Sex, violence and children’s books

Posted on May 3, 2012

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Bunnies are a fact of life, kids

Facts of life ain’t always pretty. But they’re true. So why should children be barred from reading books that include a version we don’t agree with?

I used to work in a library, because of and/or leading to my unnatural attachment to books. That includes books of all forms, be it fiction, non-fiction, graphical or pop-up. They are knowledge, they are escapism, they are freedom.

So hearing that some libraries are barring books from children really got my blood boiling.

Their justification is, on the surface, sound. Banned books include Horrible Histories for its glorification of violence, Barbar’s Travels for portrayals of racism, and More and More Rabbits, a book about rabbits who simply can’t stop having babies.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that violence, racism and sex were all parts of life. Okay, so we might not want the younger generation growing up with the “wrong idea” about these things, but I can’t help but feel this is fighting the wrong battle for several reasons:

1. Books document attitudes over time. Reading them does not make you suddenly believe them, but informs you of how things were. Or still are. Either way, reading Harry Potter does not give me a sudden hankering to hunt down He Who Must Not Be Named or start yelling filthy muggle insults at lowly humans.

2. Bunnies do have lots of babies. That fact alone in a children’s book is not a problem. It might be a problem if this suddenly morphed into human form with interactive graphics while still being targeted at 4-year-olds, but as it stands, it’s doing little more than introducing a simple fact of life.

3. Find some bigger fish to fry. Books really aren’t the leading criminal in the distribution of disturbing content. Computer games regularly glorify violence, objectify women, highlight racism and promote archaic attitudes before you get past the opening scene. At least Horrible Histories are in context and teach kids about our past in an interesting and engaging way. I don’t think it’s going to lead many to build a torture chamber.

Working in a library, I only encountered censorship once. Partly in charge of the teenage section, I was enraged to find a ’16+ only’ sticker on a book introducing the birds and the bees, attached by a staff member after a parent complained that their underage teen might read it. Suffice to say, the sticker did not remain on it for long.

Image from Robobobobo‘s Flickr photostream.

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Posted in: culture