Friday, July 25, 2008

Axe Murderers at the Library

This morning, I read a very polite letter written by a librarian to a patron who had complained about the children's book, Uncle Bobby's Wedding.

One commenter, Lou Franklin, was pretty upset that anyone would defend this book, which is about a young guinea pig who worries that her relationship with her favorite uncle will change after he marries another (male) guinea pig. Franklin wrote an unhinged response in which he declared that the book is "homosexual propaganda" and is thus wrong, wrong, wrong.

All that was pretty entertaining, but I was more interested in Franklin's assertion that public libraries do not serve the needs of all members of the community. Jamie, the librarian, pointed out that, "A public library provides material of interest for the entire community - not just those who support your own views and opinions." Franklin fired back hysterically:
The entire community? How about Klansmen? Got any children's books for them? How about neo-Nazis. No? What about pedophiles? Heroin addicts? Axe murderers? Excuse me, can you direct me to some children's books about the joys of Devil Worship? What? You don't have any?!? No, a public library does not provide material of interest for the entire community. Nor should they.
And that got me thinking — does the public library have books that could serve the needs of the groups listed here? It has been my experience that you can find a children's book on pretty much anything, so now I'm intrigued: is Franklin's over-the-top rhetoric (which resembles nothing so much as a toddler balling up his fists and shrieking, "NO, NO, NO!") accurate? Dismissing for now the bogus analogy that equates gay families with the vibrant axe murderer community, is it true that the public library does not contain books on these topics?

It is certainly true that public libraries generally contain books that could cater to adults on Franklin's list. I'm not saying that anyone who reads these books belongs to these groups, just that members of the listed groups might enjoy these books:

Klansmen: The Turner Diaries, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, American Negro Slavery
Neo-nazis: Mein Kampf, Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion
Pedophiles: the psychology section, Conversations with a Pedophile
Heroin Addicts: How to Stop Time, Methadone Treatment Manual
Axe Murderers: biographies of Lizzie Borden, Opportunities in Forestry Careers
Devil Worshippers: Satan Wants You, Raising Hell

But can we find books that might be helpful for children who may be dealing with these issues? The books Franklin objects to are books that can help children understand and cope with things that are happening in their lives. Although Franklin seems to think that public libraries should remove anything that references a subject that is objectionable to him, the truth is that kids deal with all of the issues he listed and books can help them sort out a confusing world.

Klansmen (I'm not sure here if Franklin means books that help kids deal with hate crimes or books that deliver the Klan's message. I'll include both.):
Anti-hate crime: Getting Away With Murder, Mim and the Klan, many books on slavery and civil rights
Klan-compatible: The Littlest Rebel (book and movie), The Favorite Uncle Remus, Tintin in the Congo,

Neo-nazis: same problem as before, could probably use some of those same books

Pedophilia/Abuse: My Imaginary Friend, The Right Touch, My Body is Private, The Trouble With Secrets, A Terrible Thing Happened, Maybe Days, Zachary's New Home

Heroin Addicts: Methadone, My Dad Has a Disease, An Elephant in the Living Room, some of the same books as above

Axe Murderers: more Lizzie Borden, Rotten Rulers, Cruel Crime and Painful Punishment,
My Daddy is in Jail, When Dad Killed Mom, Willie's Dad

Devil Worshippers (I know that atheists and people who practice Wicca do not consider themselves Devil Worshippers, but I'm willing to bet that Franklin does.): Aidan's First Full Moon Circle, An Ordinary Girl — A Magical Child, The Winter Solstice, A Solstice Tree for Jenny, What About Gods?, Humanism — What's That?

So it seems that there are children's books on many of those subjects. You may have to search through some antiques to cover the pro-Klan and pro-Nazi angles, but you could do it. As for the other categories, it's not even a challenge to come up with books that can help children feel safe and loved even when they are dealing with potentially confusing or scary issues.

As for whether any of these categories are at all analogous to Uncle Bobby's Wedding, I don't know. The Wiccan books are probably closest since, like with gay marriage, there's really nothing to worry about. The others all deal with real problems (hate, crime, addiction) but offer kids a chance to identify with characters or learn more about complex issues. I concede that there are few modern children's books that portray the Klan, Nazis, and pedophiles in a positive, normalizing light (though you can still find plenty of racist and fascist themes in picture books). But there seems to be a good selection for reassuring kids that even if a parent/aunt/uncle/friend is a drug addict, an axe murderer, or a heathen, everything's going to be ok.

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