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Children's Books Are Being Dumbed Down

awnlee jawking

Once upon a time children could rely on the stories they read to thrill, amuse, educate and even scare them.

Now, however, children's books are being sanitised and dumbed down, according to a best-selling author.

Geraldine McCaughrean, who has written more than 160 books, said there was now a range of topics that are no longer deemed acceptable for young readers.

'With a book that's going to be sold into schools you get a list of things that are unacceptable – no witches, no demons, no alcohol, no death, no religion,' she said yesterday. 'It really does cut down what you can write about.

She added: 'It's extraordinary because in pre-school you can read fairy tales in their original form and some of them are really scary and dark.

'But you go to junior school and all of a sudden the fairy tales that you read in school have been sanitised and cleaned up.

'And then you go into secondary school and fall off into the deep end of vampire books. It must be like falling off a cliff.'

Full article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5858613/Childrens-books-sanitised-dumbed-says-best-selling-author.html

AJ

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Yet another example of is fiction dying? "Correctness" has gone much too far.

Vlad_Inhaler
Updated:

I don't remember much of the books I read in the first six years of schooling, although vague memories of Jack and Jill are floating around there.

I know I read books outside school, alongside such fine literature as The Beano. My parents will have brought them into the house, some "took" and some - such as Enid Blyton - did not.

The early school books were the least interesting of the lot. So what has changed?

Thinking a bit more on this: Ever heard of Harry Potter? The Hobbit? I seem to remember HP was banned from several school districts in the US, is that what this is about?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
REP
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Parents say they have the right to determine what is appropriate for their children to read at home. I agree. Educators say they have the right to determine what is appropriate for children to read at school. I agree. The main problem is the two groups don't always agree.

California has what it calls Distinguished Schools. Personally, I think that California educational system is in the toilet. If my granddaughter's high school is typical of the quality of education kids in the US receive, the colleges and universities will have to lower their standards again.

sunkuwan

Some questions:

- why is there even an emphasis about reading children books in school? Shouldn't parents read to their children or buy children the books to read at home?
- why does a school need to buy new children books every year?
- why... children books? We read classic books, that were mature, in school. Things like Schiller, Goethe, Kafka, etc.

Replies:   Vlad_Inhaler
Crumbly Writer

@Vlad_Inhaler

I don't remember much of the books I read in the first six years of schooling, although vague memories of Jack and Jill are floating around there.

Case in point, if in your day, Jack and Jill were floating face down in a lake. Sounds like a great preschool mystery, though. 'D

Thinking a bit more on this: Ever heard of Harry Potter? The Hobbit? I seem to remember HP was banned from several school districts in the US, is that what this is about?

Rather than the typical "PC" complaints, most of these are triggered by Evangelical Christians, who consider HP to encourage Satan worship. On the other end of the spectrum, the 'no religion' is likely based on individual parents suing to prevent Evangelical teachers from indoctrinating their kids about a religion they don't buy into.

The religious right has been banning books since the days of Mark Twain. In fact, the Catholic church invented the idea of burning books. Before that, the Greeks and Romans might banish or even put an author to death, but wouldn't dream of desecrating a book, even one they hated!

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

The religious right has been banning books since the days of Mark Twain.


More like since the days of Gutenberg when the Church largely lost control of the production of books.

Before Gutenberg's press, each individual copy of a book had to be hand produced by a scribe, and between the fall of Rome and Gutenberg, the vast majority of scribes in the western world were monks.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

Yet another example of is fiction dying? "Correctness" has gone much too far.


In that vein, I recently read that Penguin Random House are no longer publishing works purely on merit: they're insisting that their output matches UK demographics, so if eg they've used up their white quota, they'll publish a lower quality work by a BME author rather than another work by a white author. According to the article, PRH include disabilities and sexual orientation in their demographic considerations, which strikes me as extremely intrusive.

AJ

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

I recently read that Penguin Random House are no longer publishing works purely on merit: they're insisting that their output matches UK demographics,


Here's the article:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-44424803

Replies:   awnlee jawking
StarFleet Carl

@awnlee jawking

Now, however, children's books are being sanitised and dumbed down, according to a best-selling author.


I think that's been going on for a long time. In one of those odd things, I read "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" when I was around 5 or 6. Yeah, I was a bit of a precocious kid as far as reading was concerned, I read a lot of stuff that was 'too advanced' for someone my age. I remember that later on, in sixth grade, we had to read it for English class, and the chapters we had in class didn't match the copy I had at home. A bunch of stuff had been deleted and sanitized. And being the smart-ass I was, I did my report on the copy I had at home. When I got called upon to defend my work, with quotes that weren't in the schools text, I pulled out my copy.

Unrelated, sort of, to this is the whole Harry Potter thing. When those books came out, I heard all the furor about them. Talked it over with the wife and basically I read them first, before we'd allow the kids to read them. Nothing bad in them that I found.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

Thank you.

The article I read led me to believe the policy was already firmly in place, although this more comprehensive version shows that it won't be fully implemented for a while yet.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@StarFleet Carl

I think Lionel Shriver has a point about books for teens, though. The 'young adult' market has moved towards gritty realism and nowadays there's little difference, content-wise, between the 'young adult' and 'adult' markets.

I've encountered a lot of observations about how gloomy today's 'young adult' stories have to be :(

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

In that vein, I recently read that Penguin Random House are no longer publishing works purely on merit: they're insisting that their output matches UK demographics, so if eg they've used up their white quota, they'll publish a lower quality work by a BME author rather than another work by a white author. According to the article, PRH include disabilities and sexual orientation in their demographic considerations, which strikes me as extremely intrusive.

I'd hope that such an effort were short-lived (i.e. with a definitive start and end-date test period). It's a sensible way to increase a library filled with nothing but the works of 'dead white men'. If limited such works helps bring more voices to the table, then it helps everyone. But it's not an end in itself, it's only a faltering first step. If it doesn't bring more qualified authors to the table, but merely promotes authors who lack the ability to qualify of their own accord, then it needs to be a heavily reviewed process, rather than a 'one and done' decision.

On a related note, rather than yet-another 'short story contest' here on SOL, I'd much rather have SOL send out invites to other story communities asking for 'alternative POV', which SOL would promote to increase our range of stories. As I've protested several times in the past, SOL is heavily weighted by the 'old white man' contingent, to such a point that few others frequent the site.

While I'd prefer seeing a site where everyone can contribute, sometimes we need to encourage their previously terrified by their past treatments to give us a second (third, ninety-seventh) try.

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

Unrelated, sort of, to this is the whole Harry Potter thing. When those books came out, I heard all the furor about them. Talked it over with the wife and basically I read them first, before we'd allow the kids to read them. Nothing bad in them that I found.

Sadly, most of those 'reactionary reviews' were from those who wanted to ban the book, based on what they might say, but who had no interest in all in actually reading the books.

Vlad_Inhaler

@sunkuwan

And then you go into secondary school and fall off into the deep end of vampire books. It must be like falling off a cliff.'

Which would indicate that we are talking about years 1-6 here, ages 5-11.

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

I think that's been going on for a long time. In one of those odd things, I read "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" when I was around 5 or 6. Yeah, I was a bit of a precocious kid as far as reading was concerned, I read a lot of stuff that was 'too advanced' for someone my age.

I fit into that category too, having read the complete works of Dr. Zhivago and the "Gulog Archipeligo while in high school. On the other hand, I distinctly remember being read "Little Black Sambo" books by my parents (my father was a Protestant minister in the south during the 50s and 60s), and too this day cannot keep Disney's "Sounds of the South" tunes from playing repeatedly in my head.

But even then, the stead stream of outright 'propaganda' style stories I was repeatedly told in school prompted me to research the truth behind the fiction I was fed. Thus I sought out the real story of our treatment of blacks, native Americans, Japanese-Americans, as well as our duplicitous reasons for each of our wars.

You really can't 'hide' the truth from children and still expect them to be equipped to think for themselves. Either you let children decide for themselves (after all, how many parents ever agree with their parents when reaching their teens or twenties?), or you brainwash them and then watch as your country collapses beneath the weight of it's buried past.

Replies:   Vlad_Inhaler  red61544
Vlad_Inhaler
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

"Little Black Sambo"


I remember them as well, at home (England) rather than at school. I don't think I was at all comfortable with them but that could have been something which set in later.

red61544

@Crumbly Writer

"Sounds of the South"

Ol' Brer rabbit and brer fox done got themselves lost in the briar patch and never been heard from again. No sirree!

Uther_Pendragon

@StarFleet Carl


I think that's been going on for a long time. In one of those odd things, I read "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" when I was around 5 or 6. Yeah, I was a bit of a precocious kid as far as reading was concerned, I read a lot of stuff that was 'too advanced' for someone my age.


1) I read once that they had a system of figuring out what grade level books were appropriate for -- reading ease rather than content, IIRC. Then they made a study and found that more than half the kids who had read "Treasure Island" had read it at a younger age than the book was appropriate for.

2) I literally read "Le Morte dArthur" and some "encyclopedia Brown" books at nearly the same time. I took a break from Mallory to read the "age appropriate" stuff.

Crumbly Writer

@Uther_Pendragon

1) I read once that they had a system of figuring out what grade level books were appropriate for -- reading ease rather than content, IIRC. Then they made a study and found that more than half the kids who had read "Treasure Island" had read it at a younger age than the book was appropriate for.

I still think that most books remain appropriate for most ages, just that it's best for parents to discuss the book, rather than simply dumping it on a child's lap and forgetting it, like they do with the TV, computers and tablets.

Children are ready to read books when they're ready, not when the reach the 'appropriate' age.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

"Correctness" has gone much too far.


I guess it's no surprise a BBC manager has admitted that 'Monty Python' could never be made today, because it was by a bunch of white males, mostly Oxbridge-educated.

The correctness-obsessed BBC regards diversity as more important than merit :(

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I guess it's no surprise a BBC manager has admitted that 'Monty Python' could never be made today, because it was by a bunch of white males, mostly Oxbridge-educated.

The correctness-obsessed BBC regards diversity as more important than merit :(

At the time it was made, "Monty Python" almost never got made. It only got off the ground, because the normally staid BBC was desperate to change it's stogy image by releasing something 'young and vibrant'. If it was proposed a couple years earlier, or later, it would likely never have aired at all.

Of course, I'm sure that most of the team would have done fine elsewhere, since they're certifiable geniuses who fit the times perfectly, but their getting their start at the BBC was a complete fluke of nature. (So exclaims a lifelong Yankee.)

StarFleet Carl

@Uther_Pendragon

2) I literally read "Le Morte dArthur" and some "encyclopedia Brown" books at nearly the same time. I took a break from Mallory to read the "age appropriate" stuff.


Yeah, you're not the only one.

You know what really corrupted me, though? Reading all the 'Encyclopedia Brown', 'Hardy Boys', and 'Tom Swift' ended up leading me to the Robert Heinlein juveniles ... which led me to the Robert Heinlein not-so juveniles. Which led me to 'Bill the Galactic Hero', the Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle books, and since westerns were also okay, somehow I ended up with the Mack Bolan 'Executioner' books, too, and the John Norman 'Gor' novels.

I'm sort of confused, now, too. Doing some quick research, the internet says that the 'Longarm' series didn't start until 1978. What would I have been reading in 1974 that wasn't a Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey that would have been about as trashy as the Longarm books? I distinctly remember riding my junior high bus reading a western series with rather explicit sex scenes in it (which, of course, my parents didn't know).

docholladay

@StarFleet Carl

I distinctly remember riding my junior high bus reading a western series with rather explicit sex scenes in it (which, of course, my parents didn't know).


That was a common happening for many stories during that time period. It was part of the mentality of that period from many points of view, some obvious but others almost invisible.

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

I'm sort of confused, now, too. Doing some quick research, the internet says that the 'Longarm' series didn't start until 1978. What would I have been reading in 1974 that wasn't a Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey that would have been about as trashy as the Longarm books? I distinctly remember riding my junior high bus reading a western series with rather explicit sex scenes in it (which, of course, my parents didn't know).

Don't forget, several second-rate publishers from that period have since folded, taking many of their works with them. If you ever recalled the title, you could probably track them down via a library exchange program, but otherwise, you're likely to have trouble finding the stories officially listed anywhere (other than an ISBN category search like the types that libraries and bookstores use).

Replies:   PotomacBob
Vlad_Inhaler

@awnlee jawking

The correctness-obsessed BBC regards diversity as more important than merit :(

You are looking back - through rose-tinted spectacles - to a time when men were men and sheep were nervous.
The BBC were good on diversity back then, they ran Alf Garnett and Marty Feldman. I just wonder what failed to make their cut.
Don't forget that ITV were also floating around hoovering up talent, although I can't remember much of what they considered comedy.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
oyster50

@StarFleet Carl

Mack Bolan?!? Those things were all the rage when I was in the army back in the mid-70's. I'd forgotten and was probably better for it. I was always amused by the writer's generation of names for his mafioso villains. It was like reading the menu at an Italian restaurant.

I used to, and still do, read anything I could get my hands on, but in junior high and high school I was NOT reading 'juvenile' stories.

awnlee jawking

@Vlad_Inhaler

The BBC were good on diversity back then, they ran Alf Garnett and Marty Feldman.


I don't understand that comment. Wouldn't Alf Garnett and Marty Feldman nowadays be perceived as offensive to minorities? That doesn't strike me as being good on diversity.

'Till Death Us Do Part' is another series that couldn't be made today. That's ironic because its message is clearly anti-racism.

AJ

PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

several second-rate publishers from that period have since folded


What makes a publisher second-rate?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@PotomacBob

What makes a publisher second-rate?

They didn't have the wherewithal to last long? But specifically, I was recalling the many 'cheap novels' which after a few years would fall apart in your hands, the pages yellowed and curling, that you often found with sexy crime stories and such. They tended to publish the more salacious material, but were more into publishing on the cheap, rather than pushing quality. Or at least that's what I remember of them.

tiggerider06

Of course they are cleaned up, dumbed down books. Schools now teach to the lowest standard so every kid can get a good grade. Look at how many classics the PC set has gotten banned. No more Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn. Look at all the old cartoons with beautiful art work that have been banned like Disney's Song of the South or Bugs Bunny Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt. We put together a book of postcards my mother sent home during WW2. She was a WASP ferry pilot. The lawyers at The Museum of Flight shot it down because of several of the cards. They were afraid of being sued for not being PC.

Rant Over

Replies:   sunkuwan
tiggerider06

@StarFleet Carl

http://www.luminist.org/archives/periodicals_index.htm

All the old classic pulps. They have a bunch of the monthly western books from various publishers as well as a lifetimes worth of old science fiction. Even a few Racey 1920s magazines. Enjoy. Oly

sunkuwan

@tiggerider06

Song of the South


This is some revisionist history right there. Song of the south was banned by DISNEY right after release because it was so racist. It never saw a home video release in the US.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sunkuwan

This is some revisionist history right there. Song of the south was banned by DISNEY right after release because it was so racist. It never saw a home video release in the US.

Well, not quite right after. It was VERY popular in the deep south. It was, I believe, after Disney died and his kids took it over that they officially 'retired' the movie.

Replies:   PotomacBob
PotomacBob

@Crumbly Writer

"Song of the South," based on the Uncle Remus stories, was produced by Disney in 1946, and released by RKO Pictures. After that, the film was re-released to theaters about every eight years. I took my kids to see it in the mid 1980s in a theater. The film was mostly live action with several cartoon section - and believe, but am not sure, it was the first film to mix live action with cartoons in the same film. It is set in the Reconstruction era after the civil war. I have a copy of the film on Laser Disc; I think I may have been one of only 25 people in the world who used and collected laser disc films. All of them were released without copy protection since there were so few people using the technology that the film companies didn't bother.

Bondi Beach
Updated:

@StarFleet Carl


somehow I ended up with the Mack Bolan 'Executioner' books, too,


Isn't that the series where the first book opens with a Pakistan-India nuclear conflict (which somehow doesn't destroy the world) and young Mack lands the airliner after the pilots are blinded by the nuclear blasts?

I think I quit after reading in a subsequent book that he wiped out a whole bunch of bad guys by circling them on his motorcyle with an automatic weapon (clearly and authoritatively identified by make and model) *in each hand*, or perhaps I'm remembering wong.

bb

Replies:   oyster50
Rambulator

No, it was Jerry Ahern's The Survivalist series that started that way.

oyster50

@Bondi Beach

No... the details have receded into the mists of time, but Mr. Bolan had a vendetta against the Mafia that went one and on and on...

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@oyster50

Mr. Bolan had a vendetta against the Mafia that went one and on and on...


that's because they caused the death of his parents and his sister, only his younger brother survived. Mack went on to take on the terrorists after crippling the mafia.

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