In my research for my previous post about Newbery Medals, I read a highly thought-provoking quote from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the author if ‘Shiloh’ and the ‘Alice’ books, both of which I strongly denounce (in the context of “antonym of ‘recommend'”, courtesy of the thesaurus).
When confronted in an interview with some alleged concerns towards the amount of profanity in her book Shiloh, (as opposed to the atrocious grammar, both written and “spoken”,) author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor commented, “There are people in the world who speak crudely … You can’t put your child in a glass bubble and protect him always.”
My response, twenty-one years later: Indeed, you (probably) can’t shelter a child forever, but who are you, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, to determine between the ages nine and twelve is the right time to quit sheltering all kids cold turkey?
I can just see it now:
FADE IN FROM BLACK:
SETTING: HOUSE – KITCHEN – DAY
MRS. PERKINS — a middle-aged, conservatively-dressed woman — enters the kitchen holding her purse, some groceries, and a small paperback book. Let’s call it The Greater Prowess of Lucy, a book that is infamous for being banned (let’s say for legitimate reasons) all over the United Provinces of Atlantica by educational institutions. SUSIE PERKINS, age ten, is sitting at the kitchen table, reading Little Log Cabin in the Countryside. She looks up excitedly at her mother’s entrance.
The Little Log Cabin series is practically the only series her mother permits her to read. The critically-acclaimed Franny Crewe mystery series considered too inappropriate in their household, because Franny dates Fred for purposes other than marriage prospects.
Hi, Susie. I bought a book for you and I figured you might enjoy it.
MRS. PERKINS hands her daughter The Greater Prowess of Lucy with almost undetectable hesitance.
Of course, MRS. PERKINS doesn’t know if her daughter will like it at all, but after attending last week’s author talk at the library, she feels it is her parental duty to expose SUSIE to this book’s contents now so that SUSIE is more up to speed with her classmates at school.
SUSIE accepts the book reluctantly, and places a bookmark within her well-worn copy of Little Log Cabin, intending to return to it up later.
SUSIE begins to read while her mother puts the groceries away. Time passes and SUSIE is halfway through the book.
Abruptly, SUSIE stands up, gasping in horror. Her chair clatters to the floor behind her. She covers her mouth with one hand and her face is green.
(Worriedly,) Susie? What’s wrong?
SUSIE doesn’t respond. She runs to the bathroom and slams the door. From inside, we hear sounds of vomiting.
MRS. PERKINS places her hands on her face, shocked.
Oh, dear…. Maybe that wasn’t such a wise idea after all.
FADE TO BLACK
My belief is that every child is unique, and every responsible parent who knows their child should be responsible for determining at what age their child is exposed to certain things, and just how much.
For example, here are some questions for parents:
Is it normal and proper to call over your five year old out of the blue to have a heart-to-heart talk about puberty?
Would you let your five year old learn to read their first words from a tabloid magazine? (After all, tabloids have plenty of easy three- and four-letter words….)
Would you let your five year old watch Jurassic Park if they get tired of watching Barney all the time?
If you answered “Of course not — they’re not ready to handle that!” to any of the above, you have more sense than Ms. Reynolds Naylor seems to have had in April, 1993.
There are some things that a parent may expose their child gradually, like things that come with age, or scarier movies that they probably won’t be able to handle at more tender ages without getting nightmares, and there are some things that they may choose to never expose their children to, ever, and I can think of several things that would apply to that last category. If you’re a conservative parent of a child who shares these conservative values, and you happen to believe that profanity is inappropriate, then what right do authors like Phyllis Reynolds Naylor have to infringe upon your values?
You may wonder, what experience do I have to present these views? Such chutzpah that I should write this way about an eighty-one (then sixty) year old woman! I may be just a precocious kid, but I’ve suffered at the hands of enough poorly-written books that I feel it’s my duty to speak up.