Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Over-the-top row over "obscene" children's books

This column of mine was printed in Tuesday's Greenwich (CT) Time.,0,5162719.column?coll=green-opinion-columnists

March 6, 2007

As an author and columnist, my life revolves around the correct word choice. So I was completely confounded by the kerfuffle over the use of one particular word in this year's Newbery Medal winner.

The word in question appears on the first page of Susan Patron's "The Higher Power of Lucky," when the 10-year-old protagonist, Lucky, an orphaned girl living in a tiny desert town in the Eastern Sierras, eavesdrops on an AA meeting and hears a recovering alcoholic speaking about his lowest moment. It came "when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning," and then fell out of his car "when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum." Lucky doesn't know what scrotum means; to her it sounds like "something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much."

The use of the "s" word prompted howls of outrage from a certain subsection of librarians. "Scrotum-gate" as the affair has become known amongst the children's book cognoscenti, spilled over from the pages of Publishers Weekly into the national papers.A New York Times article made the curious statement that "Authors of children's books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase."

Puh-leeze. I just finished a novel with a bulimic protagonist, and I agonized over the use of every word that might be deemed offensive. But as an author of books for young people, it's my job to try to convey essential truths through fiction -- and kids can spot a fake from a mile away.Joni Richards Bodart observed in her article "Books that Help, Books that Heal": "Teens ... want a chance to experience reality vicariously before meeting it head on, and they know the safety of having those experiences through books ... [they] have little patience with unrealistic characters or situations, conversations or emotions."

Ms. Patron, a highly-respected veteran of the Los Angeles Public Library system, is bemused by the controversy her use of medical terminology provoked: "Somehow there's a perception in America that you can put your kids in front of the TV, let them play certain kinds of games and expose them to absolutely atrocious levels of violence and language. But somehow the book is sacred."

Meanwhile, down in Dade County, Florida, parents are "booknapping" titles they find offensive. As parent Dalila Rodriguez explained, "If you take it out and don't return it, no kid can read it. It's not censoring; it's protecting our children from lies." Last June, the Miami-Dade School Board voted to ban the book "Vamos a Cuba" from district libraries, a decision that's being challenged by the ACLU. Of the 48 copies of "Vamos a Cuba" owned and contained in the school district's libraries, 17 are lost or overdue.

But, as Alice in Wonderland would say: "Curiouser and Curiouser." Last week, U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy III in Michigan referred allegations that Howell Public Schools teachers violated pornography laws by assigning books by Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Wright in 11th and 12th grade English classes to the FBI for investigation. He did so after receiving a letter from Vicki Fyke of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education, who filed the complaint after she failed to persuade the Howell District School Board to remove the books.

Interestingly, Murphy was appointed as U.S. attorney by President George W. Bush in 2005 (he gave $2,000 to Bush's 2004 campaign) and has been nominated for a seat on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"It is absolutely bizarre that a high official in the Justice Department would take such a step," said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "Under the law, the books cannot be found obscene if they have literary merit, which in this case cannot reasonably be questioned." Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, said Murphy abdicated his responsibility to protect free speech. "We are told that Murphy 'routinely' refers all obscenity complaints to the FBI. But he has a duty to reject frivolous claims to ensure that there is no chilling effect on books that are protected by the First Amendment...This is not the kind of judgment we expect from a man who has been nominated for a seat on one of our highest courts."

It is, indeed, chilling. What's next? Book burnings?

Labels: , , ,


Blogger Brent Hartinger said...

Great column!

1:29 PM  
Blogger lifelongreader said...

I love this blog - great stuff. I will dig out some stuff on censorship and pass it on.

This sounds very like Fahrenheit 451 - a great book, which I review on my site.

9:47 PM  
Blogger lifelongreader said...

Oops - the link was too long, sorry

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the cat that licked the labia majora?

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

徵信, 徵信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 感情挽回, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 挽回感情, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 捉姦, 徵信公司, 通姦, 通姦罪, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 捉姦, 監聽, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 外遇問題, 徵信, 捉姦, 女人徵信, 女子徵信, 外遇問題, 女子徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 徵信公司, 徵信網, 外遇蒐證, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 感情挽回, 挽回感情, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 外遇沖開, 抓姦, 女子徵信, 外遇蒐證, 外遇, 通姦, 通姦罪, 贍養費, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 徵信, 徵信公司, 女人徵信, 外遇

徵信, 徵信網, 徵信社, 徵信網, 外遇, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信, 女人徵信, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信公司, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 征信, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社,

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

看房子,買房子,建商自售,自售,台北新成屋,台北豪宅,新成屋,豪宅,美髮儀器,美髮,儀器,髮型,EMBA,MBA,學位,EMBA,專業認證,認證課程,博士學位,DBA,PHD,在職進修,碩士學位,推廣教育,DBA,進修課程,碩士學位,網路廣告,關鍵字廣告,關鍵字,課程介紹,學分班,文憑,牛樟芝,段木,牛樟菇,日式料理, 台北居酒屋,日本料理,結婚,婚宴場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,台北結婚,場地,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,造型系列,學位,SEO,婚宴,捷運,學區,美髮,儀器,髮型,看房子,買房子,建商自售,自售,房子,捷運,學區,台北新成屋,台北豪宅,新成屋,豪宅,學位,碩士學位,進修,在職進修, 課程,教育,學位,證照,mba,文憑,學分班,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,婚宴,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,婚宴,台北住宿,國內訂房,台北HOTEL,台北婚宴,飯店優惠,住宿,訂房,HOTEL,飯店,婚宴,結婚,婚宴場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北結婚,場地,結婚,場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北結婚,婚宴場地,結婚,婚宴場地,推車飲茶,港式點心,尾牙春酒,台北結婚,場地,居酒屋,燒烤,美髮,儀器,髮型,美髮,儀器,髮型,美髮,儀器,髮型,美髮,儀器,髮型,小套房,小套房,進修,在職進修,留學,證照,MBA,EMBA,留學,MBA,EMBA,留學,進修,在職進修,牛樟芝,段木,牛樟菇,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,PMP,在職專班,研究所在職專班,碩士在職專班,PMP,證照,在職專班,研究所在職專班,碩士在職專班,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,SEO,廣告,關鍵字,關鍵字排名,網路行銷,網頁設計,網站設計,網站排名,搜尋引擎,網路廣告,EMBA,MBA,PMP


8:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home