Last night I finished Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers. I didn't actually choose this book to read; a parent had complained about it after his son brought it home, due to the bad language in the book.
Well, it's true that this book is filled with four-letter words, but it is also incredibly real, convincing, and touching. It's a story of Vietnam, and the language comes from the mouths of young soldiers, driven alternately by bravado and fear.
Some quotes from the book:
"We spent another day lying around. It seemed to be what the war was about. Hours of boredom, seconds of terror."
"I was glad to see her, but I couldn't talk to her. The words didn't have the right proportion somehow. There was this feeling that everything I was going to say was either too loud or too strange for a world in which people did normal things."
"'You think I should tell my little brother about how things are over here?'
'You ain't told him yet?'
'I keep trying to, but I can't get it out right. You know, I don't want him to think about it like you do when you go to the movies.'
'You gotta tell him it's just the way things are in the movies,' Lobel called out from across the aisle. 'You tell people what this is really like, and who's going to come to the next war? They'll have all the announcements out and everything, and nobody'll show up.'"
Just because this book is realistic, of course, doesn't mean that a seventh grader needs to read it. There's more to this book than the language that could be overwhelming or upsetting for a young child; the violence is graphic and horrible. And I know this isn't very politically correct, but I do believe in a parent's right to have input in what a child reads, particularly when the child is this young. But I don't think this book should be removed from the library. Many of my male students want to read books about war and fighting, and frankly I'd rather they read something thoughtful like this book than something that glorifies killing and dehumanizes the enemy.
I suppose a parent who sends a child to a Christian school might have an expectation that all books from the library will be "safe"; I don't think that's possible, though. Part of the problem here is that the same library serves sixth through twelfth grade, and that's a huge age range. There's no way that every book in the library can be appropriate for every kid.
So what do you think?
44 minutes ago