Warning over 'inappropriate' children's books

22nd February 2013 at 00:00
The language used and subjects covered by some authors are said to be unsuitable for upper primary

The team running one of Scotland's most successful literacy programmes has criticised some children's writers for including inappropriate language and content in books aimed at upper primary pupils.

Angela Glover, literacy development officer at North Lanarkshire Council, told a national literacy conference last month that even some books by former children's laureate Michael Morpurgo had been considered unsuitable for inclusion in her authority's reading list.

She picked out one of his books in particular, An Elephant in the Garden, for criticism, as towards the end of the story set during the Second World War, a German soldier is quoted as saying: "Bastard, bastard." But other authors were also guilty of including inappropriate themes and language, she said.

"I was not happy about putting this out to schools," she told a workshop at the conference, Turning the Page: Improving literacy for all, in Clydebank, run by Children in Scotland and West Dunbartonshire Council.

North Lanarkshire's active literacy programme, now in its eighth year and being extended from primary into early years and secondary, is relatively prescriptive.

One of its key principles has been the replacement of traditional reading schemes with "real" children's books, which members of the authority's literacy base grade to match to children's reading ability.

Mrs Glover said they had a particular problem finding books for upper primary that were suitably challenging but still appropriate for this age group.

"Children do have a say in some of the books we have on that list, but we have read them all for appropriateness and not all books publicised as age-appropriate are actually appropriate," she told TESS.

It was up to parents to decide what they allowed their children to read in the home, but where schools were working with children's novels and sending them home in schoolbags, teachers had to feel comfortable about content and language.

One of the books currently on the P67 list of approved texts, Theresa Breslin's Saskia's Journey, is being withdrawn by the literacy base because it contains an inference that the grandfather has sexually abused a child. One of the programme's comprehension strategies is inferential reading, so Mrs Glover and her colleagues felt they could not skirt over such an issue. And while some schools have gone ahead and used Morpurgo's An Elephant in the Garden, they have blacked out the offending words - a strategy that the literacy base feels is less than ideal.

Morpurgo's publicist was unavailable for comment.

Catherine Owens, chair of School Libraries Group Scotland, said that for most school librarians, appropriateness was not an issue, as nearly all worked in secondary schools. She works in the High School of Dundee, for pupils aged 5 to 18, and agreed there was a particular problem in finding books suitable for upper primary pupils who were good readers.

"They want to read more challenging books and it is very difficult to find books that are still challenging reads but not either on a teenage theme or containing bad language," she said.

She had refused to allow P6 children to borrow Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series because she felt the theme was not appropriate for that age.

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk.

Photo credit: Getty

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