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• • • Censorship Page Index • • •
  1. Entry page
  2. Religion, Harry Potter, and the Taliban
  3. The Vatican weighs in on Harry Potter
  4. 'Forbidden fruit' concept in censorship
  5. Banning 'Bridge to Terabithia'
  6. Censoring Red Riding Hood's grandma
  7. Censoring Thomas Merton, Judy Blume, even Bill Martin Jr.
  8. The Great Textbook War
  1. Book-lynching in Indianapolis High School
  2. Saving us from 'Private Ryan'
  3. Censorship and hysteria: McCarthyism, Walter Cronkite, and a smear victim
  4. Picking the censors: William Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, or Murdoch's Fox Network?
  5. Test and textbook censors
  6. Capt. Underpants and Junie B. Jones
  7. When is it 'inappropriate'?



Censors and
Children's Literature:

When and what is 'inappropriate'?

by Jim Trelease

© 2001, 2007 Jim Trelease / updated: 7/30/13

ere is a letter from a parent (enrolled in a teacher education program) whose son's school is in one of the districts included in a study (Pavonetti, Brimmer, Cipielewski) on Accelerated Reader. The study suggested that too many schools consider only the reading level of the book and not its social level when buying the AR book package for the school library, thus bringing inappropriate books into lower grades.

In all fairness, it should be noted here that Accelerated Reader does not sell books or packages. These are sold by independent companies riding AR's coattails. Nonetheless, when an inappropriate book (see below) ends up at the wrong grade level, the guilt is immediately associated with AR, not the packager. This is a bit like blaming the manufacturer of the baseball when a pitcher beans a batter. It should be noted that the majority of books in an AR collection is totally grade level appropriate. There are, however, exceptions. The following letter is excerpted from the Pavonetti study:

February 1, 2001

I'm reading a book with my son that he checked out from his elementary school library . . . On the inside jacket cover, below the price, it states "for 12 years and above." It is marked as being a part of the Accelerated Reader Program, and rated with a reading level of 5.0 (which is 5th grade, or age 10). The book is a mystery called Mr. Was by Pete Hautman (1996). The inside of the book jacket describes the book as part mystery, part science fiction, and part thriller . . . It turns out that the dying grandfather does indeed die — which is also fine. It turns out that the main character, a boy of 14, has a father who drinks too much, verbally abuses the mother, then one day physically abuses her, landing her in the hospital. Reading on, the father goes to AA, gets sober, rejoins the mother and son, falls off the wagon, begins abusing the mother again and "accidentally" murders her with a baseball bat during a fight in the home (witnessed by the son). Can this possibly be appropriate reading material for elementary-aged school children? I am so glad that my son and I were reading the book together so that I was with him as the "bad" parts were read. My son is in the third grade (age 8) but reads at a level as high as 6.7. This book seemed a logical choice for him . . . My question is who (or what committee) decides upon the books to be included in the Accelerated Reader program? Does anybody ever read more than the book jacket blurbs before making these decisions? I am amazed that a book with this content is in the program. The scenes I was appalled by were very graphic—down to describing the sound the baseball bat made when it struck the mother's head, crushing her skull and killing her, as well as letting the reader know that her neck was bent at an unnatural angle as she lay dead in a pool of her own blood. My son cried, I was disgusted, and I plan to ask someone (a librarian or learning consultant?) at my son's school about removing the book from the Accelerated Reader "approved books" list. Am I being unreasonable and overprotective, or is this type of content truly inappropriate?

— excerpted from "Accelerated Reader: What are the lasting effects on the reading habits of middle school students exposed to Accelerated Reader in elementary grades?"
by Linda M. Pavonetti, Kathryn M. Brimmer, and James F. Cipielewski
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46:4,
December 2002/January 2003, p. 303

"M"ost librarians (public and school) spend considerable time reviewing, researching, and debating the books they purchase for their collections. This is done to insure they are getting the best and most for their money, as well as to match the books with the appropriate grade and social levels of students.

Do most districts increase their library staffing when they buy into a program like Accelerated Reader?

    Unfortunately, these procedures can be short-circuited when a district simply buys a prepackaged collection of books, a package that is already coded for reading levels — which saves considerable time, money, and effort but might provide volumes with the elementary reading levels but middle school social levels.

    This is largely the responsibility of the people who purchase it and abandon their responsibilities to insure that whatever comes into contact with children in a school be developmentally appropriate. That means every book must be screened for its social content, along with the reading level. If a district imports hundreds or thousands of new books all at once, it's impossible for understaffed librarians to quickly read and evaluate each book in the pile.

Do most districts increase their library staffing when they buy into a program like Accelerated Reader? No. Many believe they've already spent enough money on the program. This makes the district culpable in cases like the one presented above.

Another issue is when children opt to read harder books in order to achieve higher point levels. AR strongly encourages students to stay within their reading levels in choosing titles, insuring the child of greater success, but parental and child pressures occasionally swing choices in the wrong direction. Brem and Sadusky explore this problem in their study, "The Integration of Renaissance Programs into an Urban Title I Elementary School, and its Effect on School-wide Improvement."

None of this should be construed to mean censorship. Instead, it is insuring that a child's education is developmentally appropriate. No reasonable person would suggest a high school sex education text be used in fourth grade; the same logic holds with books like Mr. Was being used in an elementary school. (For an in-depth discussion of book censorship or banning, including Harry Potter, see Censorship at this site.)

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