The library community where I work is primarily a devout religious one. In turn I’m frequently asked for “clean” or “safe” books by the parents and children. Working in the children’s department one would think finding a clean and/or safe book is easy. Let me tell you it is not, there are levels of clean. The first level of cleanliness is the purest, straight and wholesome goodness of Dick and Jane and the Bobbsey Twins. Then there are just the plain dirty books, but dirty books are not usually in the children’s department. What constitutes if a book is on a certain level of purity are the elements the book contains. There are two major elements that makes a book clean and safe or dirty and dangerous. These elements are boy-girl interaction and magic.
To make a book clean and safe there should be little to no boy-girl interaction. This is the basic element for all clean and safe books. According to the community boys and girls can be friends or siblings, but if there is any love interest what so ever it is no longer a clean book. One might think children’s books usually do not have girl-boy romances in them, but they do. Early chapter books and easy readers always have a valentine story. I know it is seemingly innocent, but the community asking for these books do not feel that way. Once I started looking in the collection, recollecting the books I have read and asking around, there seemed to be lots of first crushes, kisses and boyfriend/girlfriend subplots in juvenile books. Back in April I booktalked There’s a Girl in my Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli. I thought it was a great book about girls fighting against stereotypes and sibling rivalry. What I had forgotten about one of the subplots with main character having a huge crush on a boy, they go on a date and he kisses her. I felt wretched. The girl I had booktalked is part of the community that should only read clean and safe books. The girl in fact loved the book and wants to read all of Spinelli’s other books. I have learned that if there are any hugs or kisses in the book to tell them right off. It goes against the my librarian belief to give away the ending, but sometimes it’s the only way.
The other major element that causes a book to be unsafe is magic. Fantasy books are wonderful! I love fantasy and a little sci-fi as well. Ask me about my Harry Potter collection. Fantasy books, especially the ones on the juvenile and easy reader levels, rarely have boy-girl interaction, but they have magic of one kind or another that can harbor satanic and wican beliefs that are definitely unsafe to a young person. These are the books I read most often following closely by chickette lit, which sometimes mixes the boy-girl interaction and fantasy.
Drugs, alcohol and death are the typical elements that cause books to challenged and/or banned. They also contribute immensely to the sanctity of a book. If the book makes the reader question their own belief system or introduces an idea into their head that is against the communities ideals it is unsafe.
I try to recommend the safest and cleanest books I can without asking the customer in front of me to describe their level of cleanliness or devoutness. And yes, as a librarian, we should only booktalk the books we have read and loved, but really there are lots of books out there and I cannot read them all. I read lots of J and YA books, but most of them do not qualify as clean or safe. To end my first blog I wanted to mention that even though there is a tremendous stress on clean and safe books in this community, but no one complained about my Banned Book display and have had any challenges of the collection since I have been working here.