Warning: This Children’s Book Portrays Real-Life

So, I’ve just realised I’m one of THOSE authors who writes books that are ‘inappropriate’ for children.

Who tells me so? Well, my local librarian declined to stock my book in her collection and I’ve had reviewers refuse to review my book because of its subject matter. They obviously know what children should and shouldn’t read. I’m a mother of a four-year-old and read books to my child very day but what would I know? I’m just a self-published writer, so my book is not trade publisher validated as acceptable for kids.

There’s always been controversial books for young readers that divide the reading audience (the adult reading audience, that is). I read an enlightening article recently by Perri Klass, M.D. It is called “The Banned Books Your Child Should Read”. Among others, it cites a list “of frequently challenged books” for children and YA readers. I’ll borrow the well-known examples of Judy Blume’s ‘controversial’ portrayal of a young girl going through puberty in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and even the hugely successful Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, which focusses on underwear and perhaps most alarmingly, children not always behaving well. This is just far too much reality for some adults to handle, therefore, it is their job to make sure the children in their sphere are not exposed to it.

Or, is it their job?

Do we underestimate children’s abilities to process and filter information that portrays the less-than-perfect side of life, or, stories that are written with subtexts, to keep parents entertained? Do all books for children need to be moralistic, to be suitable for them to read?

Or, can they just be fun and perhaps even a little bit naughty in some cases? Are parents allowed to get enjoyment from the books they read to their children? Being a parent, myself, I would argue that I’m more likely to pick up a book that appeals to me on some level, as much as there will be a point of appeal that I know will interest my son. It’s a win, win and that dear reader, is what I naively thought might appeal to others when I wrote and published my first picture book, Daddy and the World’s Longest Poo.

It has now dawned on me that I have written a book that divides people right down the middle and provokes some very strong reactions. Primary areas of concern seem to be that there is an image of a poo on one of the pages in a book about poo and the other problem is that I have dared to poke fun at the domestic relations between a man and a woman. Yikes!

In my defence, let me just say that I have road tested this book with children and it resonates best with 4 – 6-year-olds. They appreciate it on the level that it takes about poo and it is written from the perspective of a curious little boy, just like them. And even at that age, most children can identify with the fact that someone they know might spend a lot of time on the toilet. That’s real life and it’s funny.

On another level, parents who read this book to children realise that it does draw attention to a certain quirky behaviour. Some people like being on the toilet because it gives them precious alone time, and dare I say it, in the world of long term relationships and parenting small children, perhaps this even gives the toilet-goer some time away from their spouse, or their responsibilities. (Some time I said, not ALL the time!) My pure intention by satirising this behaviour was to make adults laugh, not to offend anyone. Even the person I wrote it about thinks it’s funny!

I liken this sort of multi-level appeal to almost every single successful animated movie that comes out these days. Sophisticated film makers know that saccharine sweet is not enough to get whole families to the movies anymore. In other words, they portray the quirks of life through characters and storylines that are written on completely different levels for parents and for children. This is so that the parents can bear watching these movies repeatedly and will shell out money for them at the cinema and on DVD. I’d like to give you one good example from the successful Toy Story franchise which seems to be pretty widely accepted by parents, as much as it is loved by children. It’s not on any sort of banned list that I can think of.

To be blunt, there is one scene in which Buzz Lightyear’s wings pop out when he is sexually excited by Jessie, as if he is having an erection. This double entendre is barely disguised and guess what, it does make me a teensy bit shocked every time I see it. It also goes completely over my child’s head and I do not stop him watching the movie, or this scene because it dares to be a bit naughty. I know this scene is included to hopefully make the adults watching laugh, even after the 1,000th time they have been forced to watch it.

So, I would like to leave off this ‘controversial’ blog by asking why we seem comfortable these days with exposing kids to movies written with double meanings, satire and cheeky humour but many still struggle with this type of writing in books?

If a children’s or YA book is generally obscene, or is actively encouraging that immoral behaviour is good, then sure, we do have an obligation to moderate its accessibility to young readers. But if it is drawing from real-life scenarios for the purpose of educating (think Judy Blume), or creating humour (shout out to Dav Pilkey), shouldn’t we just lighten up a little? Perhaps its time to acknowledge that our kids (and their parents) are not quite so much in need of protection, as we might think.

Would love to hear your views.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Brydie Wright.

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