Sunday, September 19, 2010

Challenging times

We have had our first book challenge of the year, and the first one ever to go through the entire process - that is, the challengee was not going to be placated with nice words or moving the book to another section - they wanted it removed from the library along with every other book by the same author and they were happy to fill out the two page form (which most balk at) so we have gone through with it.

The reason behind the challenge was that it is VERY dangerous as within its pages unhealthy eating practises / attitudes were referred to which could influence young female minds to participate in dieting and unhealthy eating attitudes possibly leading to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia".

The book is "Escape from year Eight" by Anna and Mary Pershall and the offensive sentences were quoted with page numbers (7 references in total for a 240 page book to eating, food, obesity ). The book also addressed bullying, wild deer hunting, moving to a different country, friendship and treatment of indigenous cultures. The 'eating' and food was not a major issue - just referred to in passing conversation, thoughts, narration, and when read in context were part of the characters thinking and mother's actions. In my, and others minds, there are greater issues dealt with in the book.

The background as to why this book has been challenged is that the challengee is a young person (17yrs) who has just lost a friend to anorexia. My perspective is that she is extremely sensitive to the world around her right now and looking for answers, and trying to take action to prevent others from following the same path. All excellent motivations, but it did get me thinking - how powerful is the written word to push someone over the edge?

We use books as healers, therapy, and catharsis in bibliotherapy as well as for information and understanding, so could a few indirect references to food / eating/ dieting/ obesity in one book contribute to someone to develop an eating disorder? or is it contributing to a total of lifetime exposures - such as through advertising, movies, home environment, friends?

Along the same vein we have books in the library that include violence, gore, sex, spies, drug taking, all as persistent and major themes of the story - will these move young people to take these actions further? If we considered every story (especially young adult fiction) as a potential to push someone into participating in dangerous behaviour or thinking, we would have nothing left on the shelves.

There are many indicators and factors that lead young (and older) people to do dangerous things, it is not just exposure, even though it may contribute at some point. Other factors are also in play, but, we cannot have every student who wants to borrow a book undergo a psychological test every time. The reader needs to take some responsibility for their reaction and action to certain things in books. Research has shown that young people who read about dangerous behaviours and the consequences in fiction are more likely to avoid it in real life or use it to make better decisions when they are exposed to it. The science of fiction

I had a quick look for research on if fiction can influence behaviour either positively or negatively but didn't find too much either way so, if you know of any, could you let me know about it.

"I am a part of everything that I have read." ~ John Kieran

Image from Frederic Lord Leighton


David A. Bedford said...

It is very rare that fiction leads to a dangerous or highly unacceptable behavior. It is not clear that even movies or television do that. The challenger sounds like the kind of person who cannot tell the difference between an author who approves of the behavior depicted an one who is showing either its dangers and/or how to deal with it in a healing manner. Anthony Burgess, for example, was by no means glorifying violence by youth when he wrote "A Clockwork Orange." Quite the contrary. Later on, he was one of the writers of the beloved "Jesus of Nazareth" miniseries. I hope you did not remove the challenged book. The parents and the readers must take responsibility. A parent talking over the content of such a book with a teen has a great opportunity to help the teen think things through. Listening to what your teen says builds trust. Going off the handle by challenging a book signals that the parent distrusts the child.

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Dianne said...

Thanks David, The book was not removed for all the reasons you stated, it was the teen who challenged the book, rather than the parent.

C J Good, Author said...

This is a powerful topic that really resonates with many people. I was certainly touched. Thanks so much for posting. I look forward to learning more.

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