Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh those troublesome books again!

Always nice to see YA books making the news. Less so when would be book banners start raising their fists again. Compared to some countries, Australia seems to have a very healthy attitude towards diverse and challenging YA and children's books. It's very rare to hear stories of Australian parents or teachers gluing the pages of sticky sex scenes together or burning Harry Potter books at the stake. (Although admittedly local YA author, Robyn Bavati, recently found herself defending her YA novel, Dancing in the Dark, against a group of outraged adults in the Jewish community.)
So, it was surprising to see this article appear in yesterday's Age (17/2). Fortunately, there was an excellent response swiftly published in today's Age (18/2). Let the debate begin, I say! Your thoughts?


  1. Generally, I hate book banning.

    However, in this instance: I support the teachings of the book but I don't think an appropriate class activity is to practice writing suicide notes!!!

  2. Hi Megan - did you get a chance to read the follow up article in today's Age? I have to say that I think Michelle Smith's response was excellent.
    Here is a quote from her article that I think addresses this particular concern:
    "If we think of childhood as a period of innocence, it does seem confronting that murder and suicide are discussed in the classroom. Never mind that we've all been exposed to such shocking plot developments if we've ever lumbered through Shakespeare in high school. But if we remember that teens are already aware of, and exposed to, the full gamut of problems that adults face, the discussion of a story in the safe setting of a classroom with a teacher and peers may play a vital role in allowing students to talk about issues they may not feel comfortable discussing with their parents."

  3. I agree that Michelle's response to the article was excellent. I can't imagine any book being responsible for a teenager's suicide - no teenager would commit such an act unless already deeply disturbed. Teenage suicide is a very real problem, one that can only ever be mitigated through awareness and discussion. Asking the students to write suicide notes is a valid writing exercise that would encourage empathy - a quality that produces not only better writers, but better, more compassionate citizens.

  4. I read the links you provided, but I'm sorry to say I have this issue where I don't read newspapers... haha

    Not for any reason its just why waste money when I can get the news for free on tv/on the internet?

    Thereinlies the issue with print mediums i know!!

    Anyway, I agree with that, although i still think *writing* a suicide note is taking it a bit too far.

    Robyn, I get what you're saying in theory but surely there's a better way to express a teen's feelings than "Hi mum and dad, sorry, i'm sad because of XYZ now i'm going to kill myself, ok bye." ??

    Perhaps keeping a diary in class, or writing down some general feelings, have the counsellor come in... I don't know.

    But I do know that if I found out *my* kid was writing suicide notes in class I'd be pulling them out quick smart.

    (And you know I'm generally a pretty liberal person but this is pushing it!!)

  5. ***I will say I love to read the newspaper - when it's provided free by work :P

  6. I've been thinking about this one since you posted it, Sally, and it's really interesting. Thanks for drawing my attention to both articles.

    The idea of a suicide note writing exercise made uncomfortable for a second, but as I think more about it - what an incredible way for a person to truly understand just how desperate someone needs to be to kill themselves. You'd have to recognise the little things that could build up and make someone so depressed (empathy, as Robyn pointed out) - and even just thinking about doing this writing exercise has made me so grateful for my life and my (generally) positive outlook.

    Your suggestions of keeping a diary or having a psychologist or counsellor visit are good too, Megan. But I know that having to write a suicide note in class would have interested me immediately in the subject. I'm sure it would have sparked excellent class discussions.

  7. Thanks Robyn, Megan and Kate. I agree the idea of writing a suicide note in class is confronting, but imagine that with a skilled and compassionate teacher, it could be an incredibly powerful exercise. There can often be too much silence around these difficult topics and finding creative ways to help teenagers open up and talk about these things within the safety of the classroom could turn out to be a really positive thing.