The $#*%! Language in Children's Books

Wednesday, March 02, 2011
I recently discussed It's a Book by Lane Smith on my blog. If you haven't seen this book and you are a writer and lover of books, you are going to want to rush out to your nearest bookstore and check it out. In a nutshell, there's a donkey (a.k.a. jackass) and a monkey who are discussing a book. The monkey is reading a good, old-fashioned book with pages to turn, a cover to open, and a story to enjoy. The donkey can't quite get over this thing called a book that you don't have to charge or scroll down to read.

The controversy lies in the last word of this book, which is jackass, and whether or not this is a book for kids. In general, people don't think kids will understand the satire of the book the way adults will--many adults who are worried books will be obsolete some day. Adults will love It's a Book and get it; many picture book audience kids will not. But the big controversy and the reason why some parents would not buy it for their kids (and they said so on is the last word.

This got me thinking. Why are there cuss words in children's books? Every time there is one, someone has to complain about it or even try to ban the book. Do we think kids aren't exposed to these words in their everyday lives? Of course, we know they are. But I guess there's something about reading them that just really gets people going.

I'm not sure what my position is, as to me, it depends on the book. I think that if the book calls for cussing, then there should be cussing. If authors are just doing it for shock value, I think they can search for another way to get readers' attention. I probably wouldn't put a cuss word in a picture book, but I tell you, I think Lane Smith's book is GENIUS. It is laugh out loud funny.

What's your take on it? If you are a children's author, have you used inappropriate words in your manuscripts? Do you let your children read these books with cuss words? If you are a teacher, do you share a book with cuss words in it with your class?

Let us know!

post by Margo L. Dill,


Sioux Roslawski said...

I'm a third grade teacher and I do NOT read aloud books that have cuss words. Even though my kids tell me the titles of movies they watch at home (and they're full of colorful language and adult content), I do not want to step into that hornet's nest...

Cayla Kluver said...

I don't know about children's picture books. That seems unnecessary, and like it's just asking for trouble. If I see swear words in a book for young children, I automatically assume the author is trying to get adverse attention - there's no such thing as bad publicity, right? And that annoys me. That said, "jackass" is not a bad word. Technically it's a swear word, whatever, but it's mild as far as swearing goes, and in the context of this book, it doesn't bother me at all. I write YA and I think it's ridiculous that parents get their backs up over swearing in that genre (I'm thinking of 'The Body of Christopher Creed' by Carol Plum-Ucci specifically). I guarantee you YA readers don't mind, but it's like their parents want to pretend their children can't possibly know those words, or don't want their children to *gasp* know how they're used in context. Pish posh I say! ;)

Great post, thanks for writing!

Margo Dill said...

Thanks for sharing your opinions and ideas on this subject! I agree it is completely different for YA, too. When I taught 3rd grade, I would substitute different words in for cuss words when reading aloud. It is such a complex issue!


Amy Tripp said...

I'm currently in the editing stage of a Middle grade historical fantasy. My protagonist is a 12 yr old who lives on the street - his language is bound to be a little rough.

Add to that, the book begins in Boston during the Civil War, so there's a whole undercurrent of racism.

Yeah, I couldn't make it easy on myself. :)

Margo Dill said...

LOL! :) That's the kind of thing I am talking about--if the story calls for some rough language, you have to put it in. Kids are too smart today. :)


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