Award-winning kids' book drops c-bomb

By Lynley Bilby

Helen Le Heron (left) and Anne Cooper in their Hamilton bookstore. Photo / Stephen Barker
Helen Le Heron (left) and Anne Cooper in their Hamilton bookstore. Photo / Stephen Barker

A novel voted this week as the best children's book of the year is laced with detailed descriptions of sex acts, the coarsest language and scenes of drug-taking.

Ted Dawe's Into the River has polarised the literary community after claiming top prize in the annual New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. At least one well-regarded book store is refusing to stock it.

The author makes no apology for the racy content, saying the story needs to be told, even if it risks upsetting parents and booksellers.

In a rare move, award organisers last week sent "explicit content" stickers to all booksellers to warn potential buyers.

The 2013 Kiwi Kids' Good Book Guide lists the book's target age as 13 years and over. But one nationwide book chain has advised store managers the book is suitable only for children over 15 years.

The book uses expletives including the c-word, depicts drug use and sex scenes, including one where a baby mimics sounds of intercourse.

The Herald on Sunday has decided not to print extracts as they would offend some readers.

Books For Kids owner Helen Le Heron said she found the book "unnecessarily graphic".

"It contained themes that were inappropriate for young teenagers. We have removed the books from our shelves," the Hamiltonian said.

She had contacted colleges that had bought the book from her shop and alerted them to the "explicit content" warning.

Some school librarians had since removed it from shelves until they had read it while others had restricted access to senior students, she said.

However, the School Library Association said the book it reflected our society.

"This is a book about a young Maori man. There is so little out there with that type of protagonist. When you as library staff see that sort of book you grab it," said association president Fiona Mackie.

Dawe defended his book this week, saying he didn't write it to be controversial.

He said his writing reflected a career spent educating boys and what happened in schools.

"The reason I write the way I do is because a lot of writing for boys is watered down and neutered. As a result it lacks that sharpness and 'hello, what's this?' sort of quality that captures kids in reading."

His first novel, Thunder Road, had similar levels of sex and swearing but no one raised an eyebrow, he said.

He believed young adult readers were not necessarily going to emulate the risky behaviour but would use the work as a guiding tool when faced with similar situations.

"That's why edgier writing is important, rather than happily-ever-after and a warm cocoa for you and off you go to bed."

Sharon Holt, a Hailton mother of two teenagers, said she was offended by parts of the book, especially detailed sex scenes that verged on pornography.

"One of them feels like it's straight out of the pages of the letters to Playboy."

She was not opposed to her children reading about sex but thought the descriptions were too detailed.

Grandparent Kathleen Dixon said although she found the book depressing, the "punchy" text wasn't overly graphic.

* Read an excerpt from the book here (warning: contains graphic content).

- Herald on Sunday

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