Neil Gaiman ponders what causes a book to be classified for children and recieves a standing ovation at TXLA
It’s not always easy to entertain a room full of librarians, especially in Texas. A group of librarians can be split into thirds. One group fits into the stereotypical, up-tight old coot who whispers “SHHH,” and longs for the good-old-days. The second group consists of librarians by trade who don’t passionately live and breathe books. They’re decent at the craft but used to be gym teachers or chemistry teachers and added on a library certificate for a change of scene. The third librarian group is full of quirky types. Here you find the punk-rock librarians, the uber-nerds, the lipstick librarians and those who excel in their knowledge of specific areas. While perhaps different in personality, what this third group has in common is their painfully obvious, insatiable appetite for books and all things bookish.
Entertaining this diverse group of librarians was the job handed to Neil Gaiman during the Texas Library Association’s annual meeting in April and he managed to elicit crowd wide laughter, cheers and a standing ovation, even though he said “Fuck” in Texas (or maybe the standing ovation was because he had the sand to say it).
Neil Gaiman chose to revise a speech that he had previously presented, entitled What the Very Bad Swear Word Is A Children’s Book Anyway?
“I write to find out what I think about things.”
Gaiman talked about how children know what they are ready to read and won’t reach to read above their limits. If they attempt to read something that they’re not ready for, they are inevitably bored and put the book down to find something more suitable.
“Children tend to be really good at censorship”
Censorship is an issue that Gaiman is no stranger to. He has had several pieces challenged over the years and commented that he received numerous complaints over the sex scene in Stardust, which was once referred to as embarrassingly specific.
“Walking the line can mean, occasionally, crossing it.”
Gaiman commented that there is a certain level of incomprehensibility for children thinking about the adult world. They are told to trust adults, yet adults lie to them about things such as the myth that the school years are the best years of their lives and telling them things like “shots aren’t going to hurt.”
“Ideas that are old and hackneyed for adults are still fresh and new for children.”
Gaiman concluded with the thought that there really are no discernible answers to what differentiates adult and children’s books. He jokingly stated that one difference is that in adult literature, you can “leave the boring bits in.” Swear words don’t make a book an adult book. Don’t kids deserve stories about magic, adventure and turmoil and to be pushed to the limits of fear that thrill? Kids will take something out of anything that they read even if they don’t understand things in the same way that adults do.
“You do not come to authors for answers. You come to us for questions.”