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May 15, 2013 BOOKLIST
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When my goddaughter was 9 years old, she wanted a diary for her birthday. I purchased it, put it in the mail, and called her on her big day. “How did you know I wanted one with a lock and key?” she asked. “I just knew,” I said. I could have told her about my own first diary at the age of 10; it was red and had a lock with a little gold key. But I didn’t. I wanted my goddaughter to think that her urge to record private feelings belonged only to her.
That was 20 years ago, and while I suspect that my goddaughter’s older brothers attempted to get their hands on her diary key to pester her, I know that her mother never once violated her daughter’s privacy. I know because her mother remembered from her own childhood that by the age of 9, children need personal space. This is equally true as children make their reading choices, but now there is a movement in cyberspace to create fear among parents about what their children are reading. One such group in this movement is called Story Snoops. I was always taught that snooping is a bad thing. That’s why diaries have keys. But the four moms from the San Francisco Bay area who run Story Snoops obviously don’t know the definition of snoop. They claim that their website isn’t really about snooping on kids’ reading choices; it’s to “foster a lifelong love of reading in children.” Why the name?
Here’s the scoop: Story Snoops only includes reviews of fiction for ages 9 and up, even though “a lifelong love of reading” begins with younger children. Could it be that the site’s founders don’t feel that parents need to “snoop” if a book has only 32 pages? The snooping moms also don’t seem concerned with nonfiction, but the scoop among middle-grade readers is that nonfiction is all the rage. I’m thinking about all those middle-school students in my library who got turned on to reading because of nonfiction writers like Russell Freedman, Jean Fritz, Jim Murphy, and Seymour Simon. How can anyone claim that he or she is “fostering a love of reading” yet omit three-fourths of a library’s collection? And young girls in search of “real” role models should be offended that these “snoops” don’t recognize a book as important as Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, the 2010 Sibert Medal winner, by Tanya Lee Stone. What are they thinking?
When I first learned about the snooping moms, the mission statement on their website stated, “We read them so you don’t have to.” To their credit, they have since changed that statement, but the reviews remain troubling indeed. There is a section called “The Scoop: (spoiler alert).” Here’s the scoop on Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko, a 2005 Newbery Honor Book: “In addition to a handful of potty words, there is a great deal of sexual innuendo (it is set in a men’s prison, after all).” The snoops also point out that Moose’s father gives him beer. “The Scoop” on One Crazy Summer, a 2011 Newbery Honor Book by Rita Williams-Garcia, states, “At one point she [the mother] tells Delphine that she should have gotten rid of her when she had the chance, but there is no indication that her true meaning is understood.” The snoops do point out positive qualities in the books as well, but the need to justify the writers’ words and take language and scenes out of context has the tone of censorship.
Although the snoops are better writers than the reviewers at Common Sense Media and they aren’t as blatant with their labels as Common Sense Media or Facts on Fiction, they are indeed contributing to the frightening idea that kids shouldn’t be making their own reading choices. I’m all in favor of guiding children in their reading. That’s what librarians have been doing for years, and I loved that part of my job. But it needs to be done without judgment. Snooping creates an atmosphere of mistrust, and we need children and teens to trust us.
Remember the birthday girl? This year, when I called to wish her a happy birthday, she told me that she had found her old diary and had spent the day reading it and laughing. I made her promise that when her 2-year-old daughter turns 9 and asks for a diary (electronic, I’m sure) that she will give her one with a key or a password. And, when her daughter asks, “How did you know?” I told her to simply answer, “I just knew.”
Here’s the real scoop: snooping on children, no matter how you dress it, isn’t a laughing matter.
After 36 years as a school librarian, Pat Scales is a freelance writer and children’s literature advocate.