wsj’s conservatism: not just for the op-ed page anymore!

by marjorieingall on June 7, 2011

wholesome entertainment.

Did you miss me?

So yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran an article (note: not an op-ed) on how young adult lit is so DARK and WRONG now. As opposed to before 1967, when everything was apparently downy chicks and delicious yet wholesome salad. The piece comes thisclose to advocating book-banning. It certainly suggests that parents police their teens’ reading. The kooky nutty thing is that the piece was written by the WSJ’s regular children’s books reviewer, so I must assume she has bovine spongiform encephalopathy and is not herself right now. Feel better, Meghan Cox Gurdon!

I wasn’t there, but from the portrait Ms Gurdon paints, I assume young adult lit before S.E. Hinton came along and ruined everything was just like Jeremy’s song on Phineas & Ferb.

Beautiful, kind and gentle,
And loving and softness and sweetness,
and candy and gum,
Peppermint and pink flowers,
And bunnies and happy songs we can all hum!
Draw a smiley face on the Sun,
It’s fun.

Sunshine, cuddles,
and puppies, wet noses and safety and laughter,
and skip to and fro,
holdin’ hands sharing snow cones,
and rainbows and no place where we have to go!
So we’re just gonna go with the flow,
Oh you know.

Some of the many wise responses to this from around the social media sphere are from librarian Leila Roy at Bookshelves of Doom, School Library Journal blogger Liz Burns and my rockin’ best pal Gayle Forman. A gazillion tweets went out with the hashtag #yasaves — of course not all YA lit is “dark” (a-doy, as we said in RI in my Flowers-in-the-Attic-reading youth), but for kids who are truly suffering (and even kids who aren’t but who are practicing empathy and other nifty skills), YA can indeed be eye-opening and world-changing. It can also be a witty, fluffy, light and amusing way to spend the day with some words. YA IS A BIG TENT, PEOPLE. YOU KNOW, LIKE GROWNUP BOOKS.

The upshot: Dark books can be crappy, and peppermint-and-pink-flowers books can be crappy. Somber books can be wonderful, and candy-and-gum books can be wonderful. There have always been dark books and light books and good books and crap books. Move along, people, nothing to see here.

But wait, before you go, a message to book-banners and wannabes: Among Josie (age 9)’s library books RIGHT THIS SECOND is Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Lovingly Alice and Susan Patron’s Newbery-winning Higher Power of Lucky. Know why I got them from the library for her? Because you tried to ban them! (I hadn’t even heard of the Alice series, so thanks for the heads-up!) Like you, I try to teach my values to my children. My values include discussing censorship, teaching tolerance and understanding, and explaining that different families have different values. So thanks for the teachable moment!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah June 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Well gosh, I sure hope you’re keeping her in the girl-books section of the store (because according to WSJ, only boys want to read Ship Breaker).

marjorieingall June 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Never fear, Sarah! We shan’t let her wear any of those newfangled “Bloomers” either!

We debated allowing her to learn to read, for fear it would shrivel her reproductive organs and overtax her feminine brain, but ultimately decided the spinning, tatting and hoop-trundling would make up for it.

Lizzie June 8, 2011 at 7:14 am

Thank you. My senitments exactly.
This is the thing; I am a teen in the real world. I saw 9/11, am living through a war and have seen my fair share of personal problems. My best friend, when she was eleven, almost OD on illegal substances. She lives in a *successful* family! Her parents are wonderful! But her new neighbor the drug dealer got her to try it, and the next thing I know, I’m skipping sixth grade health to spend hours in the hospital staring at my comatose other half. IT’S REAL LIFE. It helped me to be able to cope when I could read a book from a teenage addicts perspective and to try to figure out WHAT THE CRAP SHE WAS THINKING when she didn’t say no. (Good children always say no and all become laywers and doctors, don’t they?). Don’t you think I could have been a different person if I hadn’t had that experience? When I wrote my account of that day and submitted that as a writing audition piece in a contest, I WON. I GOT A JOB BECAUSE OF A DARK EXPERIENCE AT 14. I SPOKE OUT because I knew I wasn’t alone and I knew my experience could help others, like all of the LIFE SAVING books I read. #YASaves youth. Lives.
Heck, it saved me.

Eleanor June 9, 2011 at 7:16 am

You’re back!!

Adrienne June 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Ah, yes, the good old days, when everything was sweet and innocent and oh-so-perfect!

There’s always someone who’s prepared to re-write history in this way.

Dark YA has been a godsend for my daughter. I don’t know how I would have started some of our most important conversations without those books.

Glad you’re back! Are you done with your project or us this just a teasee?

:paula June 13, 2011 at 8:07 am

LOVE YOU.

The gold digger June 19, 2011 at 11:23 am

The only books that my (very conservative) parents took away from me when I was a kid were “Valley of the Dolls” and “Portnoy’s Complaint.” I went back to the library and got “Complaint” again but only made it through the first chapter because I didn’t understand what was going on and the little I did understand I found to be gross.

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