Age inappropriateness and fantasy

So while at Au Contraire this weekend (the local SF con), I made the mistake of going to a panel on introducing your kids to sci-fi and fantasy. And okay, I don’t have children, but I do have a young niece and nephew. I’m an ex-children’s bookshop employee. And as I have no interest in Lovecraft, this was my only other panel choice.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the panel was going to go down the path of ‘all the YA these days is so disgusting’. The impetus being a woman asking for recommendations in the 9–12 age group (not YA, by the way. Also, while middle fiction might not get the press YA does, it’s hardly a languishing genre).

Someone mentioned Tamora Pierce, and the woman responded, oh, but she’d heard they had a lot of sex in them. And call her old-fashioned, but she didn’t want her 11-year-old reading books with sex in them.

Which I didn’t respond to, because I don’t argue with parents like that. But I had two thoughts:

  1. that is not an accurate description of Tamora Pierce’s books
  2. your 11-year-old is not going to be traumatised by reading a book that mentions sex.

Yes, some of Tamora Pierce’s books feature sex. Most of them do not. (There are certainly no 13-year-olds having sex, which this woman seemed to think there were.) And when the characters do have sex, it’s off-screen. You might get the character thinking about whether or not they want to have sex; you don’t get the actual sex.

The fact there’s sex going on may go entirely over your child’s head. But if it doesn’t, so what? They read about girls who consider whether or not having sex is right for them, girls who make sure to practice safe sex if they do, girls who are able to have open discussions with their mothers or mother-figures about sex.

My god, how awful.

Also, you know, I was reading Tamora Pierce when I was 11, and I’m kind of insulted by the idea that that was inappropriate. (I will concede that the Terry Goodkind I read at that age may have been inappropriate.)

The conversation went on to mention Ted Dawe’s Into the River, a book that recently caused a scandal by winning the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards (where ‘children’ includes teenagers, by the way). I haven’t read it, but apparently it features a ‘disgusting’ sex scene. From what my former boss has said, that’s kind of the point. Also the target audience is teenagers 15+. It’s hardly being thrust into the hands of innocent babes.

That was a digression, anyway. But the net effect was me feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and wondering just how rude it would be to walk out (it was a small room, and I wasn’t at the end of a row).

Then someone said that Grimms’ fairy stories originated as dirty jokes told by farmers. ‘And they decided it would be a good idea to write these down for children!’

Which apparently crossed a line for me, because I left then. (What, ‘and then the witch him into a bird!’, hur hur, snicker snicker? Had this woman even read a fairy story before?)

It’s a wonder I even survived to adulthood, reading all the filth that I read.

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