Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Plain-Vanilla, Soft-Serve Libraries?

The Daily Collegian, 21 Mar 2006: Local author emerges from controversy with a new book

Author Martha Freeman has just published her newest children's book, Mrs. Wow Never Wanted a Cow (to be released in June), a comeback from her last and most controversial book, The Trouble With Babies.

What's so controversial about the book? Does it feature young, unmarried girls having babies? No. Violence against babies? No. Babies in war zones, babies in crack houses, babies as "collateral damage" in the Middle East? No, no, nothing like that.

The book, pitched at early elementary-age students, has amongst its side characters -- brace yourselves -- a neighbor boy whose parents are gay!

Are you shocked? Outraged? Ready to start a book burning?

Yeah, neither am I. A same-sex couple raising a child next door. Ho, hum.

Yet the book put some parents into enough of a tizzy that they called their school libraries and had the book banned from libraries.

Now, last I heard, public libraries were instituted to provide free information and education to all the members of the community. No one promised that libraries would screen said information to remove all references to anything that might possibly offend even the thinnest of the thin-skinned. True, some topics are inappropriate for young children. First graders are probably not developmentally ready for The Kama Sutra. They're probably not developmentally ready for Foundations of Differential Calculus, either. Librarians are right to create children's collections that are age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate.

The Trouble With Babies fits those criteria. It is written for children ages 7-8 in language that is appropriate to the average reading skills of children at those ages. It's about a girl who has moved into a new neighborhood and is learning to make friends, a common situation that children must deal with.

So what should parents do if they don't want to have to "explain" the fact that the main character's neighbor has two dads? They could choose not to read the book. That's always an option. Or if Junior asks, "Why does that boy have two dads?" they could simply explain, "Different families are different, honey."

People who object to gay couples or who don't "believe" in gay marriage are already making these kinds of choices in their children's literature. A fundamentalist Christian family may choose, for example, not to buy Jewish children's books. Should Jewish children's books be banned from libraries because some people, even a majority of the people, in a community don't "believe" in the teachings of Judaism? I haven't heard a great hue and cry for that yet (emphasis on yet, considering today's climate). Yet people will stomp and shout to have other books removed that deal with subjects they don't "believe" in: homosexuality, Halloween, ghosts, multiculturalism.

People, people, get a clue: when you raise the hue and cry against a book, all you do is call attention to it. Heck, I wish someone would ban one of my books. Imagine what it would do for sales!

Ignoring homosexuality won't make it go away, any more than ignoring Rush Limbaugh will make him go away. Information about homosexuality and Rush Limbaugh are both freely available in public libraries. And that is how it should be.

But for those who are concerned about what material their children are able to find at the library, perhaps they'd like a warning about one book in particular. This book, which I've actually found on the shelves of the public library in my town, features adultery, graphic sex scenes, homosexuality, incest, witchcraft, abundant graphic violence, torture, and some anatomically-detailed erotic poetry. Not only is it freely available, but I've actually heard people encouraging children to look at it, and actively trying to inculcate these children into the culture that this book encourages. Shocking, but true, despite the fact that these topics are hardly appropriate for children. Check out this controversial book here.


Anonymous said...

I just want to let you know that Martha Freeman has published numerous children books so your comment that her book, "Ms. Wow Never wanted a Cow" is the second book is inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the correction. I'll tend to that.