Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Censor is Alive and Well and Living in Saskatchewan

This just in from Sono Nis Press, publisher of Trouble on Tarragon Island...

A librarian at a school in Saskatchewan called to complain about the age level listing for Trouble on Tarragon Island. She said the committee for their school library feels the book is not sensitive to aging women in its reference to saggy breasts and using the word 'bazoongas.' In particular, the librarian and her committee members are offended by page 11 - line 14, which refers to a boy cupping his hands in a certain way making reference to breasts, etc. The school has zero tolerance for that sort of behaviour and the librarian feels that by allowing students to read about it, the school is giving support to totally unacceptable behaviour. The solution, in this school anyway, is to pull the book from the school library. The librarian went on to say that the book should not be listed as appropriate reading material for young readers.

The school principal agrees that such behaviour is unacceptable and supported the librarian's decision to refuse access to the book through the library. Even if a child specifically requests the book, he or she will not be able to take it out on loan from the library. Not that the school is forbidding children to purchase a copy. The nearest bookstore is a mere 200 kilometers away in Saskatoon, so real keeners can, presumably, hop on their bicycles and tootle to the big city to find a copy.

All this is rather interesting since the book seems to have found many fans among the critics (it's nominated for a Red Cedar Award, a Chocolate Lily Award, and a Saskatchewan Willow Award and has had a number of very positive reviews in the media...) Note that even children who are participating in the Willow Award reading program will not be allowed to take the book out of the library, though the principal assured me in a phone conversation that the children will be given the full title of the book. Whew - that's a relief!

As for the complaint, well, I hardly think that mentioning a negative behaviour in a book condones that negative behaviour. Otherwise, children would never be allowed to read a book about the Holocaust, drug abuse, less than perfect parents, divorce, war, or a whole slew of other less-than-perfect examples of human nature. Do I condone the behaviour my characters exhibit in the challenged part of the book? Of course not - any Grade Five reader will understand that those boys were the bad guys at that point in the story.

What is the message I hoped to share about older women? That they are feisty, powerful, amazing women willing to take on the powers that be in order to stand up for their beliefs. And, yes, sometimes, the most strident among us cause (often inadvertently) some degree of consternation to our relatives. That's life. And isn't the role of fiction to hold up a mirror to what goes on in the world so we can examine what happens from another perspective? Granted, you have to read beyond the first few pages to figure all that out, but it seems young readers haven't had a problem staying interested in the story until the end of the book.

Not that the children in this particular school will be allowed to think for themselves and debate the merits of the grandmother's tactics or the boys' reactions, or the issues surrounding Old Growth Forests... Someone else, apparently, has decided to do the thinking for them. Poor kids.


Anonymous said...

Hi There,
I just wanted to add that the nearest source for the book is not Saskatoon as indicated. The Kindersley Public Library carries the book so all children in that community can access the book for free. Just because the school library advocates censorship, does not mean the public library does.
Rena Bartsch
Director, Wheatland Public Library

Nikki said...

Thank you for your comment, Rena. I'm pleased to hear the public library is carrying the book and hope that any children wishing to read it will take advantage of this fact. This doesn't, however, help those who wish to purchase the book locally - as far as I understand, Saskatoon is the closest town where they would be able to buy a copy.