21 August 2008

WTF? Dame Wilson can't swear

Or at least her characters aren't allowed to. The BBC reports that the second printing of Dame Jacqueline Wilson's latest novel, My Sister Jodie, will be reprinted after the publisher, Random House, received three complaints and a message from ASDA supermarket mega-chain (which happens to be owned by WalMart,) that they will not sell editions of the book with the offending word. This is an issue that many authors have had to contend with (remember the scrotum brouhaha?) and frankly it's tiresome. Authors never do anything by accident, and if a character uses vulgar language, it's probably because they are, well, vulgar, and the author would like to make that clear. I am by no means an advocate for naughty language in children's books, and whenever I review a book in which swears or other profanities are included, I mention the fact--particularly if they seem unnecessary. That's just me doing my job for librarians and media specialists who are reading the reviews and wondering if the books are suitable for their collections. But I have never said, "Don't buy this book--there's swearing!" Nor would I ever assume that I was doing the world a favor by demanding the withdrawal or reprinting of a book which had language I objected to. If I discovered that my daughter read a book with bad words, that I thought were inappropriate for her, I would use it as a platform to discuss with her why profanity is not for us. Chances are my daughter will someday read a book with bad language and I'll never know about it because she'll have the sense not to tell me or use the language herself. And I'm fine with that, because it shows that she can deal with media that is less than savory without being fundamentally altered as a person.

What a pity that Ms. Wilson--a Dame, no less--felt the need to capitulate. She needs backbone lessons from Judy Blume. I will be interested to see how the book is released here. And considering the British-specificness of the vulgar word in question, would an America audience notice it anyway?

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