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School board pulls Stuck in the Middle from library shelves [Updated]

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age

The school board in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Monday voted to remove the anthology Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age from middle-school libraries.

The move, spurred by a parent’s complaint that the graphic novel contained foul language, sexual references and depictions of teen smoking, reportedly marks the first time in at least eight years a book has been removed from the student collection. Teachers will continue to have access to the graphic novel, and (curiously?) may use it in class.

According to the Argus Leader, the board’s decision came after a unanimous recommendation from a review committee composed of two teachers, two parents and an assistant principal.

A 2007 anthology published by Penguin’s Viking Children imprint, Stuck in the Middle was edited by Ariel Schrag and contains contributions by Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt, Dash Shaw, Lauren Weinstein and others.

As the book’s  title suggests, the stories focus on the highs and lows of life in seventh and eighth grade, from first loves to first zits. It was selected by the New York Public Library as one of its 2008 Books for the Teen Age.

The committee questioned whether middle-school students possess the maturity to see beyond the “objectionable language” in two or three of the stories and be able to glean a positive message.

In a statement provided to the Argus Leader Schrag said, in part:

In terms of foul language, sexual content, and teen smoking in this book, all the authors strove to present the teens and pre-teens in a realistic light. We may not like all of the decisions teenagers make, but if we sanitize their speech and behavior in our stories, our characters won’t be authentic. Real teens and pre-teens sometimes use these words and say and do these things. A book like this can present a good opportunity for dialogue between children and parents. Banning the book isn’t going to change children’s behavior or somehow save them from the hard truths of teenage life – I find it very hard to believe that a child would hear a swear word for the very first time in the book, or that he or she would be made aware that teenagers sometimes have sexual relationships or smoke cigarettes. The only thing that can make an impact in the way children act is communication, and this book provides a platform for that.

This news comes just as we’re learning more details about the library controversy in Jessamine County, Kentucky, involving access to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier and the subsequent firing of two circulation-desk attendants.



It always amazes me when adults refuse to treat kids with respect, but then turn around and expect them to “grow-up.” I’m glad that my parents were more open to what I’d be able to handle maturely as a teen, but it always bothered me when some teachers seemingly coddled us one moment as if we’re stupid vapid mindless blank slates ready to be corrupted at the drop of a hat, but then getting upset and trying to guilt-trip us after missing a homework assignment and telling us that “Junior High is meant to prepare us for the real world and how can we hope to succeed if we can’t even turn in a simple homework assignment?”
Of course I haven’t even read “Stuck in the Middle” so maybe I’m being presumptive, but I’m sure it’s no worse than what I read in some classic novels back during middle school either.

As Ariel points out, most of us didn’t need a comics anthology in middle school (or junior high, as we called it then) to be exposed to foul language, sexual references and teenage smoking.

I have been looking at a lot of young adult novels lately and am surprised in a good way about their frank, realistic depictions of teenagers’ lives. It seems like comics get singled out for censorship disproportionately because their content, being immediate and visual, is more accessible to parents — who, if they’re reflective of society in general, probably haven’t even read a prose book in the past year.

I think that’s exactly right, Jennifer. I remember thinking of this earlier in the decade as it became apparent that comics were making inroads into libraries and mass culture–“Someone’s gonna open a copy of Blankets, see boobies, and freak the fuck out.” It’s the visuals that do it–you can assign a book in high school English that you could never show the movie version of to the class.

Kids are smart, we need to give them more credit – they should be able to choose what they read. Really we sould promote literacy and encourage kids to understand and respect all forms of writing. Who makes these decisions anyway??? Let the kids decide.

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