June 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Library Police: Who Determines What Is “Appropriate”? | Scales on Censorship

EH_091814-ScalesI always buy the Caldecott Medal winner and Honor Books for my elementary school library, and I was appalled to discover This One Summer (First Second, 2014) by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki [among the selections]. What was the Caldecott committee thinking? How do I explain this selection to my kindergarten teachers, who use all the Caldecott titles with their students?

Most people do think that Caldecott selections target younger children—the traditional ages for picture books. I need to point out that the Association for Library Service to Children’s Caldecott manual states, “A ‘picture book for children’ is one for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including 14, and picture books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

This One Summer is a graphic novel that targets older children. It does meet the criteria for the Caldecott Medal and Honor Books. I encourage you to examine all of the criteria for the Caldecott. Print the criteria, and give it to the kindergarten teachers so that they understand why some Caldecott books may not be appropriate for their students.

Reviews are still the best tool to use in selecting books for libraries. Note that School Library Journal and Booklist recommend the Tamaki book for grades eight and up.

I teach eighth grade Honors English in a public school, and I have a student teacher from a private Christian university. We have been studying To Kill a Mockingbird, and I asked her to work with one of the groups as they closely examine the novel. She told me she didn’t feel comfortable, because the book deals with rape. Do I allow her to opt out? My school is expected to take student teachers from this university, and I don’t want to set a precedent that they can simply decline to participate in a novel study if it makes them uncomfortable.

I understand your concern, because you teach in a public school, but what can be more harmful is for the student teacher to communicate her nervousness to students. This could cause greater problems. There are many themes and literary elements in To Kill a Mockingbird that students can analyze. Let the student teacher know that she is expected to work with a group as they delve deeper into the novel. Give her a list of topics, and allow her to choose.

This is an issue that should be presented to the university. They should accept some responsibility in helping their student teachers understand what is expected of them. You may learn that not all student teachers from this university would make such a request. It may be a personal issue with this particular student.

My daughter is in third grade, and her librarian won’t allow her to check out mysteries that interest her, because she says those books are more appropriate for fourth graders. I called the librarian, but she quickly told me that is her rule.

I doubt that there is much difference between mysteries for third and fourth grade. I suggest that you investigate this librarian’s rules more closely. I suspect that you will find other limitations on students. You may need to ask for a conference with the librarian and the principal. In the meantime, take your child to the public library.

I’m a branch manager in a large public library system. An irate grandmother verbally attacked the person working the circulation desk for allowing her 12-year-old grandson to borrow Fallen Angels (Scholastic, 1988) by Walter Dean Myers. I wasn’t on-site when this happened. I want to avoid this in the future.

Call the grandmother, and inform her of the circulation policies of the library. Let her know that it isn’t the role of the staff to police what library patrons borrow. If she is concerned about what her grandson reads, then she needs to guide him. Then hold a staff meeting, and role-play ways to deal with situations like this.

Pat Scales is 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.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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.



  1. Debbie Remington says:

    Take your child to the public library??? Ugh! Are you kidding? That’s not dealing with the issue at all! You are believing the parent? I would suggest TALKING to the Librarian further. Maybe she had a class and couldn’t talk. Maybe the student was getting a 6th grade level book. BUT, sending her to the public library is a cop-out. Shame on you!
    K-8 School Librarian

    • Rebecca Hermen says:

      I believe that Pat did say talk to the school librarian further. She said in the meantime take the child to the public library. It may be that the teacher needs to be in the discussion also. It is possible that the child reads far above grade level and that the “3rd grade” mysteries hold no challenge for her. I understand *encouraging* children not to check out books that are too difficult (or contain subject matter that is not age appropriate) because they might become frustrated and not read them, however, children shouldn’t be told they cannot check out a book just because they are in the wrong grade.