Entitled WHY THE SWEAR WORDS HAD TO STAY IN WHEN MR. DOG BITES, this piece addresses a previous article decrying problematic content in books for kids and teens. This part of one sentence, though, sums it up nicely: "I do believe that these words are more shocking on the page than in the playground, and on the rare occasions when they are used in our books, their use needs to be justified by the context…" The words on a page (or in an audiobook, too) seem to wield more outcry than the profanity one hears on a playground or in a diner or waling cross campus or blaring from the cars coming down the street. We let those go, I suspect, because they do sort of vanish into the atmosphere. Words on a page are static. We can go back and point fingers at those words. They are an easier target.
But they do need to be considered within the context of the entire text. Look at how easy it is to quote something out of context. I once heard someone complain about A WRINKLE IN TIME because a character was a witch. Actually, the character is Mrs. Which. And apparently the challenger did not actually read the book. If you want to be some whoppers of language taken out of context, visit PARENTS AGAINST BAD BOOKS IN SCHOOLS: WWW.PABBIS.ORG. You want context? Forget about it. And herein lies a problem. For censors, just having a word or event or action or thought is sufficient to want the book removed so that NO ONE ever can see it.
One of the articles that proceeded the one I linked to suggests this: "Perhaps there is a need to follow the example of the British Board of Film Classification, which weighs up the difference between a U, PG,12, 12A, 15, 18 and R18 movie. It can't be beyond the world of children's publishing – full of so many people who care so fundamentally about what the young minds of UK children are taking in – to come up with a wise panel or council of people to make these fine distinctions. But what is not satisfactory is having a book with obscene language and then a vague small-print warning for "younger readers". Here is the link to that article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10616640/Should-potty-mouthed-childrens-books-come-with-a-PG-certificate.html.
Should we put ratings on books? Who gets to decide? Would that quiet the censors? My response is NO we should not label books by content. I doubt that this move would even make a dent in the challenges we would see from censors. There are so many variables when it comes to challenges. Sometimes it is about objectionable language, but it could also be about other content. Someone once asked me about a book I have talked about in a presentation. She asked if there was language in it. I flippantly responded that, yes, there was English in the book. Wrong, I know, but sometimes my level of exasperation reaches its limits. Are there books better suited for older readers? No doubt. Do I get to decide that? Only for my own kids. Do I offer age ranges when I talk about books? When asked, I do. Otherwise, I think it is best left to the professionals: teachers and librarians. I hope those professionals read with open minds and understand the difference among selection, censorship, and gatekeeping. As for me, I will continue to talk about all manner of books to anyone who will stop to listen.