Reading with Scissors

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Chicago Tribune reports on a case of book-phobia that’s not all that far from ALA headquarters: Antioch, Illinois (“Some parents seek to ban ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’,” by Ruth Fuller). According to the story:

Some parents of incoming freshmen at Antioch High School want an assigned summer reading book pulled from the school’s shelves and the curriculum because it uses foul, racist language and describes sexual acts.

You can read Ian Chipman’s review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to see how unimaginative these parents are being. I don’t link to these stories too much anymore, partly because American Libraries and AL Direct do a better job of it, but partly because the stories seem so depressingly similar. Often it feels as though you could change the proper nouns and republish the story.

This one, though, had a quote from one of the parents that jumped out at me:

Anderson said she read the book because she wanted to be able to help her son understand it.

“I began reading, and I started to cross out sections that I didn’t want him to read,” she said. “Soon I thought, ‘Wait, this is not appropriate; he is not reading this.’ “

I love how blase this is, as if the act of helping your child understand a book involves crossing out the parts you don’t even want to talk about. As the chairman of the English department so sensibly states, the book is exactly about the kinds of things that the high-schoolers-to-be will encounter in high school; it’s exactly the kind of book to help them with it.

Parents, of course, should always be part of their children’s learning experiences, but they should act as transmitters of ideas, not censors. In this case, the teens would be better off without their parents’ “help.”

Final thought: the reading list apparently already includes an alternative title, quoted as “Down River,” although they probably mean Will Hobbs’ Downriver, not John Hart’s Down River. But does it hurt a YA author’s street cred to be the safe alternate for a controversial book? Just asking.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

5 Comments on "Reading with Scissors"

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  1.' Joel says:

    Hard to believe people are still doing this, isn’t it? On the one hand, as a parent of a toddler, it does become a little bit of a trick to navigate what’s “appropriate.” We were watching the Winnie the Pooh DVD, and there were some parts there that scared Maggie. So we skip those — for now. But by the time kids get to high school, all bets are off and we’ll just try to keep her from watching “Cannibal Holocaust” too many times.

  2.' Mary Fran says:

    Great post, Keir. This stuff gives me the willies, not only as a library board member for my own local library (in a rather conservative area) but also as a mother of children ages 1-14. I wonder how my own board might react to a parental challenge (their history shows them to take the librarian’s side, I’m happy to say) and I wonder how I might behave if one of my sons were assigned reading that offended me. (OK, that’s a stretch, but it could happen!) I hope that I would talk about why I think it’s “bad” rather than prevent him from reading it. Isn’t that our job as parents, in the end: to instill a healthy mechanism for children to deal with conflict?

  3. It is so amazing with what is available both online and through television media that censorship of reading material is being undertaken.

    Of course as a parent it is a right to be able to restrict what is being offered to children. But to just dismiss written information without perhaps explaining principles or a moral ground for requesting a child not read something is entirely different to taking away the option. Children who have a high moral standard should be given information not have the information removed from them.

    In all likelihood there is more chance the child then wants even more to read the book itself. Then the child perhaps does not understand completely and can not discuss any aspects with their parents. Children more likely will find a way to get hold of the book somewhere if they are advised they can not read it!

    Just my thoughts of course.

  4.' Jennah says:

    That “crossing out” story reminds me of the book by Tim Sandlin (which is also a great movie): Skipped Parts. It’s about two smart teens who become parents, and is named for the “skipped parts” of books that would have clued them into a few details that would have eliminated their predicament!

  5.' Johnny Rocket says:

    As a high school student i fully agree that banning or censoring books only restrains teenagers from grasping topics they are beginning to face. One aspect of Part-Time Indian is the straight forward and, realistic scenarios Junior encounters, and the way he portrays them. Sticking to an adolescents mind, Sherman is able to capture these provocative incidents in the view of the reader, a teenager.

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