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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.