Thursday, January 03, 2008

Maybe Controversy Isn’t The Way To Sell Books After All

(First, a very happy birthday to Ken Bruen. Wishing you all of the best in the coming year – you deserve it!)

A mother of two is trying to get a children’s mystery book pulled from store shelves.

"They discovered every child's worst nightmare, the lifeless body of Santa Claus," she read from a story titled, 'Who Killed Santa Claus'. "He was in a storage room his head bashed in by the butt end of a 44 revolver.”

Another passage described how the most famous chef in Texas was hacked to death with a meat cleaver. Another passage describes a child seeing bruises on his mother's arm.

The product is still being sold at the bookstore however and Saunders wants to see that changed.
"I want it pulled from the shelves," she said.

The book is packaged in such a way consumers are prevented from browsing through it in store, but it’s packaged with a label that claims it’s appropriate for children age seven and up.

I don’t know – especially without seeing the book – if I go so far as to say it’s inappropriate for children of any age. And while I tend to agree that some of the images seem to be a bit disturbing (go to the link to see one) for younger children, I’m not sure that it’s much different than much of what children are exposed to these days.

Does that make it right? Well, no. Not necessarily.

However, this raises a question about what the retailer is responsible for. It’s one thing for the Catholics to pull THE GOLDEN COMPASS from their schools (even after it’s been in their library for ten years) but it’s quite another to pressure a bookstore about what they can and cannot sell.

It also raises interesting questions, in terms of who is responsible for appropriate marketing of books. After all, age indicators are printed on books/boxes by the publisher, not the retailer.

Shouldn’t this woman be protesting against the publisher instead of the bookstore?

What does everyone think? Not appropriate for children of any age, or how old should kids have to be before they can read it? Should the stores pull the book?

I am waffling, because I’m loathe to judge without having seen it, although I do agree it’s not appropriate for children as young as seven. But considering the movies kids watch these days, I think saying it should be pulled from store shelves is going way too far.

I could be persuaded to change my opinion on this one, though.


Lyman said...

Censorship is a hot button issue with me. Now maybe I'm a whacko parent but I feel it is my responsibility to screen what my child reads, views, etc. I take that responsibility seriously and I give my kids a lot of credit for being able to handle things at a younger age than I could have.

A book should never be pulled from the shelves because an individual or even a group is offended by the subject matter of the book.

Where this is a question of age appropriateness, Mrs. Saunders may not want her child to read it but it might be perfectly acceptable for my kids who played DOOM at the age of four. (Yes I'm trying to groom psychotics.)

I appreciate Mrs. Saunder's concern but last I checked I didn't hire her to be the protector of my kids and their exposure to the world. From my take on the article she and her husband screened the books before their kids read them. Good for them. They show the same devotion to their children's well being as I do. But to suggest a product is not suitable for a child of any age is taking an issue to the extreme and crosses over into my right to allow my children to read such a book.

Denial of access is probably the most insidious form of censorship there is. Removing a book from the shelf or asking a publisher to pull it from production is akin to taking it outside and burning it on the lawn.

However, in defense of the Saunders, the publisher was negligent in suggesting the book was acceptable for a seven year old. Our society is jaded and children are more savvy than ever but I don't know too many seven year olds that don't believe in Santa. Killing a figure of that importance to a child is traumatic. The publisher should have consulted a child psyciatrist to determine a better age group for the book. Many children's book companies do employ child development specialist for just such issues. Does that mean the book should be pulled? No... my original point stands.

Parental screening and responsibility in matters of media is of vital importance. This case in and of itself is a shining example. The parents caught this and prevented their kids from reading material they felt would be damaging.

Grandpa should have hopped online and googled it. I'm sure it wouldn't have been purchased in the first place.

Leave the book where it is and let parents have the final say in what their children read.

JamesO said...

I'm a great believer (as a non-parent myself;}#) in the idea that it is up to the child's parents to screen what they think appropriate - be it reading matter, video games, films or whatever. There are broad brushes of censorship that we pretty much accept - the evening watershed on TV, film classification and so on - but anything beyond that is to my mind to much interference.

That said, it was impossible to vet this product before purchase, and it said on it that it was suitable for a given age group. If a suitably large number of people think this is wrong, then they should take it up with the publisher, and remember not to buy anything from them in the future.

It's all too easy to see something, think 'that's not right, they shouldn't be able to do that,' then reach for the phone to your MP and start lobbying to have it banned. I feel that people should be encouraged to take more responsibility for themselves, and their children, rather than constantly expecting some blunt instrument of state to do it for them.

Steven said...

Not sure how "child" is defined here. At the two bookstores nearest me, space is set aside for children's books - it's an area with fluffy toys and fairy book paintings on the wall and where there's a story telling hour, etc. Not having seen the book (and not having children) I'd say the images sound a bit rough for a 7-year-old. Probably the publisher should have thought again about that and made it for 10 or 12 year olds.

John McFetridge said...

Yeah, the not being able to look inside the book before buying it is the problem.

We can only ever take the publisher age ratings as vague guidelines. Some six year olds read books that are too complicated for me.

I'm a parent of two small kids (ages 7 and 9), and I always go by the line given to me a few years ago, "We can't make the world so safe that you don't have to do any parenting."

I may be doing a Homer Simpson half-assed job at it, it's still up to me (And, luckily for me and my boys, my wife).

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lyman, LOL. Grandpa in your world should be pretty hip and techno-savvy! He might not even know what the internet is!

But generally, I think we're all in agreement here. It's a tricky one, because of the way it was packaged - otherwise there wouldn't even be an issue. After mulling it over, I still don't want it pulled from stores, but I think it does need a warning label on it that gives a better assessment of its age-appropriateness.

And I must say, I'm pleased so many of the people I know - even if they don't have kids of their own - share the philosophy that parents have to take responsibility to parent. Which is what Mrs. Saunders is doing to a point. It's where she wants to speak for all families that there's an issue.