Monday, July 13, 2009


The word "slut" appears in the first line of Margo Lanagan's book, Tender Morsels. The next few paragraphs describe an unsettling sex scene between a witch and a dwarf. For some parents and/or teachers this will simply be an upfront way of indicating the challenging content of an interesting novel for young people, for others it will signal the end of children's literature.

The novel is a reworking of Grimm's Snow White and Rose Red fairytale and also contains a gang rape and a frank description of a miscarriage - so yes, it's described as uncompromising and controversial.

Publication of Tender Morsels in the UK is leading to renewed calls for a clearer system to let parents know about the nature of the books that their children/teens are reading.

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, believes the front of a book should offer a good clue to the buyer. "Book covers can tell you a lot," he said. "A book with a cover illustration by Nick Sharratt, who does many of Jacqueline Wilson's covers, tells you a lot about what is inside, while a book cover by Ian Beck, one of my favourites, tells you this is a different kind of book."

He also said, "I don't think there should be areas that children's books can't deal with. Why should there be, given that children are likely to encounter much stronger subjects in real life, ranging from divorce - which once used to be something terrible and awful that you must not talk about - to drug trafficking and sex?"

For Pullman, calls for censorship or for an age-related classification system are not the answer. "This idea comes from a misguided fear and a murky sense of nostalgia about the way books used to be."

So, apparently, there is a warning on the inside of the book jacket. Michael Rosen, a former UK children's laureate, suspects that age guidelines would be pointless. "If you have a book in a house that says it is for a nine-year-old, is that going to stop an eight-year-old picking it up?" he asked. "A book is a public place and you can't control it. That is why we call it the republic of letters. It was the Puritans who were worried about people's private desires. Attempts to control reading are the last tendrils of puritanism."

You can read more about it in The Guardian here.

So - have you read the book? And if so, did you think it was too strong for teens? Would you have changed it? Should it be an adult title? And do you believe in labelling books? Let me know.


Kristen said...

I read a bit of it, but it was a bit too much and it did seem to come out of nowhere. I talked to my old Children's Lit teacher who read it through and she said that it was chock full of gang rape scenes and all sorts of other stuff. I guess, it was more unexpected than anything and I can see some poor 12 year old picking this up and some mother calling the public, school, etc library complaining. So, for that reason, I'd say label it adult. If it's elicit and easy to figure out that there's that much sex going on - and rape.. well, I think that's too much to call it YA.

prophecygirl said...

I don't agree with book censorship at all. I don't think you can put an age on it.

I'm reading Tender Mprsels next, and I'm interested to see if it's as bad as the papers make out.

Lenore said...

I haven't read it yet, but I do have it on my shelf. I've heard a lot of people say that this doesn't feel like YA for other reasons than the sexual content.

Bookgeek said...

I've heard mixed reviews too. But I'd like to read it myself before judging. I'm wondering how many have. I don't like censorship - once it is in a teen section I think you are saying it is mature in content.

Anonymous said...

Censorship makes me want to read the book more. You can tell from a cover usually - Pullman is right