Information Freedom for Children – My Testimony for Banned and Challenged Book Week

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I use to be a child. Some say a curious child. No, that is understatement. I was a damn Class A question box. Most children pass through that intensive questioning stage of development. I was not one of them. That sucker attached itself to me and will not let me go without “the answer.”  It has been a blessing, a curse and a guaranteed path to adventure.

I want you to imagine (even if you are not a parent) what it would be like to live with a person who wanted to know everything. 365 days a year with no time off unless you shipped her off to the grandparents or vacation with other relatives.  Have that yappy image in your mind. and I will tell you my story.

Once upon a time me and my friend Cheryl were hanging out at her house when we notice a magazine on the coffee table. It was Life magazine. On the cover was the first photograph of a child in the womb. We were about seven years of age. We glommed onto that magazine and tried to figure out what the deal was with that picture.  We tried to read the text and got as far as something to do with an egg when Cheryl’s mom saw us and took the magazine away.  I think she said we were too young to understand what we were seeing and reading.

The Chicken and The Egg

I could read the word “egg.” So I asked, “Do babies come from eggs?” Cheryl’s mom was flustered and said something about “We need to go outside and play, it was too nice to be indoors.”  So we went outside and straight to my mom and I posed the question. She said "No."

Okay then why did Life magazine say so?” “What Life magazine?” she asked.  We head back across the street to Cheryl’s house to go get the proof. Her mother then denied any existence of said magazine and we shouldn’t worry about such things. I could see I wasn’t going to get any cooperation and I knew what I saw so I go back home and start in again. 

“Do babies come from eggs?” My mother had decided on the literalist approach.

“No.”

“Then why was that baby shaped like an egg?”

“What baby? No baby is shaped like an egg.”

“This one was it was curled up and everything. Where do they come from? I saw the picture and …

“Babies do not come from eggs and you shouldn't trouble yourself about things that you are too young to understand. That statement was delivered in that maternal tone of voice that says “Enough!” Which lasted a hot 10 minutes and I was at it again.

Not only could I not let go of the question I refused to eat any eggs until I had an answer. I had no problem with eating Chicken however. I had principles but nothing stood between me and a drumstick.

Well, you get the idea. This went on for weeks. Every variation of the question was posed. I scope out the corner stores for Life; all I could find was comic books, Sepia and Jet magazine. I checked out the school library. Dinosaur books up the wahzoo (with baby dinosaurs hatching out of eggs mind you) which just made me crazy. But the school library didn't have anything on people babies busting out of eggs. Believe you me I checked each and every shelf for that kind of book.

I gave up asking my mom, Cheryl's mom and finding a copy of that magazine. I had one resource left. Not sure how I got the idea, maybe it was a commercial on TV. Go to the public library. I knew where it was but I didn't think kids were allowed inside, to me it was so big it look like it took up half a city block.

I Couldn't Stand It Anymore. I Needed to Know.

I walk the five blocks. Go up those steps. Peep in the door and see nothing but books. Stacks and stacks of them. There was a U shaped desk and a good sized black lady behind the counter. The librarian asked if I needed help. 

"Do you have a book on where babies come from?

The librarian had to looked down at my head because I was kinda short. She thought for a moment and said "Yes, I think we do have some books on the subject."  She explained that she didn't have any children's books that but there a few adult books that had illustrations and color overlays.  She asked a few more questions and I told her about Life magazine and the eggs and everything.

The librarian pulled out the most visual, accessible books on anatomy and reproduction and left me to it.  Did not explain, interpret, influence or swing me one way or the other. The librarian allowed me to discover for myself what I was able to understand.

The Tug of War Between Parental Rights and Informational Freedom for Children

In hindsight and in defense of Cheryl's and my mom they were doing what they believed to be correct. We also have to take into consideration that they didn't necessarily know how to explain topics of sex, gestation or reproduction to a seven year old person. Many of the books and materials we now have in libraries and school libraries did not exist in the 1960's. I totally understand and respect that they wanted to protect us. 

Parents today are no different. Parents want to protect their kids. There are information sources and stimuli that did not exist such as DVDs, computer, video games, the Internet, cell phones, graphic novels, Anime and a shifting moral landscape that scare the hell out of some folks.

Be scared but be prepared. Go to your local library or ask to visit your child's school library. Ask questions as to why a book is present that you might have a concern about. They will tell you why the book is on the shelf. The good libraries and librarians are waiting for parents. They have access to recommendations about books,on difficult topics such as death, disease, bullying and going to the doctor. There are publications that review children's books and media. Some of those sources are secular, some are religious or academic in nature.

The First Amendment does apply to children. Children have the right and the obligation to explore his or her own world. Yes, the parents are the first teachers but children will not wait until you are ready to discuss a topic. Yes, parent have the right to decide if their child is ready to access certain concepts such as sexuality, love, changing bodies, books about other faiths or Atheist issues.

You don't necessarily have that right for another parent's child.  So here is deal. If your child presents you with a legitimate question and, you choose not to answer it, I promise you somebody else will. I was lucky. I had a librarian.

Despite your best intentions there are some questions your child may not be able to ask you. Let them know how to use your local library or how to access the 24/7 Ask A Librarian. It is a easy as going to your local library web site and look for the Ask A Librarian link.

Additional Resources:

For Those of You That Feel There Is Far Too Much Inappropriate Materials in Public and School Libraries

  • Annoyed Librarian  There is a conception that most librarians are well, liberal. That is not necessarily true. She does disagree with the American Library Association's promotion of Banned Book Week.  AL does not like some of the books and materials that are accessible to children and the population at large.  She ain't that crazy about the ALA in the first place.
  • Parents Against Bad Books In Schools (PABBIS) is a web site to inform parents about what they believe to be a rising tide of immoral, anti-family, sexual, violent and other similar books and materials. I really disagree with their depiction of pornography being placed in pubic school classrooms but that First Amendment thing kicks in and they have the right to present their point of view. They have a .pdf file available on materials some might consider bad, offensive or troublesome.

For Those of You That Feel The First Amendment Trumps Banning or Challenging Certain Books

  • The American Library Association has an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights that applies to children called Free Access to Libraries for Minors. It talks about the balancing of protecting children while at the same time providing access for all patrons to books and materials.
  • As I mentioned parents do have the right to challenge materials and expect a response. Librarian James LaRue at Myliblog demonstrated not only the process but his response to the children's book "Uncle Bobby's Wedding" was what we all hope to aspire to as human beings. It is about treating the patron with respect but also making the case that children, GLBT parents and straight parents with GLBT relatives have the right to access books and topics based on their community needs. Mr. LaRue has book on the topics of "The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges" that you can read a preview sample at Google Books.
  • Janet Yanosko fires up the blood at Forbidden Library where you can get information about the difference between a banned and a challenged book and an extensive list of banned and challenged books. The usual suspects are presents such as Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girls, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Ibsen's A Doll House (it propagates feminist views?) and To Kill A Mockingbird.

Blogs That Provide Review, Discuss or Provide Information About Children Books

  • DHS Library Latest is Carrie Albert's aka Library Lady blog on Children's literature is new but she packing the good stuff with a synopsis, a review of the book, and how it can be incorporated into various learning situations.
  • Need the hook-up to child literature and non-fiction bloggers? ChildrensBookReview wiki has links divided by age or interest. Click on a link and your screen will fill with links to blogs with reviews of books in that topic area. Some are written by parents, teachers, librarians those into graphic novels.
  • Kelly at Big A Little keeps an eye out on mainstream media children's books reviews and on-line resources.

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