April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Oh, Mama!: What to do when a parent wants to narrow her child’s reading choices | Scales on Censorship January 2013

As I was preparing a library card for a new student, she handed me a two-page list of books that her mother won’t allow her to read. Then later on, her mother called and told me she expected me to monitor what her daughter was reading. What should I do?

You need to tell the mother that it’s not your role to monitor students’ reading. If she has an issue with the titles that her daughter chooses, then she needs to take it up with her. Also, make sure the mother understands that you have students whose parents want them to read the books on her list. My bet is that the girl will find a way to get her hands on those titles without her mother’s knowledge. Any book that is “forbidden” is more enticing to young readers.

My middle school principal has warned me not to automatically order Newbery-winning books, because some of them have been challenged in our school. I feel that we need these prize-winning titles. Please advise.

I don’t know what Newbery books have been challenged in your school, but I could probably guess based on previous challenges. Make sure that your principal understands that the Newbery Medal is awarded to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American Literature for children” published in the previous year. Children are defined as “persons of ages up to and including fourteen”—which clearly includes middle schoolers. Committee members consider the literary merit of books, and if they’re doing their job, they don’t focus on any possible controversy.

It sounds as if the principal is caving in to a few parents. Inform him that the majority of parents want their kids to read books that have literary merit, like the Newbery winners. Talk with the language arts faculty and ask them to support your decision to include these titles in the collection. I bet they actually use them in their curriculum, and they may need your support as well. Let the principal know that if any parents complain about the titles, you’ll handle it. I bet he’ll take you up on that. He just wants them off his back.

A teacher in our school saw a Banned Books Week display at the public library that included William Steig’s Abel’s Island. She reads that book to her fourth graders every year and was concerned that she’d have problems if parents happened to see the display. How can I assure the teacher that she has nothing to worry about?

The purpose of a Banned Books Week display is to celebrate the freedom to read, and to create an awareness of challenges to that freedom. Teachers shouldn’t allow those displays to frighten them. According to the American Library Association, the only public challenge to Abel’s Island was in Clay County, FL, in 1990. The novel was removed from the optional reading lists for fifth and sixth graders because of “references to drinking wine which the administrators determined violated the district’s substance abuse policy.”

Just because parents may have seen the display doesn’t mean they’ll bring a challenge. The teacher has successfully used the book in the past, and she should continue to use it. Let her know that you are behind her, and that her former students’ enjoyment of the book should be testament that she makes good reading choices.

I just read a review of Lois Lowry’s Son, and it sounds intriguing. Years ago, The Giver was challenged in our middle school. The school district’s reconsideration committee dealt with the challenge and recommended that the novel be retained. I haven’t had any further problems with The Giver, but I’m afraid if I purchase Son, I may have problems. What should I do?

Buy the book! Just because you had one challenge to The Giver doesn’t mean that you’ll have further problems with it, or with Son. If you do, it should be handled the same way as the initial challenge. Fans ofThe Giver will flock to Son, and you should give them that chance. And take the time to read it yourself. That’s your best defense should a problem arise.

Pat Scales is a spokesperson for First Amendment issues and 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.

Pat Scales About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is the former 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.