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Racy Fluff or Reading Aid?



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axelslegwarmer

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This article from http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/news/state/050314comics.shtml
Increasing numbers of school and public libraries in Maine are devoting shelf space to Japanese comic books, which have become hugely popular among adolescents.

The purpose is to lure young readers to libraries by giving them what they want. But some people dispute the value of books that feature female characters dressed in sexy outfits and sometimes behaving in ways that conform to sexist stereotypes.

In a recent column in the Deering High School newspaper, senior Colleen Hagyari questions why the school is spending tax dollars to buy "written garbage" such as the "Mew Mew" series, which averages six words a page and features seventh-grade girls who learn to "dress and act like floozies" to get what they want.

The cover of another book, "Peach Girl," depicts a girl with her pants unzipped wearing a shirt that barely covers her breasts, she says. It was promoted on a school bulletin board.

"The innuendo is so heavy," Hagyari said in an interview. "By buying something so trendy and obviously new and exciting, they want to bring kids to the library. But it wasn't done carefully."

The school librarian, Ellen McCarthy, defends the books in her own column, saying the library must appeal to different tastes and reading abilities. She writes that "Peach Girl" explores racism by telling the story of a dark-skinned girl in a Japanese culture that prizes pale skin. The American Library Association recommended it for high school girls.

"I hope we don't get censors pounding at the door to get the books removed," McCarthy said. "A lot of people might say they shouldn't be in a school library, but kids are reading them and they appeal to reluctant readers."

The controversy raises questions about the definition of literature and the relative value of "graphic novels," versus the kind of books filled with pages of text. It also highlights the emergence of graphic novels in youth culture and their growing acceptance among adults.

Once relegated to the bottom rung of the literary food chain, comic books were something to be read with a flashlight under the bedcovers. Teachers and parents couldn't see the value of books that mainly used words like "BAM!" "POW!" and "SPLAT!"

But times have changed.

For one thing, comic books seem much less of a threat to literacy in an era when many teenagers spend their free time playing electronic games. Also, comics have been gaining status ever since illustrator Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his Holocaust narrative "Maus," a graphic novel that portrayed Jews as mice and Germans as cats.

The Japanese comics, called "manga," are more sophisticated and complex than most American comics, which are dominated by superheroes. In manga, the focus is on character development. The illustration is usually in black and white, and the characters are typically drawn with large, round eyes.

Teenagers often wear school uniforms. Boys tend to be slender, with fine features and long hair. The girls' outfits are often provocative. Many series contain some nudity.

"It's a different culture," explained Melissa Orth, the young adult librarian at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. "America is on its own by being quite puritanical in its morals. The rest of the world isn't like that."

But some parents don't like the way girls are depicted in many of the books and are offended by the nudity.

"It's gratuitous and very sexist," said Faith Rawding, whose 12-year-old son at King Middle School is a heavy reader of manga. "They have 12-year-old girls who look like 25-year-old strippers."

There are many graphic novels that are not suitable for school-age children, and librarians must educate themselves before they select books, says Rick Lowell, owner of Casablanca Comics in Portland. The best way to do that, he tells them, is to read the books.

"I put the books in their hand and let them decide," he said. "Everyone has a different tolerance level, and the librarians have the best understanding of what's appropriate for their student body."

Sandra Rockett, the librarian at Gorham High School, this year struggled with what to do with a 582-page graphic novel by Craig Thomson called "Blankets," which one library worker thought was pornographic because it contains an illustration of a reclining nude couple. She sought the help of other librarians through an e-mail list used by many of the state's librarians.

In an interview, Rockett said she got a mixed response. Many said there is no simple answer, and that like any book, what's appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another.

In the end, she decided to keep the book on the library shelves because it would appeal to students who might not normally read a conventional novel.

"We used to think comics were a waste of time," she said. "But they help people get to the next level. They are like stepping stones."

Deering's library collection of manga is so popular that it is locked up to prevent the books from being stolen.

The library at King Middle School has as many as 400 graphic novels, probably the largest school collection in the state. Librarian Kelley McDaniel believes interpreting both text and pictures is a skill.

"I definitely believe it's reading," she said. "It's still a book. It happens to be illustrated."

But some can be upsetting. Caitlin Lowell, a sixth-grader at King, says she remembers yelling at a book that features an army of buxom female robots who exist only to serve men.

"I couldn't stop reading it," she said, "but I was really angry."

"At least we talk about these issues," interjected her friend Barbara VanDerburgh, also a sixth-grader.

Rawding, the parent of a boy at King, says she has questioned McDaniel about the appropriateness of having the graphic novels in the library.

Nevertheless, her son loves the books, and she believes they are the reason he's becoming interested in reading conventional novels.

She checks each graphic novel before he reads it, she says, and they discuss it together. At least he's not hiding the books, she says. "At this age, I'd rather keep everything out on the table."

So what do you think? Should libraries get manga for people to read despite it might be a bit "profane," "racy," or "risque"?

I think it's okay, assuming they aren't getting manga rated Older Teen or Mature for middle schoolers, though most manga is rated Teen.
 

Rhenao

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Yeah, I think it would be okay to start putting some manga in public school libraries, as long as it doesn't contain the sexuality that many of the more popular ones do. Maybe American (or otherwise...) puplishers could start making manga that's educational to stock in public school libraries.
 
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