Thursday, July 05, 2007

Quill and Quire Weighs In on Book Controversy

And this just in from Quill and Quire...

Bullying scene gets kids’ book banned from school library
by Megan Grittani-Livingston

July 6, 2007: A school librarian in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, has removed children’s author Nikki Tate’s novel Trouble on Tarragon Island from shelves because it contains a scene of bullying, which the school does not permit, and because the bullying includes words that may be offensive to women.

Librarian Debbie Wagner of Kindersley’s Elizabeth School contacted Tate’s publisher, Victoria-based Sono Nis Press, last week to protest the cover’s recommendation of the book for children ages 8 to 13. According to Diane Morriss, Sono Nis president and publisher, Wagner felt that readers of that age are too young for the book, that insults calling an older woman’s breasts “bazoongas” and melon-shaped were inappropriate, and that similar instances of rude teasing would not be permitted in the school and thus should not be in the library.

Tate’s book, the third in her Tarragon Island series about protagonist Heather Blake, depicts a battle in Blake’s B.C. community over clear-cut logging. Blake’s grandmother joins an anti-logging activist group, and poses naked with them for a calendar, embarrassing her granddaughter. At the beginning of the book’s first chapter, several boys in Blake’s school taunt her about her grandmother’s breasts, calling them “bazoongas” and cupping melon-shaped areas around their chests.

The scene, Tate told Q&Q Omni, “sets up the central conflict of the book, which is asking the question, ‘when you step outside the rules of society … what is the impact on your community and on your family?’” Tate said the description shows the pain experienced by Heather as a result of the bullying. “It’s pretty obvious these kids aren’t being held up as an example of fine behaviour,” she said.

Both Tate and Morriss said they were very surprised by the decision at Elizabeth School, which has 287 students in kindergarten to Grade 7. Morriss said that the scene raised no alarm bells during the editing and publishing process, and that several editors, readers, and librarians who have contacted her about the removal of Tate’s book have said they are also “very surprised that [Wagner and her library committee] would have pulled it from their library.”

According to Tate, who spoke with Elizabeth School principal Wayne Parohl after she heard about the decision, the school’s administration is standing behind Wagner. Parohl, who retired at the end of the 2006-07 school year and will be replaced by Chris Oscar, could not be reached by press time, nor could school staff be reached at the school as they are all on summer holidays. But Tate said Parohl told her the book would not be available to students, even if they asked for it as part of their participation in the provincial Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Willow Awards.

The Willow Awards are given to books nominated by a committee for each of three age groups, then chosen by student votes. Trouble on Tarragon Island is one of 10 books competing in the middle age group, the Diamond Willow category for children in Grades 4 to 6. Morriss said she submitted the book for the oldest group, for readers in Grades 7 and 8, but she said the organizers felt it was more appropriate for the younger bracket. Wagner herself is a director-at-large for the award’s 2007-08 board of directors.

Morriss said she plans to argue against the removal. However, Tate said she isn’t sure they have any options, because the decision was the librarian’s own for her collection – not based on any parental challenge – and therefore was not accompanied by a formal process that can be reviewed or contested.

The pair has faced such questions before, when several schools and libraries took offense to a book in one of Tate’s earlier Sono Nis series, the horseback-riding StableMates chronicles, which included a positive description of a character who practiced Wicca. While nothing came of those actions and challenges, Morriss said she wants to see how the Elizabeth School decision plays out. “I’m interested in seeing the repercussions,” she said. “I certainly hope they will reconsider.”

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