Thursday, February 22, 2007

Newbery controversy revisited

More information from the story that just will not go away, today's Children's Bookshelf email newsletter contains a follow-up to last weeks story. Controversy Over Newbery Winner: A Followup, discusses several issues including the idea that authors "sneak controversial words into their work," implications pondered by the Newbery committee during the selection process, and the blasphemous idea that a librarian would ban a book.

Answering the concept of librarians banning books, Maughn interprets some of the same issues mentioned here last week as well:

"Librarians make determinations for their libraries every day about purchasing, replacing or even discarding materials. Such decisions are guided by a variety of factors, which include budget, need, space constraints and appropriateness for library users, and which are supported by the library's collection development policy, which also provides a mechanism for patrons to formally object to the library's selected materials. Communities, including schools, overwhelmingly believe that librarians have an obligation to provide access to information (and instruction on how to use it) and trust that librarians also have an expertise that qualifies them to select appropriate materials. These two missions are sometimes difficult to balance, as witnessed by librarians who are currently debating whether a Newbery winner also meets additional, individual selection criteria. Though not every librarian will make the same decision on a matter of "appropriateness," most librarians would argue that these decisions are never made lightly." (Maughn, Children's Bookshelf, 2/22/07)

Furthermore, Maughn quotes 2007 Newbery committee chair Jeri Kladder concerning the charge that the committee blithely chose the Higher Power of Lucky, disregarding any issue of age appropriate language:

"But Newbery decisions are not made lightly either, and are considered by "15 people extremely passionate about children's literature and highly regarded in the academic world, the world of education, and the world of library service to children and reviewing children's books," according to children's librarian and 2007 Newbery committee chair Jeri Kladder. "To tell the truth, I am astounded that using a correct anatomical term is causing such furor," she says. "Yes, the committee did acknowledge that not every 4th or 5th or 6th grader would know what the word meant, but they would certainly know by the end of the book. And the strength of the story would be such that the child reader would take it as a matter of course that a book about Lucky, the consummate naturalist, would use it as a matter of routine."(Maughn, Children's Bookshelf, 2/22/07)

The article also includes a comment from Lucky's author, a librarian herself Susan Patron. More on the same topic .... Yesterday I read two more blog postings on the topic; one from Keir Graff at Booklist Online and another from Neil Gaiman's blog. Both are interesting and present a new point of view.

  • An Absence of Scrota -- your guide to quality literature... Neil Gaiman's blog
    "I've decided that librarians who would decline to have a Newbery book in their libraries because they don't like the word scrotum are probably not real librarians (whom I still love unconditionally). I think they're rogue librarians who have gone over to the dark side." (Gaiman, 2/20/07)"
  • Scrota and other unmentionablesKeir Graff, Booklist Online
    "This kind of stuff — censorship spurred by the use of a clinically appropriate word – just makes me want to crawl under my bed and stay there until our country grows up. It’s not surprising that other nations are confused by our behavior when we consider ourselves grown-up enough to wage war and yet are too terrified to discuss certain parts of our bodies just because they happen to normally be hidden by underwear." (Graff, 2/21/07)

Is continuing to discuss the issue creating more furor? I doubt I am causing much of a ripple in the blogosphere posting my opinions, but isn't it time to let sleeping dogs lie?

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