Tuesday, February 15, 2011

To Share or Not to Share; How does one Decide what Books to Recommend to Youth?

The Birth of Human Intelligence, an image by ©AlienCat - Fotolia.com.

This image may only be used with permission of Fotolia.com. It is used here by Valerie Coskrey, who purchased a license for its use.

About the series "To Share or not to Share"

I asked this question of the rff Yahoo! Group and got a dialog that is currently 60 messages long and still growing. To share the insights of these science fiction fans will take several blog posts. Look for the To Share or not to Share series.

You can read the original messages in the topic thread "Why would you not share a book with a kid?" In the blog series some messages will be skipped, summarized or quoted in full or quoted in part; i.e., edited, you know.

Skins and other Shows:
The eMail that Started the Dialog

My local paper had this heading by Frazier Moore, AP Television Writer:

"'Skins' viewership plunges for its second airing."

"Skins" was criticized as too sexual, even practically pornographic, by folks on MSNBC, FSTV and even CNN when it first came out.

There is much criticism of TV shows for violence. And goodness knows the dramas like the soaps, 90210, and dozens more deal with all kinds of sexuality. Cable movie channels and The Comedy Channel makes no bones about profane language.
My favorite shows Highlander, Burn Notice and even the movies Terminator, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Bladerunner and hundreds more have heroes who break laws, kill, destroy property and all in the guise of helping others. Heck, we are at war. I consider these examples of situational ethics. What values are being taught here?

Got a question or two:
  • What makes an adult book of speculative fiction unsuitable/suitable for youth (YA)?
  • What adult sci fi books do you recommend for youth? Which ones would youabsolutely NOT give to a teen under 18?

This email above was from Valerie Coskrey of Valerie Coskrey's Classroom Tools and Ideas

First Response

"The Puritans ride forth to defend the country from thinking," said one RFFer.

Others were equally concerned about censorship, to which Valerie responded:

"... I do not want censorship, but guidance might help. As a teacher in high school, what limits should I
put on my recommendations to my students? (I am not teaching this year, but have years of experience in the science classroom.)

"I have recommended Brightness Reef. Another of Brin's is The Practice Effect. I am wondering about Moon's Vatta's War series and Esmay Suiza series. Then there is Weber's On Basilisk Station and the Prince Roger series. His Dalak series I would recommend, but there is lots of violence in the Prince Roger series. The Weber's Honor Universe books about other characters seem to be suitable to me. But why? or why not?"

Rule of Thumb from a Teacher

One high school teacher, Mary, claiming that she is "not talking censorship," but in recognition of and respect for the opinions of parents, offered a personal guideline.

"I find that if I would be hesitant or embarrassed to speak with my grandmother (may she rest in peace) about the book and its contents, I would not recommend it to a student...I have suggested Vonnegut, Heinlein (yes, even some "adult" titles to carefully screened students--and sometimes I've talked with parents), Gibson, Butler, and others. But I generally stick with the "old school" authors and titles unless I have really found the kid has special interest. (I gave a Senior who is a (mostly) devout Catholic Stranger in a Strange Land; he was really intrigued and enjoyed it.)

"I found that as a kid -- 4th grade and up -- I was generally drawn to 'classic' authors with minimal gore and/or sexual content. I tend to recommend books like that to kids as well."

On Parental Resistance and Personal Opinions

Valerie responded.

"...I had resistance from parents, too, when I had books in the classroom and let the kids borrow them. One parent even threw away one of my favorite paperbacks. I do not think she believed that I had lent it to the student. It was The Prince of Mercenaries so maybe I should have known better.

"I would have loved to use Vonnegut's Galapagos in biology, but never dared to because of the in-vitro-type of impregnation that allowed the species to continue. Was I too cautious?

"I found H. Beam Piper and Asimov safe to use. Fuzzy Sapiens and a few others are similar to Heinlein's juveniles, which I shared with students. I would not use the Methuselah's Children or Cat who Walks through Walls because of the incest."

A Librarian Weighs in

Librarian Sandy Moltz had this to say.

"My biggest concern--and why I mentioned Cryptonomicon--is turning off a kid. I don't want to give them a book that is not just a stretch, but too difficult for them, either the vocabulary or the plot. I don't mind if they don't like a book I recommend - that makes for an interesting discussion - but I want them to have felt up to the task of reading the book. My goals include confidence building and encouraging creativity of the teens.

"I also tell them about books I am reading, even if the book is not something they are ready to read. For example, the teens loved hearing about the crazy off-the-wall description I gave them of Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. Heavy sexual content so I would not give it to a middle school student. But maybe they'll remember it and read it on their own some day.

"Besides the authors I've mentioned in this and the previous e-mail, the other adult authors I give the kids include Bradbury, Douglas Adams, and Bradbury."

The Dialog Continues

From here the direction of the conversation shifted a bit to talking about the value of science fiction. Look for that part of the conversation in the next post in this series "To Share or Not to Share."


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