which books are read aloud, but I don’t know of another case in which a teacher has been disciplined in this way. I’ll keep you posted.

About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at pscales@bellsouth.net.

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