Friday, 8 February 2013

Almost Banned by Keren David

My book was banned last year.  Sort of banned. I only just heard about it.

A lovely librarian read and enjoyed my first book. She invited me to visit her school, and recommended it to her English department. They bought it in bulk .

A teacher who hadn’t read it decided it was suitable as a reading book for Year 8s. They started to read it.

Then another teacher who also hadn’t read it queried its suitability for that age group. A literacy expert was consulted. She also hadn’t read it. Nevertheless she decreed that it was unsuitable for the pupils who were already reading it.  The books were taken away from them.

The librarian continued to champion the book. She made sure the English department reinstated it, this time for Year 9s, and invited me to visit her school for the second time. There I met children who had started reading the book in Y8 and then were presented with it again in Y9. Some of them had finished it in Y8, despite having it taken away from them. Some of them had read it now they were safely in Y9. All of them seemed to have enjoyed it. I sold quite a few copies of the sequels as well as the book itself.
Why was my book deemed unsuitable? Maybe it was because of the occasional swearword, or the storyline about self-harming. More likely I think it was because of the main theme of the book, knife crime.
I went to an exhibition this week, designed for children as young as nine .The Ben Kinsella Knife Crime Awareness Exhibition was created to tell young people about Ben, 16, killed in an unprovoked attack on a north London street. Using videos, cartoons, displays of Ben's art and English GCSE coursework it forces children to think about what might happen if they carry a knife, to potential victims and to themselves. The centre of the exhibition is a replica prison cell, inhabited by a prisoner. It's designed to move, to shock, to make children reflect. It's an extraordinary achievement, and I'm sure it will save lives. The organisers don't think 12 year olds are too young to be confronted with the subject of knife crime. They know that children who are younger than Y8 might be carrying knives and using them.

So my book was banned. Sort of banned. Not really banned. Just delayed. It’s not something I’m making a big fuss about.  But I do wish that more teachers -  and indeed literacy experts – would read books. Or reviews. Or consult librarians. Or just read newspapers and think about the world and what message they give when they take a book away from a child who's already started reading it.
(The Ben Kinsella Knife Awareness Exhibition is open to visitors from Feb 18-22. Details here)


M said...

The teacher who did read and whose professional opinion was then played with in a tug of war must have felt a bit disconcerted too.

adele said...

This is very interesting. We read Macbeth at 12 when I was at school. And Merchant of Venice when we were 11. No one thought of banning those...and as you say, knife crime affects very young people.

Anonymous said...

It's a very good book about something that many young people will come into contact with and it's sad when adults censor reading on a whim. Young people will not stop swearing because they read it in a book - they already know the words and sometimes they will add to a novel's credibility if added naturally to the text to reflect the characters and their lives.

Lucy said...

What an interesting experience. And how blinkered of all those so-called experts to ban a book without reading it (although of course, that's the way with all culture). Judy Blume's 'Forever' was banned at our school if we were under 15. Of course we all found ways of getting our hands on it. So what does banning achieve? Only an insatiable desire to get hold of the book! And young people are more sophisticated than we give them credit for - if they didn't enjoy your book they would quickly stop reading it, whatever it was about.

Anonymous said...

It's tricky balancing sensitivity with maturity, but I say, if you haven't even read the book, how the hell can you know if it's suitable or not? Basic common sense, anyone working with teenagers should surely know that you really need to read the books you're recommending to them first - YA covers so much more than people seem to think it does.