Not for the Faint of Heart

I was horrified and appalled when I arrived at my son’s classroom yesterday for parent visitation and found this book on his desk. As he was doing his work, I started to flip through it. A couple of things jumped out at me. “Have you ever saved food in your belly button for later?” and “Have you ever eaten your own scab?” and this gem, “Have you ever been sent home from school for poor hygiene? Better wipe better next time, dude.”

My quotes are paraphrases because I do not have the book handy.

Why do I not have the book handy? Because it was promptly returned to the school book fair. Yes, I was temporarily relieved when I found out this book was not a classroom assignment. But then I returned to my state of disbelief when I discovered that it was available for purchase through the school book fair.

Now, why was my son buying a book I had not approved? That is a good question. I did tell him I wanted to approve his list of books before he went shopping, and he blatantly disobeyed and took his allowance and shopped anyway. But that’s another issue. It is my opinion that this book should not have been an option. It’s just gross. Shouldn’t a book fair be full of quality children’s literature? Or am I becoming an antique?

My son had already started filling out his journal, so momentarily I considered just letting it go. I told him we would just throw it away and count it as a lesson learned. But another mom was looking over my shoulder as I perused the book, and she asked me what I thought of it. I told her in no uncertain terms my disgust. She said she agreed, and she encouraged me to take it back, writing and all.

Now, I try not to get on my high horse unless the cause is really worthwhile. And I’m not sure this one is a hill to die on. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t let this one go. Soon I was marching down to the book fair with the offensive book in hand.

The mom running the book fair informed me that this was not the first complaint she had received about this book. WELL I SHOULD HOPE NOT! Another mom standing around spoke up and said, “Those books are very popular.”

I replied, “Well, they shouldn’t even be here. If someone wants to go to Amazon.com and purchase one, to each his own, but it doesn’t belong here.” The other moms around me seemed to agree. At least I’m not alone in my indignation.

The mom running the book fair promptly gave me my $5 back and said that she would speak to the company who runs the book fair and pass on this information. I thanked her politely and went on my merry way $5 richer.

I’m glad I spoke up. No, there is nothing morally wrong with the books. But come on. Let’s have some literary standards. Isn’t that a novel idea? Hahaha. Novel.

What would you have done?

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45 Responses

  1. I also would have returned the book. As a teacher it often shocked me what Scholastic would send to school book fairs. As a parent I was mortified when I went to my son’s book fair and saw so many books that I would not consider as an option. I am not again books with television characters, or ones that have some gross content in them, but one that teach disrespect or are WAY over the top (like the one you mentioned) should not be allowed. I know that at the school I was at they always had the option of pulling items that they deemed not appropriate to keep away from the kids. Perhaps it is something that should be brought up with the school.

  2. This is just another sign of the times. There are not standards for anything anymore. If you thought that was bad, check this out:

    ” Greg tries to run for school treasurer since he decides that all the big-ticket positions are hard to work for. As treasurer, he can manage all the school’s money and spend it on things of his choosing; like a separate bus for the cheerleaders or not giving the football players an actual football. Greg gets to work on his campaign posters that make fun of his opponent. But then, of course, his posters get torn down by the vice principal while his opponent bribes for votes by handing out Condoms.”

    Hold on to you hat, because they are making a movie out of the series.

  3. Hey!

    I must really be behind in blog reading because I am just now realizing why your blog posts haven’t been going to Bloglines! Hello? Earth to CoffeeGal?

    Anyway, your new site looks great. Can’t wait to catch up on what’s going on with you!

    Oh, and that book sounds complete awful! Thanks for the heads up!

  4. I think you were right in returning the book. It sounds disgusting. I’m often appalled by the books that are available at schoosl and to think that this bok is being offered for sale is just nasty.

  5. By the way, I forgot to add that schools are also doing plays on this book and there are some doing required book reports.

  6. Thank you for complaining- more moms need to speak out that this kind of “literature” isn’t appropriate for our kids.

  7. You’ll probably hate me for this, but I think I would have let him keep it mainly because it is so hard to keep boys interested in reading so anything you can do to encourage it is wise. Yes, the book might have been “gross” to you as an adult, but it wasn’t X-rated or anything like that. So why make a big deal out of something that was harmless kid humor ? Next time, your child might just skip the book fair — or, god forbid, the library — because he’ll be afraid of what you’ll think about his book selections. (BTW, I’m a former librarian, so I might be a little bit biased here about not banning books and all that…)

  8. See, now I have the opposite opinion. Alex has read all of these books and I’m ok with it. It was a book that he was actually engaged with and liked reading. While some of the stuff is indeed gross, Alex is a boy and he thinks these things are funny. I also think that he knows that its a book and is reading it for enjoyment and not to learn new tricks.
    So, while it might not be the book for you, it might be ok to others. That’s why we all have different tastes. I was thrilled that Alex found a book that he would read without me having to constantly nag him to read. He’s done these and now back to a good, solid book. Kind of like us adults, sometimes we need a good trashy book in between the good ones.

  9. “Shouldn’t a book fair be full of quality children’s literature? Or am I becoming an antique?”

    From what I have experienced regarding book fairs, they are much more about selling books/making money than promoting quality literature.

    Honestly, I am not sure what my view on this is. I think both parents and classroom teachers should be promoting and exposing children to quality children’s literature. I don’t think it’s Scholastic’s goal or responsibility to do that. Scholastic, despite it’s name, is a publisher who will probably always look to the company’s bottom line over the enrichment of children’s reading experiences.

    Would I have let my daughter keep the book? And she would be purchasing it with her own money? Honestly, probably. As long as I knew she was also spending dedicated time to quality reading and as long as she knew her mom was going to be engaging her in conversations about why I thought the book was gross and not edifying.

    But what do I know? My oldest is only three, so this is all just in theory for me. 😉

  10. Hum…. I was totally in agreement with you until I read the other commenters. I am quick to jump the gun on a lot of things and God has recently been speaking to me about that. On one hand, the book indeed sounds disgusting. On the other hand, I’m not real sure in the grand scheme of things the book is that big of a deal. I’d have to skim through it myself. In the end, I probably would have returned it because my son is 5, but, if he was a little older, I’m just not sure. Thanks for the heads up about what to expect, though!!! I’m sure my time is coming. =)

  11. I would have let my son keep the book. It was hard to get him to read in the first place. The books that got him interested in reading were the Captain Underpants series, which I thought were stupid, but he was interested and would actually read them. I just used them as a stepping stone, now he enjoys reading no matter what the books about.

  12. This is a very popular book. I volunteered at the school book fair last spring and they sold out. What is even worse, several teachers came and bought them for their class library.
    I think the idea is that any interest in reading should be encouraged. I am not sure this is the way to encourage reading.

  13. There is NO way that book would have entered my home – even as garbage. I absolutely would have taken it back (even after reading the other commenters).


  14. My 8 year old daughter was allowed to purchase this wretched book at our book fair last year. I glanced through it, and marked each page that I found offensive with a post-it note. I used half a pad. I then marched it back to school and demanded that she be given her money back and filed a complaint with the principal. The behavior that was being written about and somewhat glorified in this book is EXACTLY the same kind of things my kids had been getting sent to the principal’s office for. I was appalled and disgusted. I don’t believe in book banning, but good gravy, let’s at least provide age appropriate books for elementary school children.

  15. I agree with in the fact that it is disgusting and I would do what I could to not bring it into my house. I dislike the Junie B. Jones books because they start off with horrible grammar, and that just drives me crazy.

    I also agree with you that he disobeyed you in making a purchase without your consent when he knew the rules. On that basis alone, I would have returned it.

    But, I have to agree to a certain extent that it is just a book, and if he is getting other more quality reading time/exposure in, it’s probably not a big deal.

  16. The thing is, this doesn’t even qualify as reading. It’s a journal. There is no plot, no storyline, just stupid ideas and journaling prompts such as the ones I mentioned and more that I probably didn’t catch. So I don’t think this book could even trick someone into liking reading. UGH.

    I agree that Junie B Jones is a disgrace, but THAT is a situation in which I can turn a blind eye. Whatever. There is better stuff out there, for sure, but if it gets ’em reading, I can live with it.

    My son hated reading until he found this Warriors series by Erin Hunter. It’s one to look into if you have boys who aren’t big readers.

  17. The thing is, this doesn’t even qualify as reading. It’s a journal. There is no plot, no storyline, just stupid ideas and journaling prompts such as the ones I mentioned and more that I probably didn’t catch. So I don’t think this book could even trick someone into liking reading. UGH.

    I agree that Junie B Jones is a disgrace, but THAT is a situation in which I can turn a blind eye. Whatever. There is better stuff out there, for sure, but if it gets ‘em reading, I can live with it.

    My son hated reading until he found this Warriors series by Erin Hunter. It’s one to look into if you have boys who aren’t big readers.

  18. Now my son is almost 5 and so I recently helped at our school’s book fair and this book sold out! I had no idea what it was or was about until now since my son can’t read yet.

    Not sure what I would do, but I will take all of these opinions and store them in my brain for a later date and hopefully I will be able to make an informed decision should it arise in about 2 or 3 years.


  19. I’ve organized the last two bookfairs at our school and I’ve had a real eye-opening about what types of literature (and I use that term loosely) are on the market for kids. Our bookfair is unique because we utilize two vendors: Scholastic and Usborne. You can’t go wrong with anything from Usborne, but Scholastic is a different story.

    We actually go through Scholastic’s stuff and pull off books that we don’t feel are appropriate for our student body. Many of the books promoted disrespect towards parents and teachers, utilized potty humor or bad grammar, or discussed subject matter that was evil or dark in nature. We have a hard time selling books at a school-sponsored event that are directly in opposition to the type of behavior and standards that the school is trying to teach.

    You would be SHOCKED at how many of their books don’t make it onto the shelves at our fair. I’d estimate it’s around 40%. We have a no character rule at our school so kids can’t wear or carry anything that has a pop culture character on it (Disney, Superheroes, Pokeman, etc). Probably close to a third of Scholastic’s books and items are centered around pop culture chacters.

    We are very upfront with Scholastic and tell them we are doing it and why and they have no problem with us exercising discretion. I’d encourage you to talk with your book fair organizers and see if you could do something similar the next time.

    Our thought is that if parents want to buy books that aren’t offered at the fair…go for it. But we aren’t going to sell books that we don’t find any educational value in or that run contrary to what the school is trying to instill in our kids.

    And in case you’re wondering, we’ve never had a parent take issue with us pulling books. In fact, they are very appreciative and grateful.

    After seeing what books are available for boys, especially middle school age, I agree that the pickings are slim. What I’d be interested in is hearing what good books other moms have found for their boys. I know they are out there…we don’t need to settle for wimpy kids.

    Just my two cents from somone who’s been on the book fair front lines.

  20. Hmm…quite the dilemma. Well, first off, if he hadn’t let me approve the books, and bought them on his own, I’d certainly return it. To me it is not so much offensive as it is gross. And if he didn’t follow your rules, well, then you get to do whatever you want. You do want to cultivate a love of reading, of course, but there are many other books that you could choose that would fill his mind with interest and not be gross.

    And the only way you are going to get a company or school to change their ways is to make a little noise, which you certainly did. Good for you.

    I think the book fairs are more about making money than they are about promoting literature. I’m sorry to say that, but I think it’s been that way for 30 years. At least. I remember coming home with books that were not known for their literary content, and my mother being annoyed with it.

  21. It’s funny you mention this. I just went through a similar situation at my daughter’s school. My daughter’s teacher decided to begin reading aloud some short chapter books to her Kindergarten class. Great. I’m all about reading to kids. Know what she chose? Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus. Have you ever read any Junie B? Every other page uses words like “hate” and “stupid.” Junie is basically a disobedient little brat, and she is never disciplined or forced to face consequences for her atrocious behavior.

    As an adult I could see the “humor” in the book — although, really it wasn’t that funny — but a bunch of 5 and 6 year olds? I wrote to the teacher about it and she felt that it was the best way to teach good behavior (I suppose, by giviing them ideas of what not to do?!?). Several parents wrote letters and complained and finally, they stopped the reading the books. At least for now.

    I would think that it would be common sense that books like that are not appropriate for a kindergarten audience, but I continue to be amazed at how many people have a different opinion on things like that.

  22. Hmmm…that’s a hard one. I’d probably more concerned with the outright disobedience in purchasing books when he was told you must approve them than the choice of that book. Boys that age are naturally drawn to that “gross” stuff. As long as he’s being respectful & obedient at home I’d loosen up on his choice of reading. I remember years ago when working at a book fair and a mom came in and had an absolute fit over Captain Underpants books. We pulled them from the shelf – no big deal – but those books are very appealing to young boys. Stupid yes. But harmful? Probably not! Parenting is hard work isn’t it?!?!?!

  23. I just went to my son’s book fair today. While he is in 2nd grade, he is actually reading at a higher level. There was very little that was appropriate for his age. At school, he ends up selecting a lot of nonfiction for his reading. Today, he ended up purchasing a chapter book written by Tiki and Ronde Barber.

    I would have probably attempted to return the book and if they didn’t allow that, it would have been pitched. As many have already stated, the fair is about making money. It makes me ill to see tables that have a lot of “stuff” (not literature related) that the children end up spending their money on.

  24. Had to come back and read more comments, I have to disagree on the Junie B thing…My daughter read all her books the summer she turned 5 and loved them…I read each one first so I knew how to parent after she finished each book….We talked about the words “Dumb Jim” etc. that JBJ often used and those stories really helped us teach how to be nice and how not to be. If you are able to help your child see the humor in JBJ’s bad behavior and turn it into a lifes lesson then JBJ can be great books.


  25. I have to admit that I’m not really sure what the upheaval is about the book. Also, Luanne’s comment above about another book (I read the excerpt) – I’m not sure what the problem is with this other book as well.

    I haven’t sat down to read those books, but I think when a child is interested in reading we should be excited. Most likely, he would have read the book and forgotten all about it a week later and turned his interest elsewhere. Also, it could be worse, he could be reading Hustler.

  26. Way to go, mamma! You’re hopefully changing things for the better for other kids, and more importantly setting the example for your son. I hope a whole lot of people get the message.

    That being said, our kids are constantly going to be surrounded by things we don’t approve of, so consider this a great opportunity to review with your son why this book is inappropriate… 🙂

  27. The thing about school book fairs that bothers me is all the non-book stuff. It’s just an opportunity for companies to market cheap plastic stuff from China to kids with a little jingle in their pocket.

    BTW, one of the reasons I love reading blogs so much is that many are not grammatically correct, more like a stream of consciousness with questionable content. I would imagine that is the very reason that book is appealing to boys.

  28. I am routinely appalled at choices for children’s literature. Luckily, our teachers choose enriching books, but I would have a problem with even the title of that book! In an age where bullying has taken center stage and kids are encouraged to accept everyone, why would you promote a book that labels a kid as “wimpy”?

  29. As a mom of a 13 year old boy who used to love Captain Underpants books, I have to say that I’d have been more upset about the willful disobedience than by which book he chose.

    That reminds me… my son once acted out a Captain Underpants storyline. I discovered that he’d put ketchup packets under the toilet seat to see what would happen when someone sat down when I saw red spots on the ceiling and walls. Lovely, huh? 🙂

    I believe in intellectual freedom and do not condone banning books or literary censorship. At. All. I believe that parents should help their children make choices that fall in line with their family’s values. But each family has the right to have their own values and must make those choices for themselves.

    What you find appropriate or acceptable may be completely offensive to me, but I don’t believe that I should have the right to say that you (or your family members) cannot read or purchase what I find offensive.

  30. I have a different opinion as well. As a former middle school teacher I know that it is very difficult to find books that the boys like to read. I also do not believe in censorship. Not everyone has the same likes and dislikes. With that being said, my problem would not have been by the book purchase but rather by my son taking his money and purchasing the book when I specifically said not to……..

    One thing that is left out here is that this particular ‘book’ is a journal of sorts. It’s not the story/book, it’s a ‘fill in the blanks’ type of thing. Much like the Mad Libs, if you recall them. My older son was into the Captain Underpants books as well…………I didn’t really care for those as well. After all who wants their little one reading about giving wedgies! LOL But my son now loves to read all sorts of books, from the classics to modern tales. I think that’s the beauty of reading. Once we as a society start to diminish the love of reading from a child, that is where we start to harm them.

    Maybe it’s time to start having discussions with our children about the books they are reading and then do the same with the books we are reading. You might find that you enjoy the books they read and they may enjoy the one’s that you read.

  31. That book sounds awful and I wouldn’t let my son have it. I do think the school should make some better choices on what they offer. At the same time, I think some responsibility falls on parents to counsel their children and teach them to make wise decisions in things they are purchasing and reading. They are going to be exposed to this stuff regularly.

    And boys definitely are drawn to gross stuff! LOL!

  32. Gross. I worked the Book Fair at my girls’ school. There were several things I didn’t love to see on the shelves, but nothing like that I don’t think. They sell a lot of junk–key chains, stickers, novelty items–stuff unrelated to books. I shopped with my girls to make sure they bought approved stuff. My oldest wanted Camp Rock stuff, but I’m that Mom who won’t let her watch it yet. She’s 7! She can watch shows about high schoolers when she is a little older. She doesn’t like it, but she adjusts.

    Good for you for speaking up!

  33. Just so you know, you’re now a book banner and making first amendment rights look bad.

    Yup — any time a parent says that a book isn’t age-appropriate, they’re slapped with the “Censorship” label. When the “Banned Books Week” comes around, they site those instances on books. Isn’t that ridiculous?

  34. Yes, I must chime in and say that there is a difference between “banning” books, and a school/parents making discretionary decisions about what is appropriate for their students/kids.

    If the govt came in and said that it is against the law to read that book– THAT is banning. If a school makes a decision not to offer it at their particular school, that is certainly not banning the book! One can go to the local public library and read it for free.

    IMO, schools refusing to draw distinctions between socially acceptable/beneficial behavior is part of society’s problem. Making judgements about content appropriateness is not always bad, in fact is necessary for a functioning society.

    Just My opinion. Anyone is free by law to say anything, but schools/parents have a right to decide what they want to promote.

  35. I would have done the exact same thing. Good Job Mom!
    On another note, why do I have to fill in everything to make a comment. On your old blog it knew who I was and some how filled it in for me. Any tips?

  36. JL,
    I’m chuckling because I went through this with my first son.
    My second son has read both Wimpy books, The Day My Butt Exploded AND all the Captain Underpants series.
    I can’t wait to see what the third boy will read.
    Have I ‘lowered’ my standards! Probably, but my two olders sons have turned into awesome readers and reading some really cool books now. (5th grade – middle, 8th grade – oldest) that have nothing to do with boogers, butts or puking.
    Personally, I LOVE the book fairs and know first hand all the work that goes into them.

  37. Looks like I’m probably the minority opinion, but I’m going to have to say – if he spent his own money and he was interacting with the book, let him keep it. And I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to go to the school and demand that it’s removed from sales or even the library, if they were to have a copy. That attitude is how we end up with banned book lists. There is a real world out there and if they’re learning about it in a literary sense, then more power to them.

    Perhaps take an opportunity to use this as a lesson for a child rather than a discipline only event. Lessons will bring children closer in, as they’d like to learn – discipline just puts you on “the other side”.

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