Monday, June 6, 2011

banning a kid's book from the children's section: the power of one self-righteous parent

This weekend I read with interest a Wall Street Journal article about edgy children's literature. In Darkness Too Visible, Meghan Cox Gurdon took many of my colleagues to task for writing explicit or violent novels for teens. I admire these Young Adult authors. It takes guts to tell stories that aren't going to end up as a Hallmark movie.

The Winter Of Red Snow (Dear America)I thought, well at least my books won't be ripped to shreds by Ms. Gurdon. Most are for younger kids anyway and are fairly pleasant. No dogs die and there's usually a happy ending. HOWEVER, I love researching history and learning stuff they didn't teach in school -- which is a lot. I've been privileged to have publishers who trust me to tell-it-like-it-was and weave truths into stories that hopefully will inspire kids to read and learn. And hopefully inspire them to care about the future, seeing to it that our country doesn't repeat mistakes of history.

Silly me! Yesterday, I received an email from a mother who disapproves of The Winter of Red Snow, a Dear America story set at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. Her letter:

[no salutation] "My 9 yr old daughter, who is a gifted and talented student, has loved reading the Dear America Series (approximately 14 of them). Here are her comments about your book that I felt I had to pass them on to you:
     'I think it's inappropriate for someone my age, especially the part with the human hands and feet in a trough. I understand it you're trying to make it as detailed as possible but I think it's too much. Also it makes me afraid to read other Dear America books because I don't want to have to read something that makes me cry.'
     Just for your information, Ms Gregory, we have reported the gore of your book to our local library and they pulled it off the shelf of the juvenile section...I think maybe they're reshelving it for Young Adults in another location.
Thank you, 'Jane Doe'"

Hm. We've handed our kids a messed up world -- political chaos, wars in the Middle East, economic disaster, bullying and shootings in their schools, a nuclear meltdown, an epidemic of teen and young adult suicide -- and this mother is so worried that her daughter might cry at a shred of historic realism that she marches down to her local library and succeeds in having the book taken off the shelf so that other children and families won't be able to access it in the juvenile section? Are you kidding me!

What about the "gifted and talented student" destined to be our future president of the United States? I hope she will have been allowed to read and to cry and to be horrified by the affects of war, and that she -- okay, or he -- will be appalled by overprotective parents trying to ban books because the topics are icky.

I'm appalled. And I'm furious. I edited out my earlier rough language here, even though it would have bumped me up to the Young Adult section and put me in good company.

Readers, what do you think?


Molly MacRae said...

Appalled and pissed. Thanks for supplying the correct words, Kristiana. It left me speechless. Your words are accurate here and valued in your books. Keep writing, keep on keeping it real, and long may you wave.

Kristiana Gregory said...

Thank you Molly ... I felt squeamish seeing my "correct words" in print, so I edited them out. Aack!
I appreciate your support :)

Rebecca Herman said...

I was a very sensitive child and managed to read The Winter of Red Snow at around age 11 without being particularly disturbed (at least I don't remember being disturbed, and I remember other books that did disturb me, so I'd probably remember!). So it can't be that bad, really, if I was fine with it!

Amy @ bookgoonie said...

WOW!!! I wonder if the other parents in her town know that she is making content decisions for all their children.

Kristiana Gregory said...

Thank you Rebecca!

Amy, well said. I think that's what angers me the most--the mother's arrogance. Also, I thought librarians had more backbone!

Thanks everyone for your comments :)

Chris said...

Perhaps you're in good company, Kristiana. Mark Twain comes readily to mind.

One of my favorites from my youth is Where the Red Fern Grows; certainly not a marshmallowy kind of book. We need more writers like you, not less.

Keep your chin up (and your guard!).

Hannah Boutilier (VRJ) said...

Ms. Gregory, I am eighteen and I still LOVE the Dear America series and have always loved your contributions especially :) I support your effort to show our nation's history realistically..gore, horror, and all! So sorry this had to happen, I hope very much it doesn't discourage you. You are an amazing and gifted writer and your books are amazing reads. Cant wait to see what you have up your sleeve next!

Kristiana Gregory said...

Chris and Hannah, thanks so much for your encouragement :)

Heather Spiva said...

Kristiana, you have nothing to be sorry for. You did not needlessly put in inaccurate information. It was not only accurate, but most likely historical -- it was all for history's sake!

Why we (as Americans) are so afraid to tell the truth -- the historical truth-- is beyond me. Keep doing what you are doing. Those who believe your writing is fantastic far outweighs those who don't. We need people to tell the truth, talk about history, and teach people what really happened.

On a completely different side note, I have to say that the quote you gave me for my article was not only perfect, but it absolutely made my humble, little article classy and worthy.

Thank you and keep at it!

Kristiana Gregory said...

Hello Heather ... nice job on your article! It was smart and clearly stated, and I'm glad to have been a bit of help.

Also, thank you for your encouragement re writing history for kids. In an upcoming post I'm going to address criticism I've received from Mormons who're offended by my characters' thoughts on Brigham Young. Whew ... stand by!

Kathryn said...

I give you credit for being able to post your feelings in an appropriate way- much better than I could have done. I would have used a few choice words and phrases that probably would have gotten me thrown out of any potential career in writing fiction.

I've read every single novel in the Dear America series, both as a child and as an adult. I delved into my own historical research, critically analyzing each novel for a project for school that started out at a 10 page paper and blossomed into an almost 200 page dissertation.

While that mother had every right to voice her opinion, she clearly is trying to hide her child from the horrors that we will face today. Who is to say that the brave women and men in the United States Armed Forces don't see various body parts strewn across the road? How about the brave firefighters and volunteers who searched for days and weeks on end, to find body parts blown apart amidst the rubble in New York City during the days following 9/11?

I'll never quite understand those individuals who seem intent on shielding their children- as well as others, if they go so far as to have novels removed from library shelves. In my humble opinion, they are only doing the youth of this country a disservice.

I applaud you Kristiana, for your never ending accuracy and classiness. You bring to life historical ideas and social mores in a way that I don't often come across anymore. You are a gifted writer, and in reading your novels, I've realized the importance in presenting our country's history in a way that is not only enjoyable to a young audience, but that also impresses on them the importance of learning our history, so that we are not doomed to repeat it.

Keep up the amazing work. You are truly a beacon of light for an aspiring writer, and I hope someday I can be as celebrated an author as you are!

Kristiana Gregory said...

Kathryn, your words are very kind. Thank you so much.
You, too, keep writing!