Sunday, August 19, 2007

TC Article by Barbara Julian

This ran in the TC today...

Fiction Shows Youth Two Aspects of Activism

Barbara Julian
Times Colonist

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Scientists and activists aren't the only people working to protect old-growth forests. Many nature-loving writers use fiction to plead for the forest. From Farley Mowat in the 1960s to Diane Carmel Leger today (Who's In Maxine's Tree?), they have opened to youthful readers a world of species, habitats and the threats that endanger them.

One such is Nikki Tate, whose novel Trouble on Tarragon Island depicts a family struggling with both sides of the logging debate on an imaginary Gulf Island. When a grandmother poses nude for a conservation calendar, it is her adolescent granddaughter Heather who suffers embarrassment.

Tate shows us the taunting Heather experiences from boys at school as a result of having a "calendar girl" grandma. We hear and see it clearly -- too clearly for Elizabeth School in Kindersley, Sask., which recently decided that the scene offended their anti-bullying policy. They elected to ban Trouble On Tarragon Island from the school library because the characters display bullying behaviour and show disrespect toward the elderly by using slang terms for Grandma's sagging breasts.

Author and publisher are dismayed that some educators have decided to keep the book from its intended readers. Lost in the censorship debate is the logging issue that the plot is built around. "I couldn't have imagined anyone getting concerned about the word "bazoonga," says Tate. More important, she had supposed, are questions she raises about environmental activism: "What is the impact on your family of being an activist? What is the price you pay?"

Teachers could use the book to discuss, as well as bullying, ecology and the lengths to which anti-logging protesters sometimes go. Originally, creating nude calendars had some shock value in focusing attention on a cause, but now they are a staple of fundraising. For Elizabeth School staff, it seems that the shock is still the point. Does this suggest that they agree with the reaction of the boys who insult Heather's grandmother? Something here is being shoved out of sight, and probably not only the commonplace of adolescent bullying.

Putting critical language into the mouths of her adolescents, Tate presents us with a situation of sexist ageism and makes us think about our own aversion to what physically we will all become -- if we live long enough. We will become as gnarled and battered as those old trees about which some people care so much. For those who do care, it is astonishing that teachers would ignore the conservation debate in Tate's story, preferring to fiddle with bullying-prevention policy while ancient forests burn.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

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