Love this!! My friend Samantha asks our thoughts on reviews in our library reviewing tools, and their never really giving us the “real” story on content that might be questionable. Thanks, Samantha, for allowing me to use this in my blog!
Middle School: Drawing the line on PG-13 + content?
Okay, we’ve had this discussion before on the listserv about YA lit and cursing, etc. but where do we draw the line and how do we know the content of every book without reading every page when selecting those titles that tread the line between YA and middle school (i.e. “recommended for grades 6 and up”)? Do we just assume that anything rated for grades above 6 are book challenge fodder?
Today I had one of my custodians pick up a brand new book I just ordered because it had rave reviews in SLJ and was starred in Booklist, both with specific ratings for grades 6-8. She was attracted to it because of the cover and just skimmed the first few pages. Within seconds, she was passing it to the other two custodians, showing them a passage. I asked to see it. The passage referred to masturbation. A boy asked to be excused from the table and his grandfather chimed in that the boy probably wanted to go masturbate. Now, no explanation was given so it wasn’t rated R or anything, but really?! A recommended best book for middle school? Am I just too protective of my kids? Am I the censor in the closet? And, no, I’m not dumb enough to believe that many middle schoolers aren’t familiar with this term, but can I defend the presence of this book? Now I have it in my bag so I can take it home and read it to see if the overall novel is really suited for my patrons. Why, oh why, wasn’t this mentioned in the reviews?! (The book is The Downside of Being Up by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.)
I had the same thing occur with another highly recommended book for middle schools a few months ago. In David Klass’ Stuck on Earth, the first 20 pages are filled with pretty much every curse word most of us know, minus the big stinky “F” elephant. Why? Because of a bully featured on those pages and the main character’s own frustration at his low-man-on-the-totem-pole status. Of course, after reading the whole book, I did keep it on the shelves rather than passing it to the high school. I also placed a “YA” sticker on the spine and a note in the book’s records reminding me about the issue. Now, I talk to the kids who check out that book, warn them of the language, and ask if they can “handle it” as mature readers.
I still question content, however. No, I don’t think kids are dumb and yes, I know they are more jaded than when we were growing up because we didn’t have cable TV or all the garbage that passes for “suitable” for children these days. Help me! Do I need to re-adjust my thinking and just move on, quoting the recommendations in reviews when questioned about my choices? I can’t possibly read every book I order and I count on my colleagues who review these books to clue me in when there is questionable content. I can’t even read every review written or check all the Goodreads comments for every book, not when I order a couple thousand dollars worth of books a year! Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a “questionable content list” anywhere! Ideas? Suggestions? Name of a good psychologist?
It’s always best to be aware–no one wants to have questionable content pointed out to them regardless of who (and shocking worst case IMHO would be an irate parent.)