Culture Street

Books

Should we censor children's books?

On December 14, 2015

By Sophia Whitfield
As mothers don’t we all aspire to closet our children from outside influences, to protect them from harsh reality? Jane Austen said it best in the opening sentence of Emma.

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Is this the environment we would like our children to grow up in?

In a recent article, dismay was expressed at the ‘vile children’s books’ being published today. Does the ‘violence’ and ‘horrors’ in books published today help children to deal with the world around them? The question was asked will children be ‘coarsened’ by reading such books (The Hunger Games and Twilight)?

The Hunger Games was a massive publishing success. Children were reading it under their desks to keep up with the chat in the corridors. Did they, at the age of ten, understand the significance of the book; the messages it was attempting to impart? It is unlikely they did but educators and librarians took notice. They embraced The Hunger Games and in some schools (my son’s was one of them) the book was read in Year 8 (aged 13) in a controlled environment where its themes were discussed.

Protection of children is always paramount in the mind of a mother, certainly in mine. But things have changed. Remember when we were advised to keep computers in a public space in the home and monitored at all times? This worked for a while, and then we had laptops, mobile devices and phones. That, again, challenged us all.

It seems impossible for us to go back to 200 years ago, in Jane Austen’s world, where we could provide an environment with ‘very little distress’ for our children. They watch TV, listen to the radio in public places, and discuss the very real events of the week – none of which are fiction and often feature ‘violence’ and ‘horrors’. The news our children watch today will be more harrowing than anything they read in a children’s book. We can’t protect them from that, nor can we protect them from the reality of the life around them. What we can do is provide them with tools to discuss real events and these tools can very often be books.

Publishers have parents and librarians acting as their gatekeepers. They spend their days with children – they have a very real knowledge of the world children live in. That, in fact, is what makes so many teachers brilliant children’s authors.

While it would be a wonderful thing to cocoon our children, it is an idealistic view in today’s world.

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