This article acts as a companion piece to the various YA book reviews that have been published on Illinois Review over the last few months. Before I present this week's book review on the YA book Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, I want to draw out a point for anyone who is still wondering why IR is wasting its publishing space with this book review series. Let me just state for the record, I don't care any more or less about dragon stories and fairytales than you do. This series is not a reflection of my own preferred reading material or of what I think should be published or censored. It is a free country. Writers should write what they want to write and publishers should publish what they want to publish.
With that stated, I do care very much about propagandizing children through dragon stories and fairytales however, and I detest that my own hard earned money is being taxed away from me for the sole purpose of teaching my children a value system that is abhorrent to me.
This review series is not a critique of books – young adult or otherwise. It is a critique of the American Library Association and is inspired toward highlighting the books that the taxpayer funded YALSA (a branch of the American Library Association) recommends for children between the ages of 12 to 18 because those recommendations are used by taxpayer funded schools and libraries to fill their bookshelves with YA books.
Now, I can say to readers, "Hey, I think that the American library Association is recommending books that are inappropriate for children to read." And the natural reaction will be, "Yeah, you might be right. Maybe we should look into that." And I can say, "You know, a lot of these books are violent, use bad language, are anti-Christian, are mildly to overtly pornographic, etc." And the reaction will be, "Well, you know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what you think is violent or anti-Christian or pornographic may not seem equally inappropriate to someone else…especially because you are a right-winged, closed minded, Tea Party conservative." And that's a fair point; because what I think of as inappropriate may not be the same as what you think.
Unless I explain to you that a book contains 175 different instances of foul language or that a main character casually uses controlled substances, or there are references to sex out of wedlock, until readers are shown specifically why I think a book is inappropriate with contextual examples and direct quotes while the reader remembers that these books are intended for children, it's just my word against the ALA's.
So we are now building a reference guide for busy parents and grandparents to access if they are wondering about the books that their children are reading. It will be posted on weekends so as not to interfere with the true raison d'etre of Illinois Review.
The bottom line is that there must be some accountability for what the ALA recommends for a year's best YA literature because we are funding the ALA's recommendations. There must be some standards put into place, and we the taxpayers must stop turning a blind eye to the structure of our children's education. We must stop delegating the responsibility of content standards as if we are too stupid or too busy to be bothered with what is best for our own kids.