Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Banned Books Week from a pretty darned intellectually free place

Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes "appropriate content."

I've talked with a lot of parents about what's right and what's not right for their kids to read. Some parents want to avoid anything "scary." Others ask about the The Hunger Games and relax as soon as they learn that although it's about teenagers being forced to fight to the death, it doesn't have any sexual content. Many shoppers are a little more anxious when they're looking for gifts for someone else's kids, which I can understand; it's one thing to say that your own kids are ready for a book that contains x, y, or z, and it's another thing to be the aunt who brought the book.

What I love about the customers in our kids' section, though, is that the question is pretty much always what's appropriate for the particular kid in question, not what should be published or be on our shelves. (Once, long ago, a customer told me casually that he wished we wouldn't stock Barbie books. I don't love them either, but I believe in their right to be here as long as people want them. In any case, that was the end of it.) People around here seem to get that what's all wrong for one reader might be just right for another; even siblings have different levels of scariness tolerance or ability to understand difficult topics.

If you ask me about what's in a book, I'll be as honest as possible to the best of my knowledge and recollection. (I apologize now if I don't remember that s-word on page 342.) When I give you the summary of a book, if something controversial is an important part of it, I'll tell you that up-front. What constitutes "controversial" changes over the years, of course. LGBT characters, for example, are gradually becoming the norm in young adult books, and their presence isn't necessarily the thing the book's about anymore. (That's a little less true of books for younger readers, and if you're looking at the graphic novel Drama for an eight-year-old, for instance, I may mention to you that there are some boys with crushes on boys just in case this is the reader's first introduction to that sort of thing.)

In any case, I'm very, very glad that Brookline seems to be cool with our having books on all sorts of topics that kids might wonder about. And as always, if you have questions about anything, just ask.

Happy Banned Books Week.

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