CBLDF has joined a coalition led by the Kids Right to Read Project on a letter to the Washington State Department of Early Learning expressing concern about a regulation that prevents childcare providers from selecting potentially “frightening books.”
CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
Part of the Early Start Act, which was signed into law earlier this year, Washington Early Achievers is a program designed to extend “high-quality early learning for Washington’s children and families, particularly in our most diverse and vulnerable communities.” In order to receive or maintain access to state subsidies and other important services, select daycares must enroll in the program and follow specific guidelines to obtain credits and a certain rating from the state. One of the guidelines: to monitor the age appropriateness of reading materials children have access to in the daycare.
Indicator 5.4 asks daycare providers to “look closely at fables, fairy tales, and nature/science books,” and this has free speech advocates concerned. The overly broad language which classifies “books that glorify violence in any way or show frightening image” as inappropriate could potentially lead caregivers to censor books like classics like Where the Wild Things Are and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly out of fear that they would no longer receive state subsidies.
As Katherine Keller, CBLDF Board Member and TDRL Evening & Weekend Supervisor, University Libraries, UNLV notes, “age appropriateness is a legitimate concern when it comes to collection development for youth, continuing:
Reading and stories are an important way that young children learn about the world, and one of the things that it is vital for young children to learn is that they can face their fears and overcome them. This is one of the ways that children learn they have agency.
When it comes to non-fiction and nature books, their utility is threefold. Books about things like earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, or hurricanes help teach what to do. Books about wild animals are a safe way for small children to confront any fears about these animals, and/or learn correct behavior at the zoo or wild animal park (like don’t climb down into the gorilla cage!). Finally, learning about STEM topics as small children is often what sparks a life long interest which leads to the next generation of achievers. It is important that girls and children from ethnic and cultural minorities see themselves as having a place in STEM fields, and the sooner, the better.
Along with limiting children’s access to books that could provide educational benefit, including, as studies have noted, overcoming and dealing with fears, “Indicator 5.4 also prevents daycare providers from tailoring their curricula to their children’s unique circumstances,” writes KRRP in their letter, adding:
It is difficult, if not impossible, for government officials to predict what images might scare a very young child unless they are familiar with the child’s fears, emotions, and personal history. For example, a toddler who was once scratched by a cat may reasonably be afraid of the images in The Cat in the Hat, and a toddler who was in a car accident may fear the drawings in Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Childcare providers should be given the discretion to select books for children in their classes, as the providers can use their familiarity with individual children to ensure books do not inappropriately frighten them.
As KRRP notes, the language used in Indicator 5.4 not only does a disservice to the children enrolled in daycare programs in the state of Washington, but also has financial repercussions for the daycares that get it wrong and include reading materials that the state may deem inappropriate. “Exposure to diverse subjects in an age appropriate fashion is an important part of how children start learning about the wider world around them,” says Keller, “and as part of that development it can be useful — and even critically important — that some of the topics be (potentially) discomforting or even (the right amount of) scary.”
It is for these reasons that KRRP, CBLDF, and other free speech organizations are urging the Department of Early Learning to reconsider and rewrite the language included in the Early Achievers Program.
KRRP’s letter to the Department of Early Learning follows in its entirety.