Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Story Snoops

I was clued into Story Snoops by via Dr. Joyce Valenza over at NeverEndingSearch the other day. Thank you for this incredible find. I immediately recommended the site to my FB friends who are “parents of voracious pre-adolescent and adolescent readers.” But it’s also fantastic for librarians and teachers. The site is authored by four moms whose children “have all read things that we were perhaps not ready for them to read.” A special feature called “The Inside Scoop” does more than give a summary of the book. It WARNS parents about any issues that may cause children to begin conversations parents aren’t prepared for.

Let’s consider, for example, how a parent might preview Suzanne Collins’ runaway best seller, The Hunger Games. Here are some typical reviews collated by Mary Quattlebaum of the Washington Post calls it a “gripping tale” and John Green of the New York Times calls it an “exhilarating narrative.” Titillating, isn't it?  These writers must not have kids who are sensitive readers, because what parents of sensitive readers need to know is posted on the Story Snoops review:
Somewhat gory, there are descriptions of teens killing each other with bows and arrows, rocks, and spears. One tribute, who is attacked by a genetically altered pack of killer dogs, suffers a slow and agonizing death.
There. That’s a warning about something that might disturb a sensitive child. Boo-yah!

Story Snoops is a perfect review tool for my position as a high school librarian in a Muslim culture because I am required to censor books for many things, among them “S-E-X,” including anything that might lead up to it, like a gaze, a suggestive hug, a touch that lingers too long. When I have my censorship hat on, I often put myself in the place of a mother who would rather teach her daughter about sex at home instead of having her find out about it in a book.  It's nice to get the scoop about what’s in YA novels before I order them because the last thing I want to do is waste my budget money on books I cannot shelve. Librarians, in general, are supposed to fight censorship, and rightly so, but this causes some of them to toss off their "mommy goggles."  Story Snoops, more than librarian reviews, and certainly more than paid reviewers from high profile newspapers, gives me a good idea about what might be considered “objectionable” when considering a young, sensitive, and, yes, protected audience.

Let’s compare again. I enjoy reading AbbytheLibrarian. Her reviews are fun, enthusiastic, and timely. But sometimes, her enthusiasm for the work overshadows any cautions she might have about questionable content. Here is her review for Anna and the French Kiss (Grade 8+) by Stephanie Perkins:

Anna and the French Kiss has the kind of boys that you love to drool over and Stephanie Perkins keeps the sexual tension taut throughout. She’s able to make it hot without being too graphic. Not that there’s anything wrong with being graphic, but the way things play out feels very true to the characters.

While giving the book a thumbs-up, Story Snoops also offers a more reliable description about the SEX in the novel:

While altogether a fairly tame read for older teens, this book might be better suited to readers somewhat older than the publisher's recommended age of twelve plus. The protagonists are high school seniors contemplating love, relationships, and college. There are no descriptions, but it is implied that some characters are sleeping together, and kids talk about others who have "had sex." The resident advisor in the co-ed dorm keeps a bowl of condoms outside his door to encourage safe sex. The drinking age in France is sixteen, so teen characters do drink some. The two protagonists each have one drinking incident that leads to throwing up. There is some graphic language (f--k, a-shole, sh-t, sl-t, d-ke), but it is not frequent.

That’s what parents of voracious adolescent teen readers (and librarians who have to censor their collections due to government mandates) need to know.

The best case scenario is for parents to read what their child is reading. Please, read with your child.  But it is nearly impossible to keep up with everything your child reads, even if you are a diligent mom or dad. My own very diligent mother can tell you stories about finding copies of The Thornbirds stashed in a far corner under my bed when I was 11. Story Snoops gives solid, balanced reviews from moms who understand what is important for parents to know about books.

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