Friday, July 06, 2007

Prairie Fire or Teapot Tempest? You Decide

Book by Victoria children's author sets off a bit of a Prairie fire

Adrian Chamberlain
Times Colonist

Friday, July 06, 2007

Battle of the bazoongas? Or merely a tempest in a D-Cup?

A popular Victoria children's author is crying censorship after a southwestern Saskatchewan school banned her novel, Trouble on Tarragon Island.

At issue is the book's reference to "bazoongas" as a slang word for breasts. The librarian who pulled the novel at Elizabeth School in Kindersley, Sask., also objected to a mention of "saggy" breasts and a description of a bullying incident.

"I certainly view this as censorship," said Nikki Tate, 45, an award-winning writer of novels for young people. "I deliberately stayed away from crude language."

Wayne Parohl, principal of Elizabeth School before retiring a few weeks ago, said he does not view the withholding of the book as censorship. He said librarian Debbie Wagner originally ordered the novel, but subsequently deemed it inappropriate for younger readers at the school, spanning kindergarten to Grade 7.

The book will be handed over to the high school in Kindersley, a western Saskatchewan town with a population of 4,500, said Parohl.

He said a major fuss is being made over a minor incident.

"I suppose if you claim your book is censored, it makes it more salable. I don't know. It must be a slow news day."

Winlaw-based Sono Nis Press published Trouble on Tarragon Island, which has sold almost 3,000 copies since its 2005 release and is nominated for three book awards. Publisher Diane Morriss said she was surprised to receive a phone call from Wagner informing her Tate's book would be pulled.

Other school libraries across North America have carried it without complaint.

The Saskatchewan librarian -- who could not be reached for comment yesterday -- particularly objected to a description of bullying, said Morriss.

"She said they have zero tolerance for that kind of behaviour at the school, and by letting the kids read it, they're giving support to that kind of action. That's censorship to me," said Morriss.

The vice-president for CWILL B.C., a provincial organization for children's book writers and illustrators, said the incident is a tempest in a teapot. However, kc dyer added that she considers the book ban to be censorship and overkill on the librarian's part.

Dyer said Tate -- who's past chairwoman of the Victoria Children's Literature Roundtable and was twice voted Victoria's favourite children's author -- is an excellent writer highly regarded within the writing community. Trouble on Tarragon Island deals with the subject of bullying "using language that's fairly mild compared to what's heard in the schoolyard," she said.

The book is about a girl who is horrified when her grandmother joins Ladies of the Forest, a radical protest group aiming to save old-growth trees.

Their lobbying efforts include posing for semi-nude photos that appear in a calendar. These images attract taunts from schoolboys who use the word "bazoongas."

The heroine, Heather Blake, thinks: "What they say about my grandmother is true. She does have generous bazoongas, and all of Tarragon Island has seen them."

Trouble on Tarragon Island is nominated for a Willow Award, with winners being voted upon by young readers in Saskatchewan. It is also nominated for a Chocolate Lily Award and a Red Cedar Book Award.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

1 comment:

Steven Laird said...

(Commentary to subscribers to Arts News Canada's Daily Alert, for July 6 2007):

I haven't read the book, but it seems Victoria children's writer
Nikki Tate's new book, Trouble on Tarragon Island, is in for a rough
ride in Saskatchewan. According to the article in the Literary Arts
section today, the librarian from Kindersley, Saskatchewan's
Elizabeth School has pulled Tate's book from the shelves, citing the
school's zero-tolerance policy towards bullying.

Which is odd, since one of the novel's themes is, indeed, bullying.
It seems that she thinks letting kids read a novel with a bullying
incident in it is the same as being in support of bullying. Oh, and
there's mention of 'saggy breasts' too.

As the parent of a grade school child who is himself subject at times
to bullying, I am all in favour of zero tolerance for such behaviour.
But that doesn't mean I won't let him read about it, or stop him from
seeing references to it. In fact, I'm hoping that the more he sees
that it's a common problem that many other kids have to face, the
more confident he will become that it's not 'just him'. Same with
the saggy breasts. The more he sees that it's a common feature, the
less 'tittillated' and objectifying his attitudes might turn out to be.

The school librarian in question has overreacted, maybe overreached.
It's a matter for the school board and the parents to deal with. My
biggest objection is to the comment by the school principal: ""I
suppose if you claim your book is censored, it makes it more salable."

That, sir, is not the point, and is a bigger insult than this
otherwise minor incident. The point is in the arbitrariness of the
librarian's decision and a seeming lack of understanding of how
children actually behave. Here's an opportunity to get a community
discussion going, to develop some sense of community standards; not
to palm it off as some kind of marketing trick.