The first sentence in tonight's Huffington Post opinion piece agreeing with Meghan Cox Gurdon's WSJ essay reads:

As the parent of three avid readers, I agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon's point that what is considered "banning" in the book trade is known in the parenting world as doing our job.

Here's the problem.


Working with your own kids to figure out what they should read -- telling your son that you'd rather he wait on something, or asking that your daughter be excused from a classroom assignment because you are uncomfortable with the language in Huckleberry Finn or the sexual content in Gilgamesh -- that's parenting. It's your prerogative. Go for broke.

It's when you try to tell someone else's kids that they can't read something that it becomes a problem. That's when the term censorship come into play*.

So I'm sorry, Ru Freeman. But in starting an opinion piece off with a blatant error — whether it be in fact or logic — like that, you've lost my attention before you've even attempted to begin making your actual argument.


*Edited to add: And even that doesn't necessarily lead to any form of censorship.  Sometimes it will lead to an informal complaint to a librarian, and sometimes it will just result in simply shooting one's mouth off on the internet — also known as voicing one's opinion, which is totally fine — and sometimes it might lead to a formal materials challenge in a school or a library. Now. Libraries and schools use multiple resources to determine the placement of books — book review outlets (most of which recommend age and grade ranges), publishers (who often make recommendations), and their own judgment and experience (which, in the vast majority of cases, is not inconsiderable).

(I realize that most of the people who read this blog are already well aware of all of this, but I seem to be on a roll. Sorry. Feel free to skim. Or skip altogether.)

That doesn't meant that mistakes don't happen, and that doesn't mean that there aren't occasionally books that should get shifted. M.T. Anderson's Feed, for instance, is firmly a YA book: Publishers Weekly and Amazon both recommend it for ages 14-up, Booklist recommends it for grades 9-12, and School Library Journal recommends it for grades 8-up. The fact that it was also a National Book Award finalist for Young People's Literature actually makes things more confusing than less, as the NBA lumps everything into either 'adult' or 'young people'. 

If I was working in a library and found Feed shelved with the early readers or the chapter books, I'd A) check to see if it was really supposed to be there, and if so, B) recommend it be moved to the YA section. Not because I'm trying to impose my moral beliefs about implanting feeds to the Internet into our brains, but because the publisher, the major review outlets, and my own reading of the book all agree: The YA audience is the audience the book is geared to and will most appreciate it. That, of course, is a clear cut example.

And that isn't an example of censorship.

But every situation is different: Pulling Feed from a grade 6-8 middle school library because of objections to the profanity... well, that's different. There would be people who'd argue that everything in the library should be "appropriate" (which has to be one of the most useless words out there, as everyone has their own personal definition) for sixth graders, and there would be people who'd argue that the library is also there to serve eighth graders who crave books with more mature storylines and themes. It gets nebulous, and it (obviously) can get contentious, and I've reached the point where I don't know why I'm even writing about this because true censorship didn't really have anything to do with this whole conversation (although, let's be honest — the word conversation is being generous).


In most cases, when the use of an item is formally challenged in a school or library setting, the challenge is based on the challenger's personal worldview. Which I take issue with, as I've already explained ad nauseum. Boiled down: Parent your own child, don't parent mine.

I'm sure that everyone involved in this conversation wants the same thing: Good books for children and teenagers. We all have different ideas about what the term "good books" means, AND THAT'S OKAY.