Collected Wisps of Thought











{August 16, 2007}   Another Book Challenge
Another book challenge
The Daily Southtown, a division of the Chicago Sun Times, wrote an article
(http://www.starnewspapers.com/oaklawn/news/497331,051pw1.article) recently about my first book Fat Kid Rules the World after a parent in that school district complained about the profanity present in the book. The article gained attention on the CNN.com website as well and the gentleman who e-mailed me this link expected there to be more coverage after a local board meeting where they would discuss whether to pull the book from their shelves.

Obviously, I am against book banning. In my opinion, profanity is something kids are exposed to already and I don’t believe it is used gratuitously in my books, but rather it’s there to paint a realistic portrait of the life of a teen who lives in a particular subculture where profanity is present. If I was writing about a religious community or the world of a very sheltered teen I wouldn’t use it. I believe that the ability to accept cultures different from our own, even when there is a part of them that we might find offensive is an important step towards developing empathy and finding alternatives to violence as a means to squelching view points we disagree with. Fat Kid Rules the World is a book with so many positive messages, about self acceptance, accepting the hard parts of reality, and learning to love ourselves and others despite our grimy, less than perfect selves. It’s about seeing through the facades of perfection and being okay with the reality underneath.

Isn’t the attempt to ban a book with these messages simply an attempt to deny such imperfections exist in the world? To me, it’s the equivalent of saying, “I can not learn to love people who use bad language or have sexual thoughts, therefore I will try to pretend they do not exist.” Is this what we want to teach our children? Or instead might we use this book in the way it’s intended, as a window into another life that, whether alike or different, is just as faulty, beautiful and fragile as our own?

What do YOU think?

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Your book is not the issue. The “attempt to ban a book” is not only not the issue, it is factually false.

Basically the school advised the parents that they worked hard to select the very best books for the children. Then when the parent took this advice, then complained, she was told she should have read it first. So first she is told it one of the best books and on this she justifiably relied, then she is told she should have read it first. Do you not see this as a problem, a contradiction, a double standard? Other schools recommend the book too, but some provide accurate information for parents to make informed decisions.

The problem here is not the parent’s complaint, rather it is that she was misled in the first place when truth could have avoided this entire matter before it even arose.

Now at that meeting the school admitted the flub and promised to provide better notice next time. That’s the issue — not book banning — and Karen Lukes was right to speak up in this situation. All the media and all the blogs are all talking about book banning. That is a total diversion from the reality of the educational system’s failure to act as expected by the community.

As an author, you write whatever you like. As a school, you have to advise parents accurately if you are going to foist on them the responsibility for choosing suitable educational materials, something parents thought the schools were doing.



klgoing says:

I suppose the real issue would be, did she ask that the book be kept on the list, but that the list be annotated to note when profanity might be present, or did she ask that the book be removed from the list or the school book shelves?

That to me is the fine line between book banning verses parents wanting to make informed choices, or be aware of when they might want to read a book and discuss it with their kids. If it’s the latter, I have no problem with that. If it’s the former, then I believe we have no right to limit ALL access to a book based on our own perceptions.



klgoing, it has been a pleasure speaking with you in this fashion.

Ah. I see you are already a member of the As If! Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom group. I was going to recommend it to you. Why not bring this matter to AsIf!’s attention. I participate there from time to time, and if you write there on this issue, I may participate again.

As to what she specifically asked for at the meeting, I was not there, but I look forward to a transcript or something like that.

Thanks.



Seems to us you have forgotten how society treats children. Our nation has put into law and regulation special protections so children can grow up in a safe and sane environment.

The words in your book are forbidden on radio and TV and the FCC would slap a huge fine on those who rattled off such profanity at any time and most especially in prime time with children listening and viewing. Did you forget Congress recently raised fines to $350,000 per incident on TV/radio for such language and explicitness?

Did you forget the outcry with commericals during major sports events? And what about the Imus debacle?

Minor children do not have the capacity to reflect and analyze as 18-21-25-30 year olds, etc. To impose your low standard of literature on these young students is helping to produce the opposite of what you intend.

The end never justifies the means and you are not justified in using extreme profanity and sexual explicitness with children to prove a point of a lone kid who happens to come through tough times.

We have too many cases in our schools today that prove the opposite outcome — with dead end results. Check your daily newspaper and see how children are now killing children — teens are killing teens and young adults are killing young adults. Not to mention the raping of many before being killed. Look at the Virginia Tech massacre & the Columbine tragedies.

Seems to us your fixation on gutter language and sexual inuendos in this book shows how desensitized you yourself have become.

We saw parents in tears because their children’s innocence and decency were violated with your end justifies the means book theory.

What a sad commentary on the state of affairs in literature in this enlightened age as well as in school and public libraries.



“To impose your low standard of literature on these young students is helping to produce the opposite of what you intend.” Great statement, wrong target. I say the writers can write whatever they like. The problem is educators providing inappropriate material for students to students, and doing so against the wishes of the community.

Writers are not the problem. On the other hand, I have noticed they have their heads screwed on straight, like with John Green and “Looking For Alaska” and what he said about not giving his own ALA-awarded for 12 year olds book to his own 12 year old if he had one.

So KL Going is going fine, in my opinion. Look, the school admitted its mistake and promised to better inform parents in the future. The mistake is with the educational system, not the writers. The problem is with the ALA awarding such books as perfect books for children, not the writers.

Writers, keep Going!



FREEDOM says:

Illinois Family Institute is a religious organization! Stay out of public schools.

It is amazing that you bring up the Virginia Tech massacre. You should have brought up Columbine also. It is amazing that you try to associate such violence with the work of KL Going.

Do you realize, or can you realize, probably not because you are so quick to judge (sounds familiar…isn’t it the same argument that Christians had with the Sanheddrin, i.e. condemning Jesus without understanding him or should I say judging a book by it’s cover), that the story in FAT KID RULES THE WORLD was the same story of the VA Tech and Columbine assasins: KIDS THAT WERE PICKED ON THAT FELT THEY HAD NO PLACE IN LIFE! Except in KL Goings masterpiece, she offers these children hope!



Jill says:

This is 2007, and we are still trying to banned books? You are right about the fact the children hear “bad words” every day, and if you think that is not true – – you are wrong. They even pick it up from children that they go to school with.

There is no way that you are at fault about V Teach etc. It was his choice.

Many people bring this up, but there is suppose to be something called. Now what is it? Oh yeah. Freedom of Speach. There are worse books out there are you going to band them all.

KL… Keep doing what you are doing/



A banning! How wonderful, KL! Banned books always sell more copies. Congratulations — you join the ranks of C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Lowry, J.K. Rowling and the most recent Newbery Award winner for The Higher Power of Lucky. I’m so jealous! My favorite Library Lady tells me that the most sought after books at the Public Library are the ones that are banned in schools. She has trouble keeping that shelf filled.



b g says:

My students adore this book. Isn’t it great to see a kid who has never responded to literature, or in their own words, never read a book, walking around holding a book, talking about it, reccomending it to friends?



Heather says:

I am appalled that anyone would attempt to ban your book, or any other piece of literature. I myself am 17 and I know that by the time you reach high school, you’ve heard every “bad word” there is, you’ve been exposed to sexual content and drug use and violence on TV and in movies and most certainly in real life. Teenagers these days are surrounded by this kind of stuff, and we’re pretty desensitized to it by now. If this mother didn’t want her child exposed to any of that she would have to keep him tied up in the basement watching the Disney channel 24/7! If she is so concerned about what he is being exposed to, then why is he even in public school?
Banning books is a serious violation on our rights as Americans. At this point we are one step away from a Ray Bradbury story.
I read (and very much enjoyed) Fat Kid Rules The World and it did not strike me as “inappropriate” in any way. It was realistic. I think some people are just too sensitive about certain things but they need to keep their mouths shut and not ruin it for everyone else.
I love your books and I fully support what you do, don’t let censorship prevail!



b g says:

I’ll expand on my above comment by saying that the reason I would give such vile (insert sarcasm) books to my students, even reccomend such a book, is that it is my hard strongly held belief that reading makes individuals better people. Reading helps individuals to learn empathy, and those who can empathize are less likely to do all sorts of horrible things to their fellow man. Last time I checked, profanity didn’t hurt anyone.



What do I think? KL, you are right on.

It seems that we are in the midst of some sort of culture war here, and I am twice named an enemy combatant: an educator and a writer!

Illinois Family Institute’s vicious & hideous response so nauseates me that it’s difficult to formulate a response. But I will say that a “family” institute shouldn’t rely on schools or “law and regulation special protections so children can grow up in a safe and sane environment.” (sic) Monitoring kids’ reading is a PARENT’s responsibility.

Safe Libraries’ writer paints him or herself as a reasonable person in the middle, but the ploy for ingratiation with the writer by vilifying the educator wouldn’t work on me even if I weren’t a teacher. It seems reasonable to guide parents as to content of books, but with thousands of titles and hundreds of potentially objectionable issues, maybe it isn’t.

My belief is that literature can and sometimes should be subversive and–as I have written in my own blog before–I think that libraries should err on the side of being too dangerous rather than too safe. If you want your kids to be safe from dangerous reading material, then pay attention to what they are reading. I do this with my kids.

In the YA and teen years, there’s a wide range of maturity. And in the culturally diverse (or fragmented) America of today, there’s a wide range of opinions about what is appropriate for which age. As kids grow older, they increasingly make the choice about what is appropriate for themselves. Parents are in control as long as they want to be and can be. Writers write what they want to, what they must, what they believe they should.

Libraries and schools balance the interests of MANY readers, students, and parents–and, it seems to me, the best way to do that is to apply a reasonably liberal selection process, to provide as much information as is feasible, and to let teens loose in the stacks with as much guidance or restriction as their parents deem appropriate.



As a writer/teacher, I’m doubly irritated that this mother called the book “required reading” when her son CHOSE it from a list of titles. There are choices on these lists for a reason — so all kids will be able to find a book that’s right for them. If Mom doesn’t like FAT KID, her response should have been to have her son pick another book. End of issue.

When I meet with parents of my 7th graders in September, I always talk about my classroom library and explain that I keep a wide variety of books because I have a wide variety of students. If a student brings home a book that a parent doesn’t like for whatever reason, I ask that parent to send the book back to school with a note, and I’ll help the student choose something else. Most parents are terrific about this and understand that they have a right to choose books for their children — not for everyone else’s. I hope the Oak Lawn School Board comes to the same conclusion.



While the school should have metioned, as most do, that the books on the list varied in maturity level, I think any parent who spent 60 seconds reading the back cover would have been able to figure out, between the description of the characters and the blurb about “candid voice,” that the content might include material she wouldn’t approve of. It is a parent’s right to protect her child from words, ideas, allergens, demons, or anything else she fears. But it is not her right to make that decision for someone else’s child. This is an excellent book about rising above tough situations, and finding the strength to function in a world that is far too often hostile. It belongs in the library.



Saleena Davidson says:

I think it’s sad anytime anyone decides to “save” everyone from seeing/hearing/feeling something they’re not comfortable with. If you don’t like it, don’t do it; but please don’t deny me or anyone else the right to like stuff that you don’t. I think, honestly that it’s their fear that causes their actions and in their fear they try to take power away from that which they fear. Unfortunately the easiest targets to take things away from are the powerless……our children.
I also echo your previous blog that perhaps too many adults conveniently forget how awful your teen years can be. I think it helps teens to read about teens dealing with issues similar to their own. It makes them feel like they aren’t alone, that maybe, just maybe, they can make it through to the other side. Obviously many of your detractors don’t (or don’t want to)understand that. Free speech and a valid representation of all kinds of people and all kinds of beliefs are essential tools for all of us to understand each other. Those are the ideals on which this country was founded, yet is free speech really free if anyone who says something not deemed acceptable by the religious right is vilified and their works are banned “for the safety of our children”?
It is depressing that our American identity is so polarized; we glamorize sex and drugs through our magazines and media yet remain true to our Puritan roots by demanding that our children somehow be insulated from it. In a country that proclaims to be a haven for all, only the cookie cutters are acceptable (follow the herd, smile, and for god’s sake don’t be different) while the outsiders are vilified. That villification is why tragedies like Columbine happen….not because of what they read or listened to on the radio but because they felt unheard, misunderstood and alone.
Thank you for providing books that echo what real teens go through and the reality that some live with. Thank you for providing hope to those who don’t fit the mold society would like them to. Thank you for thoughtful books that don’t preach, but just are…..wonderful.

Saleena Davidson
YA Librarian
South Brunswick Public Library
Monmouth Junction, NJ



Jammie says:

Your book just says what teenagers are already thinking–especially those who don’t fit in. Books like Fat Kid don’t put these thoughts into kids’ heads, but they do let kids know that they’re not the only ones. They’re not alone.

Fat Kid didn’t come out until I was in my twenties and had muddled my way towards sort of liking myself, but I wish it had been out when I was in high school. I read it because of the title, and fell in love with it because of Troy, who could have been a male version of me at seventeen. While reading the book I remember thinking a thousand times, ‘This could be me. I felt these same things.’

Thank you for your book. I guarantee it’ll save some poor desperate fat kid’s life some day. Thank you.



Laura says:

I just picked up my own copy of the book. I’ve already read a good portion and can’t wait to finish it. I am a mother, a former high school teacher, and a former library tech. By the time my child was 16, she had learned more about sex and profanity from her friends, tv, and movies than I knew.

I think if this book had been available to her when she was going through those difficult high school years, it might have made things easier for her.

It’s not the school’s job to parent the child. It’s the parent’s job. Trust me though, there are many parents who try and make it the school’s responsibility instead.

Kudos to those of you who have expressed yourselves so well in support of “Fat Kid Rules the World” and parental involvement in reading choices.



I wish SafeLibraries would stop taking something I said in passing out of context and quoting it all over the Internets. And anyway, my personal opinion about how I would raise my hypothetical children has absolutely nothing to do with the idea of book-banning. (Also no one gave “Looking for Alaska” or “Fat Kid” an award for 12-year-olds; that’s just factually inaccurate, as I have pointed out to him/her on several occasions in the past.)

I am strongly opposed to the removal of “Fat Kid” or any of K.L. Going’s books from any library anywhere. Her books are among the very finest published for teenagers today; they are of the absolute highest quality and they deserve to be read by teenagers and adults everywhere, and to remove them from libraries in order to make libraries “safe” is ridiculous. Books like “Fat Kid” don’t make teenagers less safe. They make them more safe.

-John Green



Talissa Ford says:

Jammie’s right, _Fat Kid_ has probably *already* saved some poor desperate fat kid’s life. Has probably saved the lives of several poor desperate fat kids, in fact, and metaphorically saved the lives of many more poor desperate possibly-only-metaphorically fat kids. That world you say you want to look into– “faulty, beautiful and fragile as our own,” the kind of world a fat kid needs to rule– is the world so many of us (kids and not) live in. That you’re trying to actually *see* those readers, taking them where and as they are, will not be lost on them– and that truly is the kind of generosity that saves lives. So please believe: we all need you.



Jesse says:

To sum it up:

You rock.

I think what you think.

Keep thinking.

“Minor children do not have the capacity to reflect and analyze as 18-21-25-30 year olds, etc. To impose your low standard of literature on these young students is helping to produce the opposite of what you intend.”

*ahem* I am now 16 years of age. When I first read Fat Kid Rules The World, I was 15. I find your remark extremely offensive, biased, and baseless. If you made that remark based on your own children, that is merely a reflection of yourself.

Based on my own personal experience, teenagers are far more than capable of analysis and thought. If we were not, no one would ever graduate high school. I don’t know how schools are out in Illinois, but I do know that my school has high standards and that the students meet those standards.

Additionally, saying that “the end never justifies the means” is a bad move on your part. If the end NEVER justifies the means, then every end reached is reached wrongly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to leave the library, go home, and teach myself German with my startlingly stupid brain.

To K.L.: I wish David Lubar commented on my blog. Lucky you.



Jodi Turchin says:

As a teacher/writer myself, I think that parents should learn how to really look at their kids and the society in which they live. I spent the last three years teaching 8th graders. I had a copy of “Fat Kid” in my classroom library because the title caught my eye – I was a former fat kid myself – and I LOVED LOVED LOVED the book when I read it. I pre-screen every book on my classroom shelf.

People who think kids shouldn’t be exposed to the “extreme vulgarity, gutter language, sexual thoughts” etc. should actually LOOK at what goes on in schools today. The F–K word is commonplace. My kids used more cuss words in the halls than drunken sailors on shore leave. I had several students who were not only sexually active, a couple of the girls ended up pregnant, and another carried condoms in her purse. Today’s children can see near-naked women and dry-humping on MTV on a daily basis. Books like “Fat Kid” merely reflect the reality in which they are written. KL, I’m sure you didn’t write this book thinking of corrupting today’s kids – but of telling the story that needed to be told.

I am now teaching at a high school and one of our recommended reading list for incoming 9th graders is Alex Flinn’s “Breathing Underwater.” This is a book about a teenage abuser. Will it go out and turn kids into abusers? No, no more than “Fat Kid” will turn kids into the Columbine kids or the poor misguided soul at Virginia Tech. Anyone who says kids are incapable of analytical thought needs to revisit today’s society. A lot of our kids HAVE to grow up too fast. When a 14 year old is responsible for her 9 younger siblings because her mother works all the time and dad’s nowhere to be found, a book like “Fat Kid” can only give her some hope and perhaps an escape for a while from her adult responsibilities.

Okay, off my soapbox. K.L., I support you 110%!



Di says:

K.L., I definitely agree with you on all points.

This mother has obviously not spent much time walking around in the halls of the school or else the school is quite atypical.

Fat Kid Rules the World is a terrific book and what kids learn from it is not profanity but rather acceptance of self and others.

Di



Angie says:

Ah, thankfully John Green has already made clear a point that should be obvious. The award that he won and that Fat Kid was given is the Michael L. Printz Award and it is most certainly not given to “books for 12 year olds.” It is given to outstanding YOUNG ADULTS novels and in the “library world” we recognize that literature written for “young adults” is different than literature written for “children.” The difference is evident in plot, setting, characters, and pacing.

But let’s forget that glaringly obvious point and speak, instead, to this challenge. I guess what always gets me about the people so anxious to get books out of the hands of readers is the ISSUES they choose to focus on. Has Ms. Lukes taken the time to examine Fat Kid for anything other than LANGUAGE? Are “dirty words” a bigger threat to her son than any other issue in the book? What I love so much about FKRTW is, in fact, the issues that it addresses. Life is hard, very hard, for a lot of kids. It’s hard for Troy because the world sees him as disgusting and useless simply because of his appearance and it’s hard for Curt because he’s a kid in a tough situation with seemingly no one to care if he even has food to eat. Does Ms. Lukes not feel that these situations, faced every day by thousands of young adults in this country, pose a greater threat to her son than some “vulgar” language? Does she not think that she could spend less of her time trying to get a book pulled from a list (of many!) and more time teaching her son that, say, discriminating against someone because of their physical appearance is counterproductive? Ah, no! No time to talk about the fact that thousands of teenagers like Curt get “thrown out” every day! We’ve got to get back to clutching our pearls and gasping in shocked horror at … words!

If anything “scares” Ms. Lukes it should be Ms. Going’s talents. In her book, Ms. Going looks at Curt and Troy as human beings, people who have dreams and talents and fears and skills. It’s the way she humanizes these characters (fat kids, homeless kids, troubled kids) and makes them so easy to relate to. Ms. Lukes should be less afraid of language and more afraid that Ms. Going’s book will teach her son empathy and compassion for people different than him. And, heaven forbid, that’s a lesson we need to keep our teenagers away from!!

That’s what Safe Libraries and the Illinois Family Institute are really afraid of, after all, ideas. And progress. And acceptance of people and ideas different than their rigidly constructed dogmatic thinking. They react out of ignorance and fear. But their efforts are always ultimately doomed because, as Tony Kushner once wrote: “The world only spins forward.”

(K.L. I met you at ALA in New Orleans and you were wonderful and fabulous – Fat Kid *is* a contemporary classic of YA Lit, one I am proud to promote in my library and I wish you all the best.)

-A Young Adult Librarian,
New Mexico



Mary W says:

Book-Banning is a complex issue. The book is not the root of the problem, nor is the school district, the writer, or even the parent. What this most often boils down to is fear.
-Many well-intentioned parents desire to shelter their children, protecting them from the harshness of the world for as long as possible.
-When anything goes “wrong” in life, the first response is usually to place blame. It alleviates guilt and provides a target for frustration, anger, pain and confusion.
-Many parents don’t really know what life is like for their own children, let alone others. (or, maybe they’re just more comfortable ignoring, running away from, or hiding from, the horrible lives so many children lead). I teach 4th grade. In the 3 short years I have taught these 9 and 10 year olds I have seen children who:
*Have threatened suicide or threatened to kill others
*Have parents in jail
*Don’t have enough money for a meal
*Live on the street
*Have been abused in foster care
*Have been molested, raped, beaten and neglected by family members
*Were born addicted to drugs
*One was drugged when he was a baby so his parents could both abuse him
*One was sold into prostitution when her mom didn’t have money
*One had a father who knowingly let a child molester live in his house
and stay alone with his daughter every day.

I could go on, but i don’t think i need to. These are just some of the lives my students are living by the time they are 10.
It’s tempting to do, but to ignore how horrible and heart-breaking the world can be just further isolates kids and makes them believe they cannot ask for help, because adults will think they are “bad.” (example: “Mom thinks the swearing in this book is bad. I definitely can’t tell her what happened to me at the party. She’ll lose her mind.”)
Taking books off shelves does not change reality. and the fact is, this harsh reality is one that NEEDS to be reflected in literature for young people. Otherwise they believe that they are alone, and the silence perpetuated by so many of these situations will prevail. And then hopelessness takes root.
If you are a parent and you read (READ, not SCAN) a novel that you feel addresses issues that your child is not developmentally ready for, then by all means, return it and talk about it with your child. (Just make sure you are not acting out of a naive belief that you know everything about your child’s life; Most likely, you don’t) But if you MUST take it away from your child, please do not deny others the opportunity to read a novel that has the potential to heal and to change lives.
If it feels contrived, kids won’t read it. If it feels authentic, it gets through to them. And Kelly’s coming-of-age tale speaks clearly of acceptance, forgiveness, and empathy. These are messages all young people should internalize as they wade through the messy world of adolescence. Thank God for people like Kelly who fearlessly speak truth. After all, truth sets us free. Not hiding.



Jeannine Garsee says:

One parent. All that power. Once again the minority rules.



In my humble opinion, libraries are a place of choice and equality. My hometown library says, “All are welcome”. It’s carved into the 200 year old front door. Therefore, I expect that what exists inside is a variety of material that either offends or pleases readers. It is up to the individual to select media that best suits themselves.

I know I wouldn’t want someone to take that choice away from me.



Test, my last submission did not post.



FREEDOM says:

Here is the text from the follow-up Daily Southtown news article from Friday, August 17:

School board apologizes for book, but won’t withdraw it

August 17, 2007
By David H. Montgomery Staff writer

At a Wednesday night meeting, the District 126 school board apologized for not warning parents about a controversial book on Prairie Junior High School’s eighth-grade summer reading list but refused to remove the book from the list.

The book, “Fat Kid Rules the World” by K.L. Going, has come under attack from parents as inappropriate for eighth-graders because of profanity and mature content.

“The book’s content is inappropriate for young teens beginning to understand bodily changes and sexual powers,” said parent Karen Lukes, of Oak Lawn, at the meeting. Lukes read excerpts of the book to the board, highlighting expletives and descriptions of adolescent sexual desire.

Board president Jerry Mulvihill announced that future summer reading lists would include reviews and other information for parents to help their children choose appropriate books.

A dozen people, including Illinois Family Institute executive director David Smith, criticized the book.

While some speakers wanted the book removed from school libraries, others asked only that it not be included as an option on the mandatory summer reading list.

Students had to choose one of six novels to read over the summer. They must discuss their choice and take a test on it once classes resume.

“Fat Kid” was included as an option along with other books such as Sharon Flake’s “Money Hungry” and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Book ‘has a market’

Language arts teacher Rita McDermott, who helped create the summer reading program, said that Prairie’s language arts teachers had picked up a “buzz” about the award-winning book from students who had read it on their own.

“It definitely has a market,” McDermott said. “It hooked the boys, our reluctant readers, at a sophisticated level, who felt that they had grown out of the literature that we were recommending to them. We wanted to give them another option that we felt would appeal.”

All the teachers who recommended “Fat Kid” had read the book. Mulvihill said most of the board members also read it after hearing of Lukes’ complaint.

“We all felt the same emotion that several of the participants at the meeting felt when we first heard the language,” Mulvihill said. “(But) once we had the opportunity to read the book, understand the theme of the book and hear the rationale of the professional staff … we began to understand both sides of it.”

Teachers, administrators and board members said the profanity and mature content of “Fat Kid” were probably excessive and apologized repeatedly for not warning parents. However, they felt that the positive message of the book outweighed the negatives for mature readers.

Media center director Camille Hogan said that “Fat Kid” had a “real positive message: Don’t give in to despair, and don’t give up.”

Adolescents “believe that they’re the only ones who have ever felt this way,” Hogan said. “Sometimes, when you have a book where a character is feeling lonely and desperate — as is the character Troy in this book — our students are very much appreciative of being able to read a novel and go, ‘It’s not just me.'”

Many not satisfied

Smith, the director of the Illinois Family Institute, said he was shocked at the board’s decision.

“I was very disappointed that those who are hired by the taxpayers to take care of the upbringing and education of children … failed to see that this book was inappropriate,” Smith said. “I’m shocked that they would actually defend this book for one moment.”

Lukes said she was disappointed but took heart from Mulvihill’s statement that this was the “beginning of a dialogue.”

“As a parent, I still think it saddens me that they think it’s appropriate material for any junior-high age student,” Lukes said. “I would like to see them take a second look at this.”

For now, “Fat Kid” remains on the summer reading list, and the board refused to say it won’t show up in future years — though Prairie Junior High School Principal Craig Gwaltney said that most of the books on the list change each year.

Teachers and officials said they hoped similar controversies would not occur in the future, thanks to improved communication, with future reading lists including more information about each book.

Lukes said a warning would have “softened the personal blow” of the book. “One thing is, (my son) wouldn’t have read it,” she said. But from a “value-based notion,” the book did not seem appropriate for a school reading list.

“The problem is the age-appropriateness of putting it on a recommended reading list for 13- and 14-year-olds,” Lukes said.

David H. Montgomery may be reached at
dmontgomery@dailysouthtown.com
or (708) 633-5962.



NMC says:

Wow KL Going– you got the army to come out of their trenches and defend a filthy book about a lost boy who found his way through profanity, sexual innuendos, drugs, alcohol, suicidal intent and met with success. You got the army of 18 and more to defend mindlessness. You got the army to trample on the protection of the common good holding our society together. You got the army to defend sensual depravity tearing asunder the human being and especially our young. You got the army to hang all responsiblity on the parent with none resting in the public domain of our schools, libraries, publishers and writers etc. You got the army to trample on religion and pretend this has no place in the public square. You got the army to defend indecent speech claimimng just because it’s out there we all, even children, have to get more and more of it. You got the army to defend freedom without even understanding that every freedom has a limit–try having a 13 year old driving your car 60 mph in a school zone. You got the army to display how easily one becomes accustomed to perversity of mind, heart and soul.

You called upon your army just because one good student and mother saw this book was inappropriate. Wow what a great job and guess what– none of the army is dealing with censorship since censorship means only that a book is not available somewhere in the country. What your army is really defending is one’s inane right to mind pollution. And guess what no one wants pollution because toxic poisons evenutally kill. So thank goodness for this student and mother who wants to keep your army in check so that we will not all be poisoned by what we see, hear,read and think.



FREEDOM says:

In reply to NMC:

Driving a car isn’t an unalienable right, it is a privelege. Freedom of speech and expression is a Right!



Will says:

I am a YA librarian, and I am proud to have this book on our shelves. I am also a fat guy (feel free to politically-correcticize that all you like) who was glad to see this book on the shelves.

Life is not easy for teens, especially ones who do not conform to the “standards” for weight. They are on the receiving end of a lot of abuse, and many of the objectionable words that were used in the book are just a shadow of what they are subjected to. In fact, in many cases those words are just a shadow of what they subject themselves to.

Simple fact? This book reflects reality for a lot of teens. It does not reflect reality for some, and that’s fine. We have other books. I genuinely believe that FKRTW might end up helping someone, and I am glad to have it there on my YA shelf.



Mary W says:

NMC-
the “good parent” isn’t keeping anyone “in check.” The “good parent” is probably a Christian, just like me. But what the “good parent” wants to do is say her reality is the only one everyone lives in. She’s wrong. We’re not attacking her, as you are attacking us. We are defending authentic, beautifully written literature. REALISTIC literature. Wouldn’t it be great if no one swore, and no one was fat, and no one was homeless, and no one was addicted to drugs and no one thought of suicide?? That would be fantastic! No one is arguing that. But it’s not the case. So stop blaming K.L for bringing out an army. When truth is attacked, people will defend it. Probably everyone who read the book and responded to her blog had a meaningful personal experience while reading the book. We all have a part of ourselves that needs to know we are not alone in our struggles. No one is forcing you, or anyone else, to be “poisoned” by anything. If you choose not to look at reality, then go ahead and live in your bubble. But don’t attack others in the process. just put down the book and let people make their own decisions.



How come it’s the people who are against the book who are using all the harsh language?



klgoing says:

NMC,

It’s difficult to decide when to respond to posts personally, especially when, like yours, they are particularly passionate. Is it possible for there to be actual dialogue between us?

I am not sure, but I’m willing to make an attempt. I want to say that I don’t see this as a “good” and “bad” situation, where the student and mother are wholly good and I am wholly bad, or vice versa. In fact, I think that both myself and this parent are both in our own ways trying to do something we perceive as good. I respect her for taking a stand, even if it’s not a stand I believe in. I wonder if you can respect the fact that I write my books not out of evil intent to corrupt innocent children, but rather as an attempt to reach out to children whose innocence has already been stolen from them in so many ways. The main character of my book is indeed a lost boy, as you say, but he does not find his way BECAUSE of profanity, sexual innuendos, suicidal intent, drugs and alcohol… he finds his way IN SPITE of them.

I do not in any way promote mindlessness, as you accuse. Quite the opposite. Fat Kid Rules the World is a book that requires thought. It is meant to challenge the reader to step past their comfort zone and learn to love a character who is less than perfect. It is not an “easy” read with a quick moral message to deliver. But it does have a message about love and redemption and, yes, the character does, in the end, despite it all, succeed. There is hope.

Furthermore, I would never in any way seek to banish religious discussion from literature, but I would hope that it would be just that — discussion, open to listening and talking with one another in an attitude of openness, not condemning one another without ever seeing the person we condemn as a human being whose life and thoughts are complex and worth being listened to.

Likewise, I would never seek to abdicate responsibility for the fate of our children to parents alone; I take my role as author for teens and children very seriously. In my books for teens I have chosen to open doors to worlds that don’t often get portrayed with anything other than judgement, and I try to shed new light on them so that my teen readers, who have now entered that unique time between childhood and adulthood, can begin to grapple with new realities.

In my books for younger children (The Liberation of Gabriel King and The Garden of Eve) you will find different choices. No profanity is present in these novels, and sexual thoughts are not included. Instead, my novels for younger kids deal with more basic issues (though still complex) of how to find courage, and confront racism, and how to find a path through grief.

Can you begin to see the nuance? I guess what I am trying to do is to get us past phrases like “perversity of mind, body, and soul” because if you and I, as two adults who in their own ways CARE, can not learn to dialogue and see each other as human beings than there isn’t a lot of hope for our children. Far too many people DON’T care. You and I, the Illinois Family Institute and all the writers, librarians, parents, and students who have responded to this blog, we do. Despite our heated debate, we have that much in common.

Here is the dividing line… are we fighting over words or over context? You site indecent speech, but what makes speech decent or indecent if not the intent behind it? If my character says the “F” word as he saves his friend from loneliness and despair, and someone else says the “L” word as they judge that same character as filthy, then who is decent and who is indecent? The one who claims to love or the one who acts in love?

This is my hope, that people of all walks of life can read Fat Kid Rules the World and those who relate to the character will find that they’re not alone, and for those who find Troy and his world repugnant, they can see it as an opportunity to grow in love. Kids like Troy exist. This much is fact and I can provide letter after letter from teen boys to prove it. The world Troy lives in exists. This much can also be verified. If this is a world you never want to step foot in, then so be it, but here at least, is a window to understanding. That’s what literature does.

As for religion, I will say that I think this is also what Jesus did. He was not acceptable in his time. He ate with women and spoke to prostitutes and tax collectors, and there were those who said that his actions tore asunder the fabric of moral society. Did he? Or did he offer us all an example of love that we’ve found very difficult to follow ever since?

Would you find it hard to believe that I pray about my books? That I had a Biblical studies minor at a Christian college? But it’s true. I pray hard about every word I write. I pray for my books after they are published. I pray they will find the kids who need them most. I pray that only the books which deserve to be in the world will find their way to the book shelf.

And tonight I will also pray for you — not out of anger or condescension — but out of hope that you will see beyond the “poison” to the people underneath.

KL



I was so ecstatic when FAT KID was announced as a Michael Printz Award honor book. It is a story that strikes an exceptional balance between literary quality and teen authenticity. There have been several occasions when, days after booktalking FAT KID to students and parents at my wife’s middle school, I discovered that a student had borrowed or purchased the book and it had become the first “chapter book” that that particular student had ever read in its entirety. In the 21st Century we need to raise a generation of readers and problem solvers and lifelong learners. We need all hands on deck; we cannot afford to ignore the students who don’t fit the mold. I am perfectly happy with requiring all students to read MOCKINGBIRD and HAMLET. But if we hope to make life-long readers out of the more reluctant students, we need to also offer something to read that really speaks to them. It has been my experience that FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is a book that provides such a payoff to a great many adolescents.



seaheidi says:

First of all I wanted to let you know that I’m a new author at Putnam and this VERY BOOK you’re discussing arrived on my doorstep as a ‘welcome’ gift from my lovely new editor! How coincidental is that? Anyway, here we are, back to the banning board. I’ve been following Maureen Johnson’s problem closely and have offered support, which I’ll offer to you. I will post about this as well on my blog. I haven’t read the book yet and look forward to doing so. When I was in high school my senior year play was shut down due to one mother’s complaint so we staged “Fahrenheit 451” as our form of protest. Needless to say, my eyes were opened forever. Best wishes to you.
Heidi R. Kling
Author of SEA, Summer ’09, Putnam
seaheidi.livejournal.com



NMC says:

Our Founding Fathers never intended the 1st Amendment to be used to protect profanity or pornography. The 1st Amendment and freedom of speech were meant to guarantee the right of the majority, minority or individual to speak in a public forum or debate. Because of the misuse of our free speech rights today, we assume porn-laden materials are enshrined in the 1st Amendment. This slow erosion of the right to decency with the spoken or written word, is the reason we are debating the book, “Fat Kid Rules the World”. The fact this book is in the hands of chldren and adults are defending such, shows how debase our culture has become.

Stories of unpolular lonely kids meeting with success are good in and of themselves. But when the theme is peppered with profanity, sexual ineundos and more, the vehicle for the message has become corrupt.

If our society contiues down this path ,the mindset, within our nation, will be a cesspool darking the mind and soul in ways we cannot anticipate.

The statment driving is a “privilege” is correct. But once we have our license, we are not free to run red lights, go the wrong way on streets, disregard the speed limit or create a DUI. So we can accurately say all our privileges and all our freedoms therein, have necessary limits.

The problem with speech in the USA is few dare to say: Enough is enough to the avalanche of vile words –spoken or written. When one mother dares to apply the brakes to such filth, she is vilified by writers, librarians, and others evidenced in this blog.

In closing, let us remember together we stand for something. Will it be decency or indecency. There is no in between and children with live with the winning side.

PS If you felt offended by my “attacks”, I too was offended by your attacks. So let us all try to choose our words more carefully. I’m sorry my style wasn’t better.



klgoing says:

No offence was intended, I can assure you. Thanks for responding.



NMC says:

Your comments on Jesus and His time with sinners and prostitues are indeed true. But the Lord of all lords would never use the language in Fat Kid to reach anyone lost. Jesus pulled sinners out of the mud because they were created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus could never bring about a conversion by mudding the waters with vile speech.

We either pull each other up or we tear each other down with the words we say or write. The more vile our words, the more we trash the dignity of the human person, erode our spirit and trample on one’s inner goodness, nobility and worth.

How can we in one sense praise the Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth and in another sense spew out gutter language to touch His vulnerable children? Didn’t Jesus warn about scandalizing children?

We have become so accustomed to the degradation of our times that we fail to imagine how godforsaken street language really is.

Life lived in the beauty of springtime is delightfully worthwhile while life lived in the garbabe heap of perversion is barren and worthless.

As we rub shoulders with one another in our daily lives, we leave behind a reside. May that residue be one of kindness and truth. And if we have failed to do so, mercy and forgiveness may be just around the corner.

Lastly my 1st response to KL Going was an attempt to summarize the ideas and arguments of the many bloggers who stood against one Mom and her son. That’s why I kept using the tern “army” as I tried to esxplain why I thought KL and the 18+ bloggers greivously erred.
One last note– Please try and conjure up this web page from beginning to end with each response riddled with profanity and foul language.

Words make a difference and so do we in how we present what we have to say. Let us pray for our children, families, society and nation because we are losing our way and the USA– we treasure –is in big trouble.



Sara-Elizabeth says:

KL, That is awful. I read Fat Kid when I was 10 and so what if some parts I did not understand, but I spoke to my mom and dad and we talked about it, That’s the reality of life, parents don’t want to talk about “sticky” situations with their kids because it makes them uncomfortable. Heck Life is uncomfortable, DEAL WITH IT!

Boo to the school for this closed minded behavior! And Boo to the parents for allowing it! Parents should talk to there children about this subjust matter, that is how we educate our children on what really happens in the world. If we don’t talk about it things that happened at VA Tech and Columbine will continue.

Shame on you parents!!!

Sara-Elizabeth (12)



Mary W says:

NMC,
I have a question… Are you saying K.L. isn’t being like Jesus or the characters in her novel? What she is doing is following Jesus’ example of meeting people where they are. Jesus didn’t write young adult fiction. He had actual conversations with people, which KL does, all the time. And in those conversations, she’s not spewing gratuitous profanity. There’s a difference. Jesus wouldn’t have had the conversations He did have with people if he didn’t dwell in their environment. He wasn’t afraid of their language, of their sins, of their filth. In order to “pull people out of the mud” he got into the mud himself. That’s not to say He sinned. But if He were on earth today He would be reaching out to people in places many Christians are afraid to go. And that’s what K.L.’s novels are doing. If a novel features a drug addicted homeless teen speaking about springtime and flowers then the teenager who needs hope in his life will NEVER read the novel because it’s not representing his reality. It’s the same as saying “I’m a Christian therefore I cannot enter that gay bar.” But wouldn’t Jesus have gone right in? He commanded us to love sinners. And it’s a good thing, because we are all sinners.
I would understand your point about scandalizing children if KL was visiting classrooms and swearing at the children. That is obviously NOT the case.
Be careful in judging other’s motives because no one can do that but God. It bothers me so much that Christians can be the most judgmental of all, when WE are specifically called to love, and let God do the judging. Because KL’s profession is public she has to listen to people thinking they know better than her. But NO ONE knows ANYONE’s heart but God.
Teenagers who read KL’s books see themselves, and their world, in these novels. And the hopeful messages of forgiveness, healing, etc. are so important for kids. and then they contact her, the person. and she becomes someone kids can respect and look up to. Does SHE swear at them? no. Do characters in her FICTIONAL works use language that is representative of the environment from which they come? yes. These are two very big distinctions I think you’re not making in comparing Jesus’ example to what she is doing.
No one should be “standing” against anyone in this situation. If a parent feels a teenager should not read a book with profanity, then tell the teenager not to read it. That’s entirely different than publicly (and quite sarcastically and mean-spiritedly) attacking another person when you don’t know them and you don’t know what perspective God has given them that maybe you don’t have.
I find it quite hypocritical that you would even hold “clean” language in such high esteem and then barrage someone else with the venomous accusatory tone of your original post. This does not make sense to me. Jesus certainly didn’t reach people by spewing cutting remarks. isn’t this a splinter in someone’s eye and a log in your own situation? Does any of us have the right to judge another’s walk? NO.
What am I missing here? Help me understand.



Whirlwind says:

To KL,

I’ve enjoyed and appreciated and valued your writing…books like “Colors” and “Fat Kid Rules The World” and “The Liberation of Gabriel King” and “Saint Iggy” and “Garden of Eve”, and articles that you’ve contributed to the OE Journal, and some of your poetry…but now I must say that I consider your response to NMC dated August 20, 2007, at 2:29 am to be one of the highlights in your expanding career. In my home, we say “it happens in your heart”…and your patient, eloquent, caring response speaks volumes about what is in your heart. My God, it makes me proud to be one of your “fans”!!! Keep up this good work…

To all of you who have responded to those who would attempt to manipulate and control their children’s lives [for whatever the reason] by exerting control over all of us…I say our time and care and expression of opinion is just as valuable as KL’s writing. Some have been gifted with the heart to see goodness in others or to have empathy for another’s plight, and also with the ability to write about it; some of us must respond by speaking and showing acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, respect, love, joy, hope…in a difficult world. These seem to be strong themes in KL’s books; let all who have eyes to see, see.



NMC says:

If anyone is judging it is Mary W. Kl brought up Jesus and I responded to the way He would react in this sinful world. He does take the sinner where he/she is but He does not use a vile means to bring about conversion. The issue is the means to the end. To subject a child to a profanity laced, sexually enticing means cannot justify the end of success over being a loner. We could debate this ad nauseum but enough has been said.



Mary W says:

I’m sorry, NMC, that I came across as judging. I am not. I merely wanted help in understanding your position. Again, you are pointing the finger and blaming rather than engaging in dialogue. So i suppose you’re right, enough has been said.



NMC says:

Mary W. Now we are in a judging debate. Seems your comments were all about my judging. I suggest your reread my thoughts on Jesus. A great deal was written with the subject “we” and not you! Be at peace!



Mary W says:

NMC- I’m actually trying NOT to debate, but rather to TALK and understand, and hopefully to bring to light that all of us believe and understand things differently, and we should be ok with that. I have another question for you. Leaving aside the profanity and sexual innuendos that upset you, KL’s novels also deal with hatred and prejudice, drug addiction, suicidal thoughts, neglect, etc. Since these are “perverted” things, do you think they also do not belong in novels? I honestly want to know what your thought is on this.



[…] bothered to read the book before condemning it. Please, show your support by visiting Ms. Goings blog or her MySpace […]



Might I break in here, folks?

I’m a mom, of children who are too young for Fat Kid. My copy on my shelves will be shared with them when they are older; we’ll probably read it together, just as we read Junie B. Jones and Ramona Quimby and Captain Underpants and the Magic Treehouse books. I don’t need to read to my kids; both are advanced readers for their ages. We do it because we like to. We do it because we can.

I’m also a member of the music scene, and because of that, I have a very different perspective on the issues that have been raised here thus far.

Like it or not, Ms. Going HAS captured an American subculture with absolute precision. Yes, the members of the punk/rock/metal scene speak this way. I remember the first time I said the “f-word.” I remember how good it felt; how I felt like I was, maybe for the first time, in control of my life.

I was in seventh grade and no, I didn’t say that word in a dark, smoky club. I said in on stage at a junior high band rehearsal. I was twelve, maybe thirteen and by all accounts, a very well-behaved little girl. I was not a trouble-maker of any regard. Maybe a bit whiney and privileged, but definitely not a candidate to be in the principal’s office on a daily basis. Or ever.

Yet when I entered college, I found that I fit into the city’s metal/punk scene quite nicely (at the time, there was a lot of crossover between the two). I found a group of people who were outcasts, just as I felt I was. I found people who didn’t fit in anywhere else.

I also found some of the least judgmental people I’ve ever met. All they cared about was the music and your dedication to it. If you were into music, you fit in. It was one of the most individualistic places on the planet, and I thrived in it. I wore flowered leggings to a Napalm Death show and was told by Barney, the band’s lead singer, that I was utterly cool. Brightly colored, happy flowers. Perhaps the antithesis of Napalm Death’s music, image, and message.

The experiences I had — as a DJ, as a retailer in a variety of record stores, as a promoter, as a music fan — have continued to shape me to this day. I am secure in myself and who I am. In some ways, I relish the fact that I don’t fit into the very Stepford area in which I now live. I don’t wear khaki capris and white tees. I wear my Metallica t-shirts and my rhinestone-studded belt and frankly, I laugh when others judge me on my appearance, which they do. Have no fear of that.

It’s their loss; I’m an educated woman with both a BA and MFA. I am smart and articulate. I read voraciously and devour the morning paper so that I know what’s going on in the world. Yet you’d never guess that if you merely looked at me and made a judgment.

For me, that’s one of the many lessons in Fat Kid. Troy learned a self-love that’s similar to what I found when I immersed myself in the music culture. Troy learned what happens when you reach out to someone in trouble — how many of you who are screaming about “f-words” have done that? Truly reached out the way Troy did? As a parent, what would you have done had your child brought Curt home?

Look PAST the language and the culture that Troy discovers. Look at what can be learned. These underground subcultures are full of some of the most sensitive, caring people you’ll ever meet. Sure, they’re full of self-serving jerks, too, but we’re being positive here. Think about it. Ollie COULD have driven himself home and left Troy at the club. But he didn’t. Curt COULD have let Troy jump. Some would argue that a true punk would have — and would have laughed at the resultant mess, too.

Again, I encourage you to look past the mohawks and denim jackets and leather. Look at what Ollie did. He reached out to another person in distress. Look at what Troy did. He reached out to another person in distress. Look at what Curt did. He reached out to another person in distress.

Is anyone seeing a pattern here?

As parents, it’s our jobs to make sure that our children see more than the glitter of the spotlight and the rush of the performance. It’s our jobs to read these books with our children and help them see what lies underneath.

And then, maybe, they’ll have the strength and conviction to be able to reach out to someone else in distress.

For me, that’s what Fat Kid is about. For me, that’s what this music scene was about, at a time in my life, like Troy’s, when I was finding out who I was, and when I was starting to become the woman I am today.

From where I sit, looking back over my own past and forward, toward my children’s future, Fat Kid should be required reading. For both parents AND children. Together.



KL Going, Whirlwind said, “but now I must say that I consider your response to NMC dated August 20, 2007, at 2:29 am to be one of the highlights in your expanding career.” I agree. What you said was really outstanding in both content and style. Perhaps you should consider getting it published somewhere with a broader distribution. May I have permission to republish it on my web site?



KB says:

K.L. as an author wouldn’t you want to reach the largest number of youth who may be struggling with the challenges that you address in your literature. If some young person has a moral conviction against reading literature that is laced with profanity and sexual innuendos, you miss out on getting your message to him. I have never heard a young person say that they will not read a book because it did not have enough sex and profanity. What a sad day in America when the way we entice young people to read is through the same methods that TV, movies, music and advertisers reel them in–sex, sex, sex!!!!

I would agree that you have every right to write what you desire and parents have every right to expose or limit their teens exposure to such material. I think what I take issue with is the idea that parents are doing a disservice to their teen by choosing to address these issues with a different approach. What’s wrong with wanting to maintain your teens innocence for as long as possible? I compare it to giving your toddler a tricycle first instead of the two wheeler with no training wheels. He’ll get on the bike sooner or later, but he/she still has a lot of growing up to do. I know in our home that we spend a number of hours volunteering in our community to those less fortunate. Because of this hands on approach, we are able to see the harms of drugs, sexual abuse, neglect, sexual promiscuity and the challeges brought on by mental illness. This is “love in action”. This is what opens up the lines of communication in our home.

I think the real concern by most who are in opposition to your books is that most of this literature doesn’t offer a warning of any sorts to parents and so in turn, they feel helpless in making an informed decision.
Let’s get real, authors, publishers and editors read every word of these books. They know what they contain. I would love to see publishers and authors voluntarily state contents, very similar to what you get with the movie industry. This is not a judgment on literary value anymore than a rating is on a film. I think by doing this, we would see less hostility in our comuunities and more partnerships between parents and libraries.

What say you.

KB



The world is not perfect. Kids are not perfect. Grownups need to let kids process what they’re learning about the imperfect world and books like Fat Kid Rules the World can help by provoking non-threatening discussions. Why do you think he needed to… What should his father have done… How would you feel if… What would you do if… The discussion about Fat Kid Rules the World shouldn’t be a discussion about bad words. It should be a discussion about good ideas. The best way for parents to help kids choose good books is to read along with them. Reading young adult fiction is great exercise for parents because it helps them learn to empathize with their own young adults!

Hats of to KL Going for introducing us to this great kid and helping us all see the world a little differently by seeing through his eyes!



Mary W says:

KB, I think you make an excellent point. Although KL doesn’t use sexual themes to sell books, a lot of young adult literature does… but the rate at which teenagers mature is so diverse. Some 13 year olds have seen more than some 18 year olds, depending on their upbringing, life experience,etc, so it would be hard to develop a universal “rating” system; no one can agree on when readers are developmentally appropriate for certain material. Publishers often target age groups that many parents feel is too young, and then the author gets attacked.
And I imagine it would be impossible to read every book before your kid does. And a rating system seems ideal- I just wonder how that would work, realistically.
It works for movies because they are either for kids, teenagers, or adults. YA Lit is a whole genre for that in-between time. It seems like a much more gray area to divide into age groups. But I think you’re completely right that some sort of rating system up front would help alleviate a lot of tension around this area.
It’s a really interesting topic because no matter which way you look at it, there will always be something to debate. The rating would be too low. Or that offensive material shouldn’t be in any book to begin with. As this genre has grown it has certainly incited quite a bit of controversy.
Just thinking out loud.. I know you were looking for a response from KL. Hope you don’t mind my interjecting.



LL says:

Wouldn’t a responsible person present actual research from a credible, unbiased source before claiming that there is a causal relationship between literature containing profanity and the Virginia Tech massacre? (No fair citing your pastor’s sermon from last Sunday). Is anyone else frightened by this individual’s certainty that something he/she personally disapproves of is causally linked to the most heinous acts of violence in our world without citation of actual, legitimate proof? Isn’t it much more dangerous to expose our kids to such inadequate reasoning and flawed logic than it is to expose them to the F-word? Read up on studies of adolescent development – relationships with parents and peers are what most strongly influence teen behavior – not the swear words on page 90 of the book your kid is reading. But then aye, there is the rub, no? In order to effectively parent your child you need to talk about topics that may make you uncomfortable. What’s more, talking with your children about your values might open up a can of worms: in discussing what you believe with your child, he or she will begin to scrutinize your values and question them, and what will you do if your child rejects your values? (I suppose offer a “fact” –without citation — that 14-year-olds can’t think). Much less threatening to simply censor everything your child is exposed to and prevent him or her from encountering anything that may cause him to examine his beliefs, even if the very thing you are censoring is the truth.
If you are actually brave enough to examine the truth about what influences teens to engage in risk behaviors, here is a place to start: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/teens.cfm. Note that pornography, gays and Jews are not cited as factors causing anti-social behaviors in teens.



KB says:

Mary W, thank you for your response. It was great to hear from you and your point of view. A rating system would at least be a starting point. As ratings stand now, they do rate based on content and why it received that rating and the parent could make the determination from there. I know there have been some films that I thought would be appropriate for my kids and then when we viewed them together, we chose to DC the film.

Many of the points mentioned in this blog reference parental involvement, but the reality is many kids in our communities are disengaged from their parents. I’m not sure if it is intentional or unintentional on the parents part. I just believe that many parents are aware that they need to stay on top of film, music and TV, but because they themselves are not readers they have no idea what’s in literature. Just as the drug industry packages their products with labels because of possilbe adverse events, publishers could to the same.



klgoing says:

I so wish I could respond to all of these personally… so many wonderful, thought-out responses.

To SafeLibraries, you are welcome to quote my response to NMC. Hopefully it will incite kind, thoughtful debate and not hateful debate, but one way or another I do think this kind of debate is necessary.

To KB, my one concern about a rating system would be who would do the rating. I know with the movie rating system it’s an anonymous panel who casts their judgements and makes or breaks the fates of many a movie that someone else has invested their heart and soul into. I suppose if there was something more factual it might work… something not dependent on judgement but just on the facts. ??? Hmmm. I’d have to think about it a lot more to cast a real opinion.

Oddly enough, based on the facts, Fat Kid would not be labeled as a book that had sex in it. Because no one has sex. That’s one of the things I find odd about people’s accusations about my book. A teenage boy has sexual thoughts about women. That’s it. Thoughts he later learns to temper with the reality of seeing women as more than sexual objects.

I definitely never think of luring kids in with sex or language. When I wrote Fat Kid, I felt as if there were a lot of books written for the mainstream kid. The smart, middle American kid. So many protagonists in YA novels are that kid — the intelligent kid with a talent for something, very often writing or art. I think this is because authors very often write about what they know, and they were once the smart, slightly ostracized kid with a talent for writing or art.

I wanted to write a book for the kids who didn’t like to read. The kid who would rather listen to music. Or play video games. Or… well… anything as long as it wasn’t reading! I figured my book would be a niche book, popular with the subsection of kids it represents and that would be it. And that was okay with me.

I’ve been very surprised that Fat Kid has had the appeal that it’s had for such a broad range of people. I get so many letters from teen boys who say this is the first book they ever read in entirety, or the first book they ever related to. I get letter after letter from kids (and adults) saying, “that’s me! I am the fat kid!” But I also get letters from average kids that say the same thing. “I am the fat kid”. And sometimes I get letters from kids who say, “how did you know to write about those feelings when you aren’t fat?” Then I get to tell them that I, too, am the fat kid. I also get letters, on occasion, from a kid who says that they wanted to committ suicide, but after reading this book they didn’t feel as alone and decided not to go through with it. And once I had a kid write to me and say that he was going to try and get off drugs because of having read Saint Iggy (also a book with bad language).

I have to admit that in all this debate, pro and con, I know that these lives are worth it. I am sorry if the language in the book offends others, or if a child who has a moral conviction against reading a book with profanity and sexual innuendos happens upon this book by chance and is offended by it, or if they’re exposed to something they’ve never heard or thought of before. That’s not my intent. And you’re right. I do miss getting my message out to them. But I think there’s a lot of literature that targets these kids and usually these kids are the ones already reading books. Usually they’re the ones with parents who they can reach out to.

I think as Mary W said in one of her posts, each of us is given a heart for something. For me, mine is directed towards those kids on the fringe for whom reading is a foreign concept because they don’t relate to most books that are out there. My heart and thus my teen books are often directed towards those kids whose parents aren’t around, or aren’t connecting with them, who feel isolated and lost. And yes, I do meet them where they are at.

If you are an involved parent who wants to protect your child’s innocence when it comes to what they see and read, but then also exposes them to the harsh realities of the world by participating in volunteer work with them, BRAVO!! Seriously. It is great to know that parents like you are out there. I am a huge advocate of volunteer work of any kind. And honestly, if you don’t want your children to read Fat Kid Rules the World until they are much, much older, (or ever!) I am okay with that. Because your kids will probably be just fine. They’ve got a great mom and dad who cares and they’ll keep reading lots of other books.

KL



KB says:

KL thank you for your thoughtful response. How about we remove the word “rating” and instead use “content disclaimer.” This gets rid of opinion and uses fact. Because you have made such an impact on the YA literature world, I would love to see someone such as yourself take the lead on this issue.

I love respectful dialogue on this topic and really appreciate your ability to address this issue respecting others differing opinions. I have a real tough time dealing with the inflammatory speech on both sides. I would say that the ALA has not helped the situation and in many instances has made the involvment of parents on this issue an advesarial one.

Thank you again for your valuable time.



I read the Bible every day. I go to church. I wasn’t offended by Fat Kids’ content or language. It’s a sorry state our world is in, and Fat Kids has it right on. Our kids see and hear this on a regular basis. So if you want to shield your kids from it, home school them. Stay with them 24/7. Keep them away from other kids. That’s the only way they’ll not experience these things. But how will they face the real world once you’ve gone to make your arguments to God on Judgement Day? And may he be less judemental and more understanding than some of you have been toward KLgoing.



Darn. Didn’t capitalize He. I’m sure He will forgive me.



Kylie says:

Here’s what I think: the book isn’t being banned because of profanity, at least not exclusively. That’s the reason they’re giving, but that’s not the whole reason.

What’s going on is summed up pretty well in what you say:

“Fat Kid Rules the World is a book with so many positive messages, about self acceptance, accepting the hard parts of reality, and learning to love ourselves and others despite our grimy, less than perfect selves. It’s about seeing through the facades of perfection and being okay with the reality underneath.”

And that’s troubling to the people who censor books. There are certain aspects of reality that adults do not like to see portrayed because they do not reflect the world as adults would like to see it exist, and there is an idea that if they ban books they will protect children from these realities. These realities go beyond swearing and sexual content, although those are major triggers. I believe the title of the book is what caught the interest of the censors. The issue of obesity and specifically childhood obesity, as you know, is extremely hot-button these days, and attitudes towards it tend to be pretty unforgiving. Fat kids are, in a word, unacceptable. And when you talk about self-respect and self-worth as though it should apply to fat kids and other kids who’re outside the norm, people freak and look for reasons to censor.

You see it with Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, another frequently banned book. I went to a reading/discussion she did in my area once and, curious, I asked her why she thought the book was so frequently censored. The swears are infrequent and relatively mild (along the lines of “damn” and “hell”, for the most part; although it was written decades ago in a different social climate, there are other books from that time period that do not face the constant battles Bridge does), and as for the one scene that people protest is “incestuous” – a ten-year-old boy looking at his six-year-old sister in her underwear and thinking she’s “‘the ugliest kid in the world,’ with genuine affection” – the characterization of that as incestuous is such a stretch it’s laughable. She outlined those objections, and then went on to explain that what she thought the real problem was was that the book is about the death of a child, and adults don’t want their kids to be reading anything that, well, real. It’s another book that touches on issues that are real to kids and that adults don’t want to be real to kids. Some people call it “too disturbing” or “too adult”; what that really means, at least in the case of Bridge, is that it’s too real. I really think there’s a belief that you can change reality by changing what kids read. You can’t, and the more people try the greater the divide between kids and adults, whom they perceive as moralistic and outdated, grows. That means kids are less likely to listen to adults and to trust adults, and the more they’re left on their own. I’m glad you’re reaching out to kids where they’re at and saying stuff a lot of people don’t want to hear. Thanks.



I would just like to state, for the record, that I read a portion of Fat Kid Rules The World (I believe it was the section with the highest proportion of f-bombs) aloud to my Teen Advisory Board a few years ago with no ill effects.

The book is fantastic. Don’t let the bastards grind you down, K. L. Going.



Ian says:

Has anyone else noticed that almost none of the people who want this book banned have read it? (and by read I mean actually read, not flicked through to find the dirty bits).

This always happens, with just about every book that people want to ban. It’s almost like they’re scared of reading in case it warps their fragile sense of righteous indignation



While I am always concerned/upset/terrified when people attempt to ban books or remove books from reading lists, particularly brilliant books like Fat Kid, I am in a bizarre way thankful that we live in a country where we can have discussions such as this one; where we can produce books that may incite thought; where we can write books that get on reading lists; where we can put profanity in those books without fear of imprisonment or retribution if that’s the world we’re depicting.

K.L. your book has helped so many people. This open discussion on your blog will only help more. Thank you for being such a brave writer, blogger and person.



Mary W says:

I think if someone is offended by something, they automatically write it off without experiencing it first. We’re probably all guilty of that, in one area or another.
AND…many of the people who take issue with YA Lit novels are adults who grew up before this genre was even truly born. In a way it’s the same as those who claim “rap isn’t music” and video games are wasting children’s brains away. So many adults lose touch, unless they work with young people. Youth culture has changed so much, even from a couple decades ago. If a parent comes from reading “The Classics” in his/her high school years, and has never had an interest in YA Lit, some of it would understandably be shocking at first glance. It’s fairly “new” ;The first wave began in the 70s (The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier and Forever By Judy Blume were published in ’74 and ’75 and they are still causing controversy). 30 years isn’t that much time, but it seems to have really exploded more recently. And whenever that happens, it seems the older generation puts down the younger generation’s forms of entertainment and expression.
In the mid 50s parents were freaking out because their kids were watching Elvis gyrate, and “rock and roll” was stirring up controversy. Each new generation has new forms of media that are objectionable to adults because they haven’t experienced it for themselves. YA Lit seems to be following this same pattern… it’s just a lack of understanding because it’s unfamiliar to them. that’s what i think..



Gbemi says:

Most of the discussion here has been wonderful, and I hate to add inarticulate blather to the mix, Fat Kid is a fantastic, honest, YA novel. I’m a Christian, was a teacher, and am a parent. There are “classics” that I find troubling, as well as more “innocent” books that I believe contain truly offensive premises and ideas. It’ll be a while before my daughter’s reading Fat Kid (and I hope she does); some of the PBs and early readers that she picks out now are not my cup of tea, but we still read them and talk about what they mean (and why I’m not a fan). I don’t feel that I’m now (or will be) helpless; I can continue to read the books for myself, and try to raise my daughter in a way that I trust her to make her own choices. I think we need to believe that our children can actually think about what they read. And if we don’t feel that that’s the case with a particular child, it might be more beneficial to equip them with critical reading and thinking tools than to ban.



Sara-Elizabeth says:

I just went back and read what NMC had to say. I am 12 years old and I have read all of KL Goings books and I find them appropriate for the time we live in. I also have to say it is a personal choice to read a book and no one should have the right to say what I can or cannot read, but my parents, and they have been more then supportive in what I read and we discuss what I read. What better tool to teach morals and values, but to expose a child through the secure media of a book, and then to discuss why we have conflict and why things are bad or good. Yeah, I am sure my parents would not let me read pornography but that is a age sensitive subject anyway and I have no desire to read it anyway, nor do I think that would be appropriate for someone my age. But the real world has people that swear, do drugs, kill others and themselves. KL is not glorifying it she is just pointing out it exists.

The bottom line is, we can all be a little more open minded and discuss what happens in real life. We need to stop pretending these things don’t exist. Talking is power!!! Blinders hinder!!!

Sara



FREEDOM says:

Here is an editorial written by the Mom to the local Chicago Newspaper:

Mom ‘astonished’ by ‘Fat Kid’ reaction

August 22, 2007
By Karen Lukes
What astonished me, a concerned parent, with “The Fat Kid …” book controversy decision was that all members of the board, the superintendent, principal and teachers believed gutter literature could be used to establish a good end.

What happened to these educators who pinned their expectations on a good result despite the book’s overflowing garbage-filled content and porn-laden pages? How many of them would purchase a DVD or CD of like content and have their own children “enjoy” such trash with the hope a good message would be learned?

By buying into the “street mentality,” District 126 educational leaders ignored the damage to the young formative minds of children beaten down with repetitive filth and sexual innuendos.

The school media consultant’s defense of the book was that racy material was, in essence, necessary to “hook boys into reading.” Every parent should be insulted that the criteria used to hook boys on reading was profanity and sexually explicit material. If this is the standard, what is next?

Karen Lukes lives in Oak Lawn.



Mary W says:

“gutter literature.” “garbage filled” and “porn laden pages”…???? “repetitive filth and sexual innuendos” that “beat down” the reader? seriously, these cannot be descriptors of Fat Kid Rules the World. I’m baffled by the use of these terms in relation to this novel. “Pornography” by definition has no artistic merit. Certainly that is not the case here, at all. But, why should the argument be reignited? We get nowhere.
It’s disheartening, though, to see literature with tremendous artistic merit trashed.



Sara-Elizabeth said, “I am 12 years old and I have read all of KL Goings books and I find them appropriate for the time we live in.” And so on.

I congratulate Sara-Elizabeth for taking the interest she has in this matter and for expressing it here. And she is not the only child to be involved. I give the children extra credit for speaking up as they have, and I’ll bet they are the top students in their classes.

And I’ll bet people like KL Going are partly responsible for reaching out to children and getting them to think. That’s the whole point, right? And it seems to be working.

Fabulous!



NMC says:

Something is amiss in this debate over Fat Kid Rules the World. With school guidelines preventing students and facutly from using profanity, how is it justified to have minor children read a book with the very words not allowed? There is something schizophrenic about this decision by teachers who know children can’t use foul degrading language yet select a book with the very words forbidden by school.

Since the School Bd, superintendent,princpal and teachers all agree “Fat Boy..stays, I say drop the guidelines for it won’t be long before food for thought becomes the forbidden fruit spoken.



NMC says:

There is something schizophrenic about this decision by teachers who know children can’t use foul degrading language yet select a book with the very words forbidden by school guidelines.
I say drop the guidelines for it won’t be long before food for thought becomes the forbidden fruit spoken.



LL says:

Every year, our students read The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton. Amazingly enough, none or our students, as a result of reading the book, join gangs or stab people in parks. Could it be that students are smart enough to realize that when a teacher recommends literature, he or she does not necessarily condone or advocate that students mimic the behaviors of the characters? Is there currently a teen pregnancy epidemic as a result of high schools requiring students to read The Scarlet Letter? In fact, many students understand that sometimes we read books to learn about how not to behave. For example, we teach Romeo and Juliet not to encourage our students to kill themselves, but to encourage them to avoid being prejudicial and responding to situations with violence. Through literature, we can indirectly discover the consequences of a myriad of actions, and this knowledge can help us to make better decisions in our personal lives. Stop equating students with monkeys — you insult them. If you really care about kids, what should upset you is the number of students who don’t read and who drop out of school because nothing they learn there seems relevant or meaningful — maybe if more students were allowed to read literature about real life, we’d have more engaged learners in our schools. I’m not saying that all books for teens need to contain profanity, but some books that have important messages need not be excluded because of an author’s choice to include realistic dialogue.



Mary W says:

LL, you make some very good points.. just as profanity is not allowed in school, neither is adultery, suicide, gang activity, violence,etc, and those are topics addressed in classics no one has a problem with reading. teachers have certainly never been allowed to do those things, yet instructing with novels containing those elements has always been understood to be valuable. sadly, those that are up in arms over realistic dialogue will not likely see the truth in what you are saying. NMC asked a question- how is this justified when school rules prohibit it? and I think your post answers that very well.
Finding relevant, meaningful ways to reach students is key. and since Fat Kid has such a hopeful, mature message, i find it annoying that this discussion even has to center around this novel.
SafeLibraries.org makes a good point also- seeing the younger readers participate is a good sign. after all, they are the ones that matter in all of this. and on both sides of the proverbial fence, people are trying to do what’s best for them.



Sara-Elizabeth says:

Thank you, SafeLibraries.org, for your kind words and yes I am a High Honor Roll Student and have been my whole academic career, I also put in hundreds if not thousands of hours a year into community service and have raise over $25,000.00 for epilepsy and I enjoy reading, writing and acting. I do NOT swear, and I frown upon it when I hear it. But it is true to the times that kids, teens and adults do swear. Lets keep it real, If I want a fairytale I will read Grimm’s. Oh, by the way Grimm’s was once a very controversial topic, but I do not see Red Riding Hood banned, do you?

Sara



Sara-Elizabeth says:

I know this might be beating a dead horse, but again I really enjoy your writing KL, so have my sisters and friends that I have recommended you too. We are all good kids with strong support from our parents, we have morals and values, and they were taught to us by our parents. Our parents do not hide the real world from us, they let us know what is really out there in a secure environment and we talk about it. I should also add that if my parents did not educate us on what is real I would not be who I am today! A good, straight A student who because of who I am others have taken notice and stepped up to be involved themselves.



KL, I loved FKRTW and often recommend it to others. It’s superbly written, has carefully drawn, believable characters, and will resonate with anyone who has ever felt that they don’t fit in or aren’t good enough (most of us!). I sympathize with those who feel offended by any book, and I hope they can learn to protect themselves and their children without infringing on the rights of others.



NMC says:

Chicago Tribune(Aug 30) Tempo Ask Amy column is about a friend’s cursing. Stumped in Maryland writes: While growing up, I never forget what one of my teachers said: “If you want to know what people are really like, listen to what they say and the type of language they use. Amy agrees foul language is “VERBOTEN & ITS USE RISKS ALIENATING AND OFFENDING:

I wonder how Stumped would respond to the teachers selecting the Fat Kid..book and what comments Amy might have.
Seems teachers have lowered the bar in school and for minor children!



Mary W says:

NMC- how about, if you want to know what people are really like, observe their actions?
And, AGAIN, your arguing against words that a fictional character is using. Not a real person!
Lastly, if you are not a teacher, please do not assume you know that teachers have “lowered” any bar. Everyone is always looking for someone to blame. If good teachers weren’t so necessary, I’d dissuade anyone I know from pursuing a teaching career; it’s amazing how much blame gets pinned on us when we’re working constantly for the betterment of children.



NMC says:

Mary W –One’s path in life does not prevent a person from understanding how far down our society has come. Just see, look and listen and you can easily conclude where we were and where we are today.

Our pulbic schools have become a battle ground for sanity as evidenced in Pontiac with the removal of 2 young cuffed teens who allegedly had a deal to swap guns for drugs. One wonders where they got this idea. What did they see,read or view that led them to this action and the criminal charges they are now facing.
To see the minor chidren being checked one by one and police standing guard at the school door speaks volumes about life in our schools and in our nation.

If we continue to hold to the belief that we can see, read and view anything,we can expect more headlines and stories like the one in Pontiac.



Mary W says:

If kids are swapping guns for drugs, they did not get this idea from a book, movie, or tv show. That comes from direct, personal influence from somewhere- their home, someone they know, etc.
Your argument is like saying those who read the Bible will become violent. There’s violence in it. There’s adultery in it. And many other “objectionable” themes. So, it should not be read? Because it will perpetuate the downfall of society?
I wasn’t saying your path in life determines whether or not you understand society. I was saying if you’re not a teacher, don’t make blanket statements about how we’re lowering the bar.



FREEDOM says:

So the religious right hang on to the fight that they are making the children safe by removing this book?

Look at today’s article in the Chicago newspaper. These same religious people are threatening the children with violence!

http://www.dailysouthtown.com/news/536380,311NWS4.article



LL says:

Again, what proof is there that literature influences behavior? How do you know that the ills of society can be blamed on reading material? Were the Romans (most of whom were illiterate, and thus, couldn’t be influenced by books) less violent than we as they watched humans digested by lions? How do you know society is more violent today and how do you know what the causes are? (Please cite someone slightly more authoritative than Amy from the Tribune.) You don’t just get to draw conclusions without offering proof from an unbiased source. (Remember Science class? Hypotheses and the scientific method and data?) If what you read makes you who you are, then how is it that a conservative is gunning for Osama to blow up a school? How did he get to be so violent if he didn’t read swear words and “pornography” in school? Could it be that you need to reevaluate what you believe?



NMC says:

In 1926 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, while in prison, and outlined his political ideas. These ideas put, into practice in the 30s and 40s, lead to World War II.

Just one example of how the written word took hold, had power and caused a revolution and millions lost their lives, etc…….Yes there is power in the written word otherwise why have authors,publishers, libraries, bookstores—

To dismiss the profanity in Fat Boy is closing one’s eye to the truth on the power of reading and learning.

Ask a 2nd grade teacher about teaching vocabluary to students–You repeat and repeat and repeat until the word is learned. Then the child’s reader, workbook and class assignents reinforce the words learned in the lesson.

So when you repeat profanity over and over–the end result–the words are learned and added to list of swear words in the child’s vocabulary.
Repeat the swear words in reading, music, videos, and soon it’s on the street as in TODAY.



LL says:

So glad you mentioned Hitler. He too made sweeping generalizations without offering proof, blaming the Jews for being responsible for all the evil in the world. People bought it hook, line and sinker — probably because they listened to Hitler’s speeches, they were influenced by Nazi propaganda, and they were desperate and angry due to the poverty caused by the Weimar Republic (You will never convince me that all SS officers read Mein Kampf). What Hitler also did was censor people’s speech and any writings he did not agree with. He murdered professors, protectors of free speech and advocates of the free flow of ideas. So, in and of itself, Mein Kampf is not the problem. The problem is when you silence all other voices that you do not agree with and allow people access to only one idea. I am not arguing that exposing kids to swear words in books doesn’t increase the number of swear words they know. I’m arguing that knowing swear words does not cause one to murder, rape or commit crimes. What harms society is censorship, prejudice and small mindedness.



Mary W says:

LL… very good point. I agree completely.

NMC- no one is trying to “dismiss” the profanity in Fat Kid. we’re trying to say it’s there for a reason. Whether of not you agree with it shouldn’t be everyone else’s issue. it should just be yours. just like the parents who want to ban. it’s their business- it shouldn’t involve everyone else. if you’d like to think your child hasn’t heard profanity by the time he/she reaches the teen years, that probably is naive, but that’s fine for you.

and you still didn’t answer my question about the Bible. I’m really interested to know if you think that should be banned, also.



NMC says:

Here we go– making the issue: you against me. This sidesteps the real issue which is: Should profanity-laced material be used in a public school for minor children who can’t say these words but are allowed to read them. Wonder how this ever gets into a you vs me challenge.

This not what we do in society when something is tainted regarding other products. We don’t say this with the Chinese toys, pets, toothpaste issues–i We don’t say if I want it but you don’t that’s your perogative. What we all do is look at the thing and the thing here is Fat Boy. And the question is: Is it right for this filthy lewd book to be put on a reading list for 13 and 14 years old. That is the only issue –not you vs. me –or I want it and you don’t debate.

The book is a product and we are judging the product on it face value and most especially in relationship to children. To move anywhere else is to splinter the issue and try and make this a you vs me debate.



LL says:

But there is evidence that the toys from China cause harm to children — lead exposure can lead to mental retardation. There is evidence that proves this. You have no evidence that profanity harms children. That is your opinion based upon your personal values. Your personal values are not evidence for your conclusions. Therefore, your personal values can only dictate your behavior, not mine.

When I was in high school (a Catholic high school mandating that students take classes on morality) there sat at a table in the lunchroom a girl with horrible skin and a significant weight problem — she was at least 300 pounds. She sat by herself at lunch, every single day for four years. I sat at a table with my friends very near her. We never looked at her or invited her to sit with us. I thought about asking her to join us several times, and I’m sure that my friends and others in the lunchroom did as well, but none of us was brave enough to actually do it. We were all too scared that sitting with someone who was a social leper would have far reaching consequences for our own social standing. So we acted selfishly and cowardly and we let another human being be humiliated every day of her high school career. If we had read a book like FKRTW, maybe we would have understood how painful it is to be alone and judged as unworthy simply because of your appearance. Maybe we would have been kinder. I don’t know what happened to that girl. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she thought about killing herself. The swear words and sexual situations in FKRTW in no way lessen the importance of the message of that book: be kind to your fellow human beings. Every teenager needs to learn that message. And for those students who are the social lepers, they need to know that they cannot give up — high school will end. You focus on language and miss the beauty of the book. But teenagers hear that book’s message loud and clear, because it doesn’t preach, but rather, it presents its message through a realistic character whom you grow to care for a great deal as you read the novel.



Mary W says:

Geez…. no one is saying anything about YOU vs. ME. I honestly have questions and you seem to always dodge them. We cannot simply “judge” the product. you keep calling it “lewd” and “filthy.” I think it’s beautiful, intelligent, insightful literature.

comparing a novel to poisonous paint is really quite pointless.

But these debates seem to spiral out of control because of lack of understanding between the “sides.” I’d love to understand your perspective. but it’s impossible in the face of your defensiveness.

it’s not merely an issue of whether or not a book should be on a reading list. it’s an issue of “right” versus “wrong,” or your interpretation of morality vs. other interpretations.

you just continue to be on the attack and your reasons don’t hold up.. so i ask questions because i’m honestly trying to understand your thinking. that’s what discussion is for. otherwise it’s useless, which unfortunately, this has become.



NMC says:

LL and Mary W– I just saw a web site from a major server asking for a response and it stated “inappropriate language not accepted”. I guess that says there is a public standard of decency requried if I care to answer.

It seems the public’s right to decency makes foul language unacceptable and shows this is not my opinion or my morality . When, where and how did profanity become only personal. You forget there has always been a public standard of decency in speech, dress, etc. It is called the community standard and I dare say without this public decency in word and deed, we can throw away these laws governing our society.

The commnunity standard of decency holds in check every person and stems from the common good. –If there is no standard in speech and action then anyone can say, do, read , write anything in any place without consequences.

This simply is not the case and while today many are trying to destroy our community decency,the fact remains that decency is a universal standard and indecent words and action still offends the community, neighborhood, school or any other public place. To think otherwise is ludicrous. That’s why Fat Boy is offensive for it violates every child’s sense of decency unless that decency has already been exploited, abused and damaged by our crude, crass way of living.



LL says:

This is my final post.

Public standards of decency change all the time, therefore they are not absolute nor do they always reflect what is moral or just. In our own country, it was once indecent for women to show their ankles or vote in elections. Elvis was indecent. The label of “indecent” gets slapped on anything that threatens the status quo, anything that makes people uncomfortable. But challenging societal norms isn’t always indecent. In some countries, women are banned from showing an inch of flesh in public. They are not allowed to go to school or vote. Would it be indecent for women to challenge that at some point? Should we revert back to a time when it was indecent (and against the law) for black people to eat in a restaurant with white people? From time to time, it is necessary to change our definition of indecent.

You say allowing children to read profanity in books is indecent. I say that it is critical that children read. All children need to read literature where they can see themselves reflected in the story, because, ultimately, we read to know that we are not alone. Some students can read Island of the Blue Dolphins and love it. Others will refuse to read it because they don’t see themselves in that story. If I don’t give them a book that they can relate to, they won’t read, and that is harmful — evidence to substantiate that claim abounds. So, it is necessary and responsible to allow certain kids an opportunity to read books where they see themselves, even if that means they will come across profanity or sexual situations. FKRTW has been called pornography even though none of the kids in the book have sex. I call a book that portrays adolescent boys thinking about sex reality not pornography. A child who has been taught not to swear is not going to do so simply because he or she reads it in a book. If you doubt that claim, think about this: does your child in junior high and high school swear at you? Because they hear the words all day — in the halls, the lunchroom, on the bus, anywhere there are teenagers without adult supervision. Has your child begun to swear as a result of exposure to this language? Probably not, because kids are capable of being around those who do not share their values while still holding on to their own if they have strong bonds with adults. And you can bet that the same kids at school who swear also talk about sex, and again, that doesn’t mean that the children who hear them talking about it begin to experiment with sex as a result.

What holds our society together is not a ban on swearing, it is the fact that we live in a pluralistic society where people are able to make choices. We have laws to punish those people who choose to act in ways that harm others. But again, and I’m sure you will ignore this point for yet another time, there isn’t any proof that exposure to profanity harms children. Parents can decide that they don’t want their children to use such language, of course, but parents also have to teach children that not everybody in society will hold that same value. In fact, what is more important than teaching your children not to swear is teaching your children that living in ways that reflect your values is hard. It is hard to hold on to beliefs that others might not share — that is the challenge of being an adult. You cannot control what others do, but you can hold fast to the values that are important to you no matter what.



Mary W says:

NMC-And, as an additional final note- you’re comparing profanity of PEOPLE versus the language of a fictional character.
In the future, if you care that others understand your point of view, it’s much more productive to answer questions, and dialogue, rather than dodge them all and become defensive. I’ve taken Master’s level college courses on censorship of Young Adult Literature, and I was glad to have the opportunity to talk to someone who holds the same beliefs as many parents I have studied. I had truly hoped to understand the motivation behind the mentality, and also how the hypocrisy can make sense to you (i.e. sarcastically attacking an author for the use of strong language, or attempting to ban novels when the Bible is ok).
but, as KL initially wondered, dialogue hasn’t been possible.



klgoing says:

LL, since you mentioned that was your final post, I want to thank you for your intelligent, thoughtful contributions to this debate… And Mary W if that was your final post as well (I wasn’t entirely sure) then I’ll offer the same thanks to you.

I’ve been away from my computer for a couple days, so I’m getting caught up on the postings, and I did want to add a few thoughts.

I’ve been researching the history of YA literature and what I found was very interesting. YA lit originally started out as a genre that was largely imposed by adults onto kids. Stories were girl oriented, usually featured young women who were preparing to be housewives, or possibly a nurse, and the teens in the stories were squeaky clean. Basically, it was Leave it to Beaver in book form. But in the meantime, the kids realities were very different from this literature. We all have a tendency to want to glamorize the past and say “see how far down things have spiraled?” but, in fact, the past held it’s own set of problems and the perspective of whether or not things have improved is often based on whether you’re white or a minority, whether you’re a woman or a man.

So anyway, when YA lit started in the 1940’s this was the time of the war and the V Girls were sneaking out to hook up with young soldiers, and sexually transmitted disease was becoming a problem, and young women were frustrated at their lack of options. Minorities were treated abysmally. Fractures were still happening within families, but they were never discussed openly, and frankly, kids were frustrated with the literature presented to them. That’s why during the 50s and 60s we began to see more and more teens pushing the boundaries (in all fields) and these same teens grew up to write books that reflected the world as they saw it — a flawed and fractured world — rather than the portrait that adults had wanted to paint for them. That’s the milieu where the wild success of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders came from. A “real” book written by a “real” teen that didn’t attempt to lie about the world.

This eventually gave rise to the stigma YA books still carry today of being “problem novels”. So many writers wanted to write about the hardships of life that had previously been hushed up. Those same teens who felt denied started saying, “what about me? My parents got a divorce.” “What about me? I’m gay.” “What about me? I am a minority and I’ve had to overcome great adversity.”

Now in the 2000s, I don’t think we could go back to the way teen novels once were, painting a world that too many teens know doesn’t exist for more than a small few.

I understand the question that NMC raises, even if he/she hasn’t stated it exactly this way, but I think that question is largely whether books for teens reflect reality or create reality. I believe NMC would say that they create reality while those of us whose opinions fall on the opposite side of the debate would say that they reflect reality.

In actuality, it depends on which kids are reading them. That’s why I fully support choices for teens when it comes to reading. I think the school board’s decision was fair. Don’t deny the book to all children because for some, this book is going to reflect their reality, but offer warnings to teens and parents so that if it doesn’t reflect a teen’s reality, or if it’s not a reality that a given teen wants to explore, they have other options.

I would also note that in my research I’ve done a lot of reading about the definition of “teens”. The category of “teenager” is actually a marketing term that came about in the 1940’s. Before that, childhood ended very early and by the time kids reached the early teen years they often held adult jobs and were starting to raise their own families. Basically, there were children and adults. High school was only for the wealthy, white elite. It was only after the depression when so many young people were homeless and jobless that the government stepped in to make high school available to the masses, thus creating a block of people who were between children and adults.

This block became known as teenagers, and in our country we tend to view this time as an extension of childhood. In other times, people in their teens have been pharoas and monarchs, led armies, wrote novels, raised families, won sports championships, entertained thousands… in fact, teens today still do many of these things. My point is that teens are between childhood and adulthood and there’s a reason that it’s appropriate to include material in a teen novel that wouldn’t be included in a novel for younger children, and that’s because teens have reached an age of discernment. And if by the time a child has reached their teens they haven’t developed the ability to discern between right and wrong, your world and their world, and they haven’t developed the ability to make choices and judgements, then that teen probably needs some extra help to catch up to their peers.

Do I think teens should be treated the same as adults? No. But do I think teens should be treated the same as children? No. I think teens will be as capable, intelligent, and compassionate as we raise them to be. Do I expect both intelligent thought and compassion from my teen readers of Fat Kid Rules the World? Absolutely. But I have faith that they are capable of it. And if they’re not capable of it, or if they just don’t want to read my book, then that’s perfectly fine, and I trust they will choose another book on their reading list.



Mary W says:

It was my final post, K.L., merely because i feel this has become largely unproductive. And i’m disappointed because, as you know, I WANT to understand the other side of the debate. It just never seems possible.

The short history of young adults you provided is very enlightening. Thanks!

Thank you, also, for allowing the voices to be heard on this issue, and for interjecting thoughtfully and sensitively. You’re an inspiration.



tim b says:

The debate seems over, so I won’t be adding to it but thanks to everyone for such a rich exchange. It’s remarkable reading.



Mary W says:

tim b… what are your thoughts?



VLD Olson says:

I am sad to say that FAT KID RULES THE WORLD is being challenged in my school system. What bothers me the most is that the parent did NOT read the book; she is only trying to have it removed on what she skimmed through in the first seven pages. To me this is just criminal!



[…] because I enjoy sharing links, here also is K. L. Going’s post about a recent challenge to Fat Kid Rules the […]



[…] because I enjoy sharing links, here also is K. L. Going’s post about a recent challenge to Fat Kid Rules the […]



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Deimos Apex says:

Fat Kid Rules The World is a great book that was later made into a great movie. First, I do not hate Christians. Everyone has their right to their own beliefs. Christians seem to be on a perpetual crusade to cleanse the world of everything they don’t agree with while simultaneously attempting to convert the heathens to shield them from “eternal damnation”. This practice interferes with every non-christians right to the same. The right to choose, what they believe, what they watch, how they speak, how they write, etc. Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t give you the right to ban it or shield others from it, that is up to each individual. I come from an extremely religiously oppressive background and it makes me sick that there are so many individuals that speak out on behalf of everyone else as if their opinion is absolute. Nobody is forcing you to read, watch or listen to anything. If you don’t like the content, don’t consume it. Would I suggest this book to my very young child? Probably not. Would I suggest this book to say, a 14-17 year old who is bullied, alone, isolated and/or just enjoys reading? Of course I would. We all have our opinions, but nobody’s opinion is absolute so these people need to act accordingly.



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