Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Did you know that YA lit is bilge?

Thanks to YALSA-BK, I read the following column in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Parents, Beware: Some Books are Full of Bilge.

First off, "bilge"? Who's been reading Patrick O'Brien novels, I ask you?

This is my response to the author:
As a librarian who has worked with children and teens
for over five years, I am very disturbed by your
recent article, entitled "Parents, beware: Some books
are full of bilge", which I read in the online edition
of the Philadelphia Inquirer. By only presenting one
side of an argument, you are doing a great disservice
to both the books you mention, as well as the great
literature that exists for tween audiences.

Instead of saying that parents should review their
children's book choices in order to share the
experience of discovering new worlds and great
stories, you promote a message of fear and distrust.
By characterizing books such as Peaches as "bilge",
you overlook the fact that this book is not suitable
to your child's maturity level, so it is little wonder
that you found it unacceptable for your daughter.

Peaches has been reviewed as appropriate for grades 8
and up. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has
been recommended for grades 6 and up. Although your
daughter, and other 10 year olds, might be capable of
reading this book, that does not mean that they should
be reading it.

I am very aware that parents have the right to monitor
what their children read. In fact, I encourage
parents to be aware of what their child is checking
out of the library. I have often recommended to
parents that they should take a look at their
preteen's choices, to the point where I have said,
"This book might be too mature for your child. Why
don't I suggest some different books?"

While I applaud you for suggesting alternatives, Dairy
Queen might not be the best choice, either, as it has
also been recommended for ages 12 and up. A better
option might be a book like The Penderwicks by Jeanne
Birdsall. For advanced readers in grades 4 and 5,
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale would be an excellent

In the future, I would suggest that you skip the
bookstore and come to the library, where there are
trained professionals who can help you and your
daughter select books that are both challenging and

I did get an email from the author within an hour of sending mine, which was nice, and it says all the right things about listening to librarians and such. But I can't help feeling that it's just lip service, because if she really felt that way . . . wouldn't she have written an article that reflected that?

[cross-posted at oracle]

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  • At 8:56 AM, Blogger Liz B said…

    My favorite (favorite part to hate, that is) part of the original column is the wonderful logic that the age group to which the books are marketed is an illusion; hey, it says 9th grade and above but because my child wants to read it, 9th grade means 5th grade and that's true for all parents and children. This is crazy troll logic.

  • At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It is amazing how many people share this view of books. I appluad your response to the writer.

  • At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Did you also send your letter to the Editor for possible publication in the paper?

    It is a great letter, I think you should!

  • At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i think you've overreacted. the author has a right to say what she feels about this literature. and frankly, as a parent, i'm glad to be reminded that we must be vigilant. i thought the article was amusing and well-written. it needn't tell your side; you didn't write the article.

  • At 7:53 AM, Blogger Melissa Rabey said…

    Liz--I agree with you on the crazy troll logic of the column, at least from our perspective.

    Anonymous #1--Thanks!

    Heidi--I actually sent a shorter version of this letter in for publication as a letter to the editor, but I don't know whether it was published or not.

    Anonymous #2--You're going to get a comment all to yourself.

  • At 7:59 AM, Blogger Melissa Rabey said…

    Anonymous #2--Well, I wouldn't say I've overreacted. If the author had approached the column purely from a literary standpoint, saying that there are badly-written YA books, I would have had no problem with her column, truly. It was the fact that she thought a book written for teenagers should be appropriate for her ten-year-old that I objected to.

    Perhaps I'm overly sensitive about this question of YA lit, because I enjoy it so much. But I felt this article reflected a lack of understanding, and it was actually encouraging that ignorance. I don't expect every article to have the same viewpoint that I do, but I do expect a more middle-of-the-road approach, and this article did not have that.

    Thanks for commenting--you have made some good points, and although I don't agree with them, I appreciate that you took the time to comment.

  • At 8:49 AM, Blogger Chris said…

    I think the column just reflects the impossible illusory "perfect parent" myth we parents create for ourselves these days. We want to give our children this unreal 1950's version of childhood, complete with picket fences and fairy tales, and oh yeah, lots of perfect female role models so that our girls will know that they can grow up to be rocket scientists if they really want to. But I have a few questions:
    *Have you watched kids' television these days? I limit my kid to Nickelodeon and Public TV. He's 8 year old and somehow found out about "Spin the Bottle" - he said he saw something about it on television. Our popular culture has a lot of sexual references and images. Kids have HEARD and SEEN a lot more than we realize. I wonder how much of the stuff the writer saw in the book was actually new to her daughter?
    * Did your parents monitor what you read? Mine sure didn't. Why do we have to now? What is so harmful about a book with sex in it? Either the child won't understand it and get bored, or the child is curious and will explore these themes in a safe way.

    Of course, my daughter is only 2 years old - my tune may change as she gets older - but my point is, we can't protect our children from the culture WE CREATED forever. People get all worked up about the subject of teen literature while the television and musical genres are drenched with skimpily clad tweens acting like skanky 20 somethings.

  • At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    chris, the books i read as a teenager were always appropriate because the only reading i did was for school. generally speaking, i was an athlete, and had no time for leisure reading. the naughtiest thing i read was probably one flew over the cuckoo's nest. and you better believe my mother knew what television i was watching, as well as what books i was reading. as well as what i went out of the house wearing.

    and now i'm in my children's business too. quite simply, it shows that you care. it may never be effective at stemming the tide of our culture, but caring might keep the lines of communication from shorting out entirely.

    as for sex in books, my mother handed me "where did i come from" when i was in fifth grade. it's not so much the topic of sex that is taboo or forbidden, but just how and when it is presented that becomes important.

    ten year old girls will always want to be involved in teenage business, always wanting to seem more mature, always in competition with the older girls. the books, clothing and music they select will always reflect this tendency. my daughter is only 8 and i'm already preparing her for the no public belly and butt-showing. and i'm prepared to answer when she asks me, why can't i show my buttcrack like all the other girls?

    the books in question, melissa, while i'm quite aware of the age appropriate group the book is supposedly (key word) marketed to, i can see how a parent in the bookstore might make the mistake of giving in to a daughter's whim and purchashing books that seem relatively innocuous at first glance, but are filled with the kind of bilge the author is concerned about.

    it's important that a parent not just judge a book by its slick and seemingly friendly cover. i think that was the message the author was intending. it had nothing to do with libraries or librarians, which is why she responded in kind to what she, doubtlessly, perceived as well-informed overreaction.

    incidentally, i think when parents are paying attention to the suggested reading level stuff on the back of books, that it makes them feel good to believe that little susie 5th grader can read well beyond her grade level, and is interested in expanding her horizons. and without the sort of warning labels and ratings systems that cover content of other media such as video games, cds and dvds, it becomes a little more difficult for a parent to discern what a book may be about.

    melissa, perhaps you can see a little better why the author felt compelled to warn us. these books have no warnings on them, do they?

  • At 7:32 PM, Blogger Chris said…

    I think we can all agree that you care very much about your children and you are trying to do your best by them. I respect that. (I do care about mine, too.)
    I think we may see our parenting roles differently. I think both our aims are to keep the lines of communication open. I want to try to be a navigator. I hesitate to make anything forbidden or taboo because that just makes it all the more attractive.
    What the librarian in me reacted to in the article was mostly the fact that the article assumes, based on one display on one visit to a bookstore, that ALL teen fiction is bilge. This just is not the case.
    I think the article also creates another source of worry and fear and anxiety for parents. Now even a trip to the bookstore is fraught with peril. The truth is we cannot protect our kids from everything. We can only try to equip them with the tools to make good decisions as they become independent. I trust that we can agree on that.
    And what bugs me about the article is that it is only directed at girls. They are the ones whose virtue is in perpetual need of protection - what about boys? Something about this really bothers me. It's as if girls are too weak willed and too easily influenced to make better choices.
    BTW I played sports in school as well, and held down a part-time job. But I still snuck in some "extra" reading when I could.

  • At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    chris, nowhere in the article does the author condemn all ya as bilge. in fact, quite the opposite occurs. she provides a brief and informal social and literary critique of a couple of ya girlbooks she feels contains bilge, then offers a couple of her friends as bilge-free competitors.

  • At 8:04 AM, Blogger Chris said…

    That's true, but "you really have to look". To me, she makes them sound scarcer than hens' teeth.


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