Sunday, August 10, 2014

Middle Grade: Time to Lose the C-word

In the past two months, I've been blasted out of five (5) recent children's books by the C-word.

There I was, reading along, having a grand time, when all of a sudden...BAM. C-word. I'm knocked out of the story and cast adrift, the words on the page sifting meaninglessly past a brain now completely preoccupied with wondering why the author –with whom I'd been getting along swimmingly up till then-- suddenly decided to descend into hate speech.

But don't picture me reading these books. Picture a child in a wheelchair. A little boy with a leg-brace. A girl on crutches. Picture them reading the books. All of a sudden they're smacked right in the eyes with a line something like this:

He was a cripple.

I hadn't known she was crippled.

Why would anyone hurt a cripple?

Why indeed? But the child reader has been called this name on the school playground. And yes, of course it hurt.

(By the way, the above-- and below-- are not direct quotes from the books. I'm not naming and shaming. Just hoping for change.)

Does it matter how the word is presented? Whether it's in quotes or not? Marginally. Only marginally. Remember, the target readers are children, with a child's level of discernment.

Anyway, in four of the five books, the word occurred at least once without quotes.

In two of them, it was used in the authorial voice to describe a person with a physical disability.

In two, it was used to describe hypothetical people, "cripples" in the abstract.

In three, it was used as a figure of speech.

A crippling blow.
The ship was crippled.

(If you're thinking that adds up to seven: Yeah. Three of the five books used the word repeatedly.)

I think most people would probably be okay with the figurative use. I'm not. For those people to whom a word has fangs, it has fangs even when it's used figuratively. If you think about other hate speech in this context, you'll see what I mean.

It would also probably be okay with most people (including me) if the word was discussed, if the fact that it's hateful and hurtful, and/or how a character is affected by the word, was the author's point.

It's never discussed.

We didn't use the C-word for years, because we understood that it was insulting and hateful. Now apparently we think it's edgy.

The C-word, by the way, does not have fangs for all people with mobility-related disabilities. Those who react most negatively to it, I think, are those who were already physically disabled in elementary school.

But these are middle grade books. They're for people in elementary school.

So please, can we stop calling them names?

update 8/12/14: Two days I've read the word in six (6) recent middle grade books.

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