No, this isn’t about me starting a system on my blog to rate the books I read with a series of stars. Instead it’s about the insidious suggestion by Brigham Young professor, Sarah Coyne, that books for teens should have rating labels on them. It’s enough to make my librarian skin crawl.
Coyne checked teen novels for profanity in five different categories. All but five of the books she looked at had at least one instance of profanity. (Though I must point out that “hell” and “damn” are included in her list of profane words.)
First, let me say that I’m opposed to labeling books at all. But really, profanity?? Not sexual acts, not violence? But instead the damns and the hells and the transient but powerful words we use to express emotions? What the…
Second, I have to relate my own story of reading a Judy Blume book. I loved Judy Blume as a pre-teen and read book after book by her in a single summer. I found Deenie and loved the storyline of a girl who wanted to be a model and had to deal with being in a back brace. But as a younger reader, I completely (and I mean completely) missed the section on masturbation. I missed it so thoroughly that when I later heard about that being in the book, I was confused and baffled. I reread it as a teenager, and by golly, there it was!
No labels necessary, no parent needing to intervene. Books are special that way. They are patient, waiting for you to be the right age and then they change along with you.
And for those of you who think that the four letter words are different, I was an voracious reader and still needed to have someone on the school bus draw what the F-word meant. Then I got to teach her the medical terms my mother used for those parts of the body. We all learned something that day.
Another wrinkle is what we do with the adult books that teens are also reading. I read Stephen King as a teen, hauling his huge tomes along with me. I read adult romance novels that my mother didn’t approve of at all and that the librarians in my small town library also frowned at but let me check out. I read Ivanhoe, Gone with the Wind, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and any book that caught my fancy. And I would have read them despite any labels, and perhaps even because of labels.
And what happened to me? I became a lover of books, a librarian, a book blogger, and a mother who would let her teenage son read anything that he wanted. Labels or not, he can read it. Just like I did. If it makes him into a reader, especially one who takes risks and learns about the way others think and feel, then I say: Hell Yes!