Friday, April 13, 2007

Kaffir Boy pulled to "protect society's morals"

I won't say much about the specific article here, because I want to leave the debate fairly open on this one. Basically, a school's administration has stopped all of its 8th graders from reading the multiple-award-winning MEMOIR _Kaffir Boy_ because it contains a sequence in which men prepare to engage in coerced anal sex with boys.

I emphasize the word MEMOIR because, while authors are frequently accused of sensationalizing their works of fiction, I have to believe that the rules for nonfiction should be different. Especially in books like _KB_, which serve to alert the world to the plight of an oppressed group, any "softening" of the truth destroys the entire point of the book.

Anyway, two quick anecdotes from my life:

1. My fairly-sheltered third grader was doing a homework assignment, trying to find all of the different words he could create using only the letters in the word "depart". He came up with "raped", and then asked me what the word meant. I asked him where he'd heard it, and he said his best friend (also fairly innocent) had written "raped" on his sheet while they were starting the assignment in school. My point: no matter how much parents TRY to filter their kids' experiences, the parents who think their kids haven't heard some seriously heavy stuff by 8th grade are deluding themselves.

2. I was visiting a middle school last month, and the librarian and I were discussing teen authors. The name of Laurie Halse Anderson (who happens to be an AS IF member, BTW) came up, and the librarian said, "I love her stuff." Then she paused, and finally said, "But of course I had to send her book _Speak_ up to the high school, where the girls will be ready for it." I then asked this woman, "So, uh, did you send all of the _rapes_ up to the high school, too?" This kills me: something like 15% of all rape victims are under age twelve (see So to a large extent, sending _Speak_ up to the high school is stopping these middle-school aged victims from finding validation, a chance to seek professional help, etc.

If we could protect our kids from a world full of awful experiences just by hiding the books, I'd be the captain of the book-disposal team. But since we can't, I'd rather have the books out there to provide our children with the straight scoop about their planet and its inhabitants.


Blogger lifelongreader said...

So to all librarians : To Kill a Mockingbird must be taken off the shelves??

What about Street Kid an autobiography about an abused childhood? This second one was passed to me by an 8th Grader when she had finished it. An amazing book, and I feel it should be available, in the same way that something like Mockingbird should never be censored.

If we ban things, they become more interesting/taboo etc - as you can see I am strongly anti censorship.

Books should open minds, and sometimes minds need to read about nasty things to formulate their own ideas about them.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 7th grade son just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird (read it voluntarily; not a school assignment). I am amazed--and pleased--to see how he has grown from this experience. He asked many questions about parts of the book he didn't understand. He reflected on the injustice of the trial, the superb writing, the realistic characters. My somewhat reticent teen spent a lot of time discussing this book with me, at his initiative. I'm so grateful for this opportunity to talk with him about topics such as rape, prejudice, poverty, and the subtleties of human emotional dynamics--and all because the book stimulated him to want to learn more about these things. For me, as a parent and as a writer, this exemplifies the value of a book that addresses painful and even disturbing topics. We need to be disturbed in this way. Our children and students need to be disturbed in this way--by non-sensationalizing books--so that we are pushed to talk about difficult subjects. I can't think of a better--and safer--way for children to learn what they need to become responsible, conscientious adults.

10:53 AM  
Blogger lifelongreader said...

I have recommended this to several students aged 12 upwards and they have all enjoyed it immensely. We have also had discussions, like you Deborah, abut the injustice of the events in the book.

I think that some teenagers are reading books we would be surprised at - one of mine passed me Street Kid when she had finished with it. A harrowing true story, which I have reviewed on my blog, and would highly recommend.

11:53 AM  
Blogger SafeLibraries® said...


Even the author admits the book is inappropriate for children of a certain age. (Note well we discussed here on AS IF! that John Green felt similarly about his own book, Looking For Alaska.)

See Debated Memoir's Author Agrees with Book's Replacement.

Here are the first two paragraphs from the article:

Mark Mathabane, whose book “Kaffir Boy” was pulled from eighth-grade classrooms at an intermediate school four weeks ago due to a passage about men paying boys for sex, said the book’s original version is inappropriate for middle school students.

“Those words are too graphic for middle schoolers,” said the 46-year-old author in a phone interview from his home in Portland, Ore. “You can talk to middle schoolers about sex without being too graphic.”

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8:42 PM  

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