Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I Swear!

Last year I had a student return a Chronicles of Narnia book to the school library because the author used the word "damn" and the student's parent didn't want him to continue reading it. Having listened to almost the whole series on audio book, I knew C.S. Lewis used that word a few times throughout the series.

I am convinced that "damn" isn't a swear word in Britain. J. K. Rowling uses it throughout the Harry Potter books. She also has scenes in which characters swear, but she never gives the reader the exact words. I love that. It is enough to know that the character is using foul language without telling me verbatim which words he/she uses. If she is that careful to just describe the swearing, but she freely uses "damn," it makes me think that it doesn't mean what we think it does in America. But American authors use it, too.

I have been reviewing books for our upcoming book fair over the last few weeks. I do this not only so I can talk intelligently with students about the books when our fair rolls around, but also because I teach at a Christian school. I have a responsibility to know what's in as many of the books that we sell (or choose not to sell) as I can.

Two of the books in my preview pile also used the word "damn." One was an historic fiction novel taking place in the early 60s during integration. One of the black characters is frustrated about the discrimination he is experiencing every day, and he is ranting to his younger sister about her naivety. He swears twice.  In the other book, one character uses the word one time. I don't even remember the context now.

My first thought with both of these was "Was that really necessary?" In books that are marketed to upper elementary students as well as middle school students, do we have to include foul language, even if it is minor in the world of foul language? I don't think either of these stories would have "lost" anything without the language.

My second thought was "Does this mean I can't put this book in our library or sell it at the fair?" This historic fiction one was an AMAZING book. When I type up my review, I will give it 5 stars because I thought it was that fantastic. I would love to share this with students. But that little bit of language - language that didn't feel essential to me in the telling of the story - could raise flags for administration and parents. I believe that authors have the prerogative to write their stories as they choose. I guess I just wonder why they choose to include language you wouldn't want to hear your 10-year-old use at school....

My school has a policy for situations like this. And I can comfortably make a case for this book fitting in our policy. The larger story says important things about our history, about race, about education, about writing. The book is not "saturated" with foul language. If challenged, I can cite why I believe we should overlook the language in favor of the larger story.

I just wish I didn't have to....

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