Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On Censorship and Happiness

As writers for children, we often navigate the line between too little and too much gritty realism. For one thing, we don't want to cut out a giant portion of our audience because of the censors.

I always sneered at censorious parents till this summer when my daughter got a part in "The Laramie Project,” at camp. It's about that poor kid in Wyoming who was beaten to death for being gay.  I didn't stop her, mind you, but I fretted about it to everyone who would listen.

 “It must be one of those ‘socially conscious’ camps,” my boss offered dubiously.

“Well, you wanted her to do something besides Guys and Dolls," my husband said.

My best friend texted me back:  she's happy about it you're happy about it 

But I wasn’t happy about it. I'm not a Bible-thumper. I support gay marriage. I just didn’t want my girl immersed in the most morose, miserable story possible at camp. I thought it was all wrong for her. Was I right?  You look at her face and tell me.

This is my kid. She's not interested in the shallows of emotion. She has never played dumb in her life. Intense, dramatic, deeply fulfilled--that's where she wants to live. And that's what The Laramie Project did for her.  (It was a great production, by the way--and I cried buckets.)

Wow, how could I have gotten it so wrong? And how could I have been tempted to censorship? Like a lot of parents, I just wanted my child to be happy.  Maybe the problem is, we get stuck on the definition of happiness.  Have you ever censored yourself when writing for children?  Do you censor your children? 


  1. There's a fine line between censorship and protection. We all want to protect our children from certain things in life. But knowledge is power, and the real trick is to teach our children how to deal with things -- age appropriateness being the tricky key. Books, and plays can be valuable tools in a child's 'experience'. Censoring comes up in PBs (for example what type of non-traditional family is ok to show?), but I think becomes more of an issue with MG, when the kids are faced with and aware of many more issues.

  2. Julie, I remember hearing in library school that AND TANGO MAKES THREE was the most frequently banned book at the time. It's a picture book about the gay penguin couple at the Central Park Zoo.

  3. FOREVER was one of those books my mother did NOT want me to read, so of course I had to read it because if it was FORBIDDEN it had to be good! I read it during the summer with my friends - we dog-eared all the 'good parts' so we could go back and read them again. (sorry, Mom!) As a parent I can get why she didn't think it was appropriate reading. Maybe I was too young, but at the time I was curious. As a parent, I'm sure I'll have issues too, but FOREVER is nothing compared to some of the issues that are out there in YA. Honestly books are the least of what I might need to 'censor' - but...I wouldn't censor something because of content, mostly because of age appropriate-ness. My daughter expressed interest in The Hunger Games but I thought she was too young to really get it (I had a difficult time with the Rue scene, especially in the movie), now that she's older and I've read/seen it myself I'll reconsider.

    As far as writing - writing for YA sometimes it seems anything goes. I remember recently reading something that I thought was YA but it turned out to be NA and I was secretly relieved! I find it hard sometimes to remember that even if teens are jaded these days with media images, songs, etc, there's still an awkwardness to physical encounters that are sometimes misrepresented with all these slick one-liners and sexual innuendos that you sometimes find in YA (and on TV and in movies and in songs). Frankly, I'm more of a fade to black sort of person myself and I think that's reflected in how I write. At least I hope so!!