Dust from the Book Fairy

Nonfiction topics–are there taboos?

Posted on: 15 December 2008

This post from I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids), along with something else I saw today, in the Des Moines Register via LM_Net, along with a parent asking me to pull books about a family member’s death for her child today, got me thinking.  Are there topics that just can’t be written about for children?  Not just difficult, (like the books about death, which I think are necessary), but taboo?

I think the question isn’t whether such books can’t or shouldn’t be written, but is there  a market for them?  Will parents buy them?  Will librarians? Should I purchase books about controversial Supreme Court decisions, like Roe v. Wade?  Or books about homosexuality?  Kids should know about these topics, but what age is appropriate?

I don’t think my library has any books about puberty, even.  Do other elementary (K-5) librarians have such books?  I don’t even want to imagine the giggling that would ensue over titles about puberty.  The art books with ‘nekkid’ people are snicker-inducing enough!  But I’m sure some of my students would want/need to read them.

Reading about the brouhaha in Iowa, I wondered today if my choice not to buy And Tango Makes Three for my library was driven more by the considerations that it really doesn’t fit into our curriculum, my book budget is limited, and it’s available at my public library, or by the fact that I’m almost certain it would be challenged by someone in my school community.  I’ve read it, and I don’t think it should be a problem, but I’m always amazed by what books parents have complained about.

I’ve never had anyone complete a formal challenge for a book, but I’ve had a few complaints.  One complaint was a dog book that showed puppies being born.  Another was Gee Whiz!, a book about urine.  The chapter book I took home and read on a whim one afternoon that had a graphic rape scene  had been on the shelf since before I came to the school with nary a peep from anyone about its content–I sent that one to the middle school, deciding it was too heavy for fifth graders.

How do other school librarians make these decisions?  How do you draw the line between censoring your collection and choosing books appropriate for your community?  I remember discussing it during library school, but I still struggle with those decisions at times.


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