Last week a library in Hertfordshire, England, put new restrictions on who could check out certain materials. Children under 16 can no longer check out graphic novels shelved in the adult section. A parent complained after she was able to check out graphic novels such as Fatale with her ten year old’s library card. She bemoaned the fact that this made her feel that she “cannot let my children go anywhere without supervision.” The parent is part of a campaign called Child’s Eyes that works to keep adult content away from children. Pictured in the article is the adult graphic novel section, and includes the following: The Unwritten, Green Arrow, Spider-Man, Punisher, the Dark Tower series, The Walking Dead, and others.
All of which should be available to anyone to check out.
My mother had a rule – if I wanted to read something, I could. She screened movies and TV shows to a point, but she trusted me to self-police my books and comics. I remember picking up Stephen King’s Misery. My mom raised an eyebrow but didn’t say a word. When I brought the book back about an hour later, she asked me what I thought, and I told her I didn’t want to read any more of it. The violence and explicit language was a little too much for me at that age. I think I grabbed one of my grandfather’s Xanth books instead. While some may question the wisdom of letting a middle-schooler read Stephen King, it was my mother’s responsibility to talk to me and make sure I had context for it, not the library’s duty to police what I was reading.
This freedom to try challenging books fed into a lifelong reading habit for me. Books weren’t just something assigned for school, but something I read for enjoyment and to broaden my understanding of the world. Some of the content in graphic novels and books can be difficult, but so are kid’s lives. When social issues such as sexual violence, LGBTQA content, and other challenging subject matter is removed from reach, that’s one more avenue closed for people who may need to know they’re not alone. Sometimes kids need to read about things their parents may not approve of.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale taught me about horror, both political and personal, in a visceral way that I wasn’t prepared for, but I grew into that knowledge. My experiences gave that book depth, made it a touchstone that moved parallel to me, instead of a later discovery. Charles de Lint’s books showed me that fairy tale heroines can be scarred, and not just untouched pretty girls that sit out of reach of life’s ugly parts, which was something I really needed to hear. Going back to Stephen King – he taught me that sometimes monsters wear a human face, and sometimes they can be defeated. These were lessons that were hard for a younger me to learn, but the adult I’ve become is based on that.
Right now Gail Simone is posting about reading programs on Twitter, and people are sharing their stories of how school either severely hampered or encouraged their reading habits. Reading Rainbow, an amazing program aimed at encouraging children to read, just hit over its goal of a million dollars to bring its content to schools everywhere. With our current illiteracy rates, kids should be encouraged to read, not reined in by parents who want to restrict what other people do.