As a father of four kids under seven (your sympathy is appreciated), a reader of mostly young adult books (that has to do with my own maturity level), and a compulsive writer, I find myself juggling many opinions and priorities when it comes to literature. Let me start by saying I didn’t intend for this blog to be controversial or get anyone fired up. And I certainly don’t want to come off as self-righteous. I just want to fill a need.
It started out harmlessly enough. Since I’ve got my own soon-to-be-published YA novel, I knew I’d have to get out of my antisocial little cave and make some online friends. The only problem was what to offer in return. Most wouldn’t really care about my writerly journey. (Like, oh my gosh, I got 3,000 rejections and then someone finally didn’t hate my manuscript! *insert squee here*.) I thought about offering parenting or writing advice, but since I haven’t been proven effective in either of these areas, I might end up getting sued. Or worse—embarrassed on Facebook.
Then I remembered a website called screen-it.com. Back in the day it was a free resource, advising parents of the questionable content in popular movies. My wife and I are conservative when it comes to media, so we used this site periodically to determine whether we’d enjoy certain films. (Nowadays the website charges, so we take our chances…did I mention we’re cheap as well?)
That’s when my brilliant idea hit me. Why not offer a tool to parents who want to guide their kids toward wholesome books, but don’t have time to read every YA novel in the library?
At this point, some of you will be preparing your vocal chords to scream YOU EVIL CENSORING PIG!!
Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t want children to grow up illiterate or hate reading. But I do believe children are more impressionable than adults and can be shaped negatively by the media they take into their trusting little brains. Rather than starting a campaign to get certain books off the shelves, I’m simply giving those parents who still take an interest in the emotional development of their children a free resource to make their job a little easier. (Emphasis on little.)
my unusually attractive wife reading a magazine to my abnormally adorable daughter
But is protecting kids really necessary? In fifth grade, my cousin first showed me a bad word in a Michael Crichton novel. I was intrigued and ended up reading Jurassic Park in its entirety. (It’s still one of my favorites.) Now as an adult, I don’t use that particular bad word, so I guess I’m living proof that one expletive isn’t going to turn you into a serial killer.
Neil Gaiman feels the same way. In a recent lecture at the Reading Agency he said:
“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; was declared a bad author, so was , so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy. It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness."
On the other hand, Meghan Cox Gordon, a children’s book reviewer for the New York Times had this to say:
"Every year the American Library Association delights in releasing a list of the most frequently challenged books.[…] "It almost makes me happy to hear books still have that kind of power," Mr. Alexie [an author of one of the books,] was quoted saying; "There's nothing in my book that even compares to what kids can find on the Internet."
Oh, well, that's all right then. Except that it isn't. It is no comment on Mr. Alexie's work to say that one depravity does not justify another. If young people are encountering ghastly things on the Internet, that's a failure of the adults around them, not an excuse for more envelope-pushing.”
Ms. Gordon goes on to give specific, disturbing examples from YA books (books aimed at 12 to18-year-old readers) and the backlash from this article was legendary.
Gaiman’s article, too received a lot of attention, most of it positive.
This blog is not trying to determine who’s right (although I have my own opinions) and I’ll not necessarily be trying to convince anyone to take my standards as their own. This blog is, however, for those that want to err on the side of protecting their children.
I think Gordon picked the worst of the worst to comment on, and Gaiman picked the tamest of books to suit his own needs. Increasingly, those that side with Gordon are getting fewer and farther between. This, I think, is one reason why this blog is needed. Conservative readers need to stick together and support each other. We need to know that although we are the minority, we still have the right to protect our kids. It’s not censorship. It’s responsible parenting.
So here’s the plan.
I’ll use this blog primarily to review YA books. Those reviews will deal with general quality, but will also spell out specific content that parents should be aware of before buying the book for their teen.
Since I don’t get a huge amount of reading time (did I mention I have four kids under seven?) I’ll be needing your help with this. When you read a book (YA or otherwise) keep track of the content as best you can and share it with the rest of us. You can either email your review to me at storysurgeongeneral at gmail or you can contact me about doing a guest post. Either way, the more of us reviewing, the better prepared we’ll be when we take our kids to the library.
I’ll also be using this blog to promote an app that I’m developing. It’s called the Story Surgeon Editor, and when it’s finished, will allow parents to remove or change content from eBooks and share their filters with the world. (More on that later.)
Hopefully this blog will also help me make some friends so that when my own book finally comes out, I’ll sell more than twenty copies. (Just so you know, all followers of this blog are morally obligated to buy my book.)