Posted on July 26, 2008
I was directed to this fantastic letter while browsing over at Alas! A Blog. It’s librarian Jamie Larue’s response to a parent who had complained about the inclusion of the book Uncle Bobby’s Wedding on the library shelves. The book is about a small child (well ok, guinea pig) adjusting to the idea that her favourite uncle is getting married, and worrying about how that is going to affect her relationship with him. The parent wasn’t happy because Uncle Bobby is getting married to another man (guinea pig!), and she felt that it was inappropriate for a small child to be reading material that normalised same-sex relationships. Larue’s reply is a perfect example of how to respond to such complaints, he’s measured, respectful, but at the same time gets his point across perfectly.
I worked as a children’s librarian for several years, although not being a qualified librarian I wasn’t allow to call myself one, I was a Literacy Development Officer instead, and this kind of issue came up quite regularly. Parents were forever moaning that books weren’t labelled for different ages, or that their child had brought home Jacqueline Wilson and they didn’t think her writing was suitable: they wanted us to police their children’s choices, and refuse them books that might be deemed “too old” for their child’s particular age group.
I would always refuse such requests, and I’m totally against putting age-ranges on children’s books. Children should be free to explore books at their own pace, and to determine for themselves what they want to read. We don’t censor adults’ reading choices, so why should we censor children’s?
I was responsible for all the stock for the under 5’s, and I made sure that we always had a selection of books that would help children make sense of difficult or challenging situations: books on bereavement for example, or about mum or dad finding a new partner. There were plenty of books about coping with a new brother or sister, or about having to go into hospital or to the dentist. I wouldn’t have hesitated to have a book like Uncle Bobby’s Wedding in stock (even if it is a bit anthropomorphic for my tastes, what with it being about guinea pigs ‘n all!) and I’m sure there are plenty of LGBT parents or relatives of small children who will be grateful that such books are available, and indeed plenty of non LGBT parents who want to teach their kids tolerance and respect for others.
The hardest request I ever had was from a woman who wanted a picture book that showed a single mum having a baby after IVF but without any mention of a dad anywhere in it. Her daughter was born through IVF anonymous donation, and she was expecting another one the same way; she wanted a book that reflected her choices, so that her daughter wouldn’t be made to feel that her family was ‘strange’ or ‘different’ in any way. Unfortunately, despite a lengthy search I never managed to find anything suitable. I’m assuming no such book exists yet. Perhaps I should write it………..