The problem is that adults just don’t think like kids. Kids often don’t notice what adults see as objectionable in the book and when they do they often aren’t bothered by it because they’re busy reading the whole book—for its plot and characters and meanings—especially for the ways the book relates to them.
For example, I had the good fortune to sit on a panel about book censorship with author Sarah Aronson. She told me about a time she was asked to work with a 5th grade class—something she was delighted to do. However, the teacher asked her to not talk about her book Head Case. You see, Head Case is about Frank Marder, a quadriplegic, self-described as “a head” since he had an accident while driving drunk. And Frank’s language, true to his character, is replete with expletives. So Sarah went to class to enjoy working with the students without mentioning Head Case.
But, leave it to kids. When she got there, first thing, a student who’d read all her books had a question about Head Case. Sarah looked to the teacher before responding. The teacher said to go on and answer the question. The student asked, “What is it like to be a quadriplegic?”
Take another example, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. A 17-year-old who read the book at 14 speaks volumes to parents in a review on Common Sense Media:
“This book isn’t like many others that I’ve read. Now, you have the usual boy meets girl, poor family, everything is better in the end. But, this one really spoke out about certain issues kids today won’t learn…Reading this book really helped shape what I think about relationships with not only other people romantically but with families platonically… I don’t think it’s a terrible thing to teach your children at a young age to read books that are challenging and/or maybe risky. I’ve gotten closer to my parents, I felt more informed when I was younger and I know a lot more than others now. Please, please let your children explore and if they get a little uncomfortable or scared or if they don’t want to read it, you don’t have to let them. But please, if you read it and automatically think “No, my child CAN’T read this.” then you need to rethink your parenting style. Try to open up to letting your children open up. They could learn so much and it could help them a lot when they’re older. They’ll grow up sooner or later knowing everything that was in this book. So please, let them have a wonderful opportunity to read this amazing book that taught me tons.”
Yet, an adult reviewing the same book writes,
“Wow. If it hadn’t been for the disturbing language and inappropriately intense intimate scenes this would have been one of the most tear-jerkingly adorable stories ever. The fact that Eleanor and Park are so radically different yet utterly the same adds a quirky twist that readers will LOVE and relate to. It is so unfortunate that I cannot honestly recommend this potentially beautiful book to…well, anyone. And especially not children or even teens.”
A challenger to the book writes,
” Whale Talk’ is a vile, un-Godly, profane novel,” Olivia Verfaillie said. “My heart cried for the children who have read this book because it stays. It stays. What we have subjected ourselves to stays within us and Satan can use that to our detriment because of what’s been put into our mind.” (Detroit News, March 15, 2005)
Yet a young reader, an immigrant from Somalia, writes,
“[Whale Talk] shed light on the harsh realities children of all backgrounds, ethnicities, economic class, and physicalities face. I learned from your novels that I wasn’t alone in this world. It made me look at all the students around me differently. I was given a new perspective on life, that I wasn’t alone in my struggle.”
When it comes to books at least, adults often just don’t think like kids.