I was in my favourite bookshop yesterday, Paige’s Book Gallery, gathering another pile to read. Lesley and I got to chatting about books, and she said that “Into the River” was now classified R14. Now, my mother was on the Film and Lit Review Board for quite a few years, so I know these decisions aren’t taken lightly, but I think this probably opens a whole new can of worms for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, and its categories. It also demands the question, if this book needs to be rated so that children won’t buy it, aren’t there a whole lot of other books in bookshops that need a rating?? What happens with Fifty Shades, for example. It would be bizarre to sell it to young children (under 14) – but it’s not illegal, like selling Into the River would be. And, let’s be honest, being illegal may well have just upped the kudos of the book as well.
I don’t want all the books that win prizes to be sanitised, so I still think that if the judges thought this book merited a prize, it should have got a prize. It’s just that everyone in the category it won a prize in, should be legally allowed to read the book that won! But with the categories as they are, we keep running the risk of excluding the 12 – 14yr old category, or the 8 – 10 yr category. These are critical reading ages for children to be exposed to great literature so that they are motivated to continue reading into a life long habit.
Adults who were readers by choice as children and young adults, in study after study after study, have been shown to earn more, have more employment choices, and generally have more positive life trajectories that those who weren’t. The ‘reading slump’ is a well documented phenomenon, and occurs during the intermediate (Year 7 and 8) and early secondary years (Year 9 and 10). Good quality writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is vital. But what would be appropriate for one group, is just not for the other. Developmentally, these two age groups are very different readers.
What is the purpose of book awards? Sure, they critically acclaim the writer and the book, and that’s a great thing because, for most writers in New Zealand, the hourly rate is rubbish. And as any good behaviourialist knows, everyone needs positive reinforcement of some kind. But, let’s be honest, mostly it’s a commercial exercise. Lesley, at Paige’s, has had ‘The Luminaries’, recent winner of the Booker, positively flying out the door. Teachers, librarians, parents and other people who control the book buying in children’s lives, rely on book awards for guidance. We can’t possibly read every book – no matter how hard we try!
I have advocated for this before, but I really think that there should be four fiction categories in the NZ POST Children’s Book Awards:
– picture books (everyone!)
– junior fiction (8+)
– intermediate fiction (11+)
– young adult (14+)
Read below the decision by the Film and Literature Review Board to restrict sales of ‘Into the River’ by Ted Dawe
Into the River
R14 Parental advisory explicit content (Film and Literature Board of Review decision)
Date Registered: 08/01/2014
Into the River is a book by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. In September 2013 it was classified as unrestricted by the Classification Office after being submitted by the Department of Internal Affairs because of a complaint from a member of the public.
An application was made to the Film and Literature Board of Review for a review of the Classification Office’s decision. The Board of Review classified the book as R14.
How a review works
When conducting a review of a Classification Office decision, the Board carries out its own examination of the publication and applies the classification criteria to assign a classification. This process can result in the Board assigning a higher, lower, or same classification as the Classification Office.
The book’s plot:
The novel is centred on Te Arepa Santos, a boy from a fictional village on the East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand/Aotearoa. He wins a scholarship to a boys’ boarding school in Auckland, and the transition is difficult. He forges friendships, finds enemies, and discovers that his Maori identity is discounted and a disadvantage. He endures the bullying that comes from this, as well as that meted out to new boys, and sees what happens when that bullying goes too far. There are confusing encounters with sex and a growing understanding of intimacy, the use of drugs, peer pressure, deep racism, grief and death.
The Film and Literature Board of Review noted in its decision that the book contains themes of bullying, underage casual and unsafe sex, drug taking and other matters that people may find offensive and upsetting. The Board considered that the book is likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying. The Board also considered that the book serves a useful social purpose in raising these issues for thought and debate and creating a context which may help young adults think more deeply about the immediate and long term consequences of choices they may be called upon to make.
However, there are scenes in the book that are powerful and disturbing, and in the opinion of the Board run a real risk of shocking and disturbing young readers. Whilst those aged 14 and above are likely to have a level of maturity that enables them to deal with this, those below the age of 14 may not.
The Film and Literature Board of Review classified the book as objectionable except if the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 14 years. The Board also requires that any further publications of the book carry the same descriptive note as the present publication, reading “parental advisory explicit content”.
What does this decision mean?
The Board of Review decision replaces the one by the Classification Office. It is illegal for anyone, including parents and guardians, to supply Into the River to anyone under the age of 14.