Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writer's Wednesday: What words should be censored in children's literature?

I love agent/editor panels at conferences. They offer the opportunity for authors to experience the flavor of agents' personalities.   The same questions are usually asked, and, if the session is mediated properly, it doesn't have to be entirely tedious. 

Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc. had a fabulous group of agents this year who served on the panel. Louise Fury, Stephen Fraser, Jessica Sinsheimer, and Emmanuelle Morgan are all impressive and should be checked out if you're looking for both pleasant and hard-working agents.

In response to a certain question, I've heard many responses over the years.
  • It depends on the publisher.
  • It's fine if it fits the character.
  • It's fine if it serves a purpose other than shock value.

The following question and answer may not be verbatim, but it's how I remember it.

And I like it this way.

Are four-letter words unacceptable in children's literature?

Stephen Fraser's reply:
Only one. HATE.

Click here for an interview with Stephen Fraser as well as a photo of his spiffy, trademark bow tie. 


  1. I remember him saying that and thinking that was a very accurate answer.

  2. I have a modern mind with an old school soul, a very old soul, so I say, yes, there are words children should be taught as "naughty words." Why? It's one of the easiest ways to start teaching the basics of moral judgment. I'm VERY liberal in many ways, but I feel strongly on this one. I don't think they should just be taught that some words are "morally wrong," but that some words are (pardon the cliche) rude, crude, and socially unacceptable. They can generalize easily from that, well, if some WORDS are naughty, maybe some actions are naughty. Of course, there should be less "censorship," oooh I said the "C" word as children mature because as they grow and encounter more complex social situations than play dates, they are able to grasp concepts such as "it's appropriate for the character," etc. That doesn't mean it should be used in every paragraph I speak. I have watched movies where every sentence had a "filthy" word, with some sentences comprised almost solely of filthy words. It's common desensitization. Viewers and readers gradually see the "f" word like they once saw the "sh" word, etc. Are there people who talk this way in real life? Yes. Do I want my child imitating them? No. It's not so much morally wrong as "taboo." I think all cultures need taboos. It keeps our great-grandchildren from running a presidential campaign on the platform that it's ok for humans to try to breed with goats and other animals as long as it's consensual. And I do believe the wise words, "What one generation does in moderation, the next generation will do in extremity." I reserve the right to be wrong, but at this point in my own spiritual journey, I say yes, children should be allowed to remain children with their innocence intact as long as possible. I grew up in a home where the males were "potty mouths." Mom did not curse, period, or use filthy language or tell filthy jokes. I saw both sides of the coin growing up. And when I was thrown in the air at the end of my upbringing, I landed on my feet saying, all cultures need taboos to help children grow into polite and morally mature individuals.

    1. "...that doesn't mean it should be used in every paragraph I speak..." Exactly. That's usually how the responses go. Gratuitous ANYTHING is simply not appropriate.

      I especially like how Mr. Fraser added the new twist on his answer. Hate is a dangerous concept.

    2. ...and when I say "appropriate," I mean not good literature.

  3. As an ex-librarian and current mommy, I am so torn on this. I guess it depends on where you delineate "children's" literature and "young adult" literature. There sure is a gray area in the upper elementary/middle school ages. Advanced readers are going to be reading things that may be more "mature" than a fifth grader's mom might like.

    As a librarian, I did have a first grader's parents object to a book because it had the "s-word"--which, of course, means "stupid." And I believe it also said, "I hate you." But the book wasn't intended for first graders.

    I have always maintained that if children learned to cuss from books, there would be a lot fewer kids cussing.

    1. "...if children learned to cuss from books, there would be a lot fewer kids cussing."

      Oooooh, I like that!

  4. "children's" books that allow colorful adult language are not written for childdren at all. I'm thinking of the "Go the F*** To Sleep" book. It looks like a picture book; it reads like a picture book; it's completely written for adults. :)

    1. I heard the book you mentioned read by Samuel L. Jackson. It made me LAUGH. Totally not for kids.:)