By Eden Unger
Last month I wrote about the blur between adult and ‘predult’ literature. Looking at things form the other side has gotten me thinking. Recently, there was a comment on the children’s litserv I joined that there have been some books considered too ‘intense’ for college level readers. That really makes me wonder- what do we consider too intense for younger readers? Is there such a thing?
There is definitely a part of me that says ‘down with censorship!’ of any kind. Living in Egypt, we encounter all manners of censorship that can be detrimental to freedom of learning, reading, and thinking- one big brain ban. Clearly, as a parent, there are things I do not want my younger children reading. My eldest, now seventeen, has a stronger stomach than I do. And now, he can censor what he wants to read. He has learned what works and what doesn’t. For him.
I suppose the question is ‘who gets to choose what is and isn’t right for our children?’ Until our kids can decide from experience, we need to help guide them. With everything else, we need to help our kids be wise readers and learn to make good decisions. But having the government, or even the university, decide for our kids does not make sense. There is the desire to have kids maintain a certain level of innocence- sexual innocence, innocence from cruelties of the world- for as long as possible. We know that, once gone, innocence is really gone. Forever.
Being engaged with kid literature is important. Maybe it’s more important than we realize. I don’t want my kids reading books that tell them what they have to think. Personally, I’d be faster at censoring books that oppress imagination or threaten kids with someone’s rigid morality than books that are irreverent and wacky and help kids think for themselves. But helping kids to select what works means reading along with them. Independence is important, but so is involvement. Every kid is different. Some kids are terrified by Where the Wild Things Are while others are reading Salem’s Lot without a problem. It is important, so we hear, that kids do read things that challenge their sense of safety. Bowdlerized fairytales are not as meaningful as the originals that have lasted for centuries. Kids need skills in life and it is healthy for them to navigate fairytales, real scary weird fairytales, in which people are unjustly oppressed and sometimes good doesn’t look so good. Kids will turn away from what they do not want to read and struggle with things that intrigue and conflict. They need to do that, without being told they are not allowed. But helping them through the experience is what we must do as writers and parents.
I remember when my eldest, at age seven, asked about sex. My husband wisely said that he’d tell, but once you know something, you can’t unknow it and you have to have it in your brain forever. My husband explained that one day, we may have to know all about adult diapers, but, for now, it isn’t something we need to or want to know about- not yet. My son got it. He said he didn’t want to know about sex- not yet. Learning when to know things is the trick. But refusing to discuss or explain is not the answer. Knowing when is.