Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

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Susan Quinn
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Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

Post by Susan Quinn » July 20th, 2010, 12:04 pm

A guest poster on my blog [url=http://www.ink_spells.blogspots.com]Ink Spells[/url] posed this question, and it's sparking an interesting conversation. I know a lot of editors and agents, as well as published and aspiring authors, frequent Nathan's forums, and I would love to hear their take on it as well.

See the original post here.

In summary, my guest poster is a librarian who stumbled across an attractive middle grade book, aimed at boys, that had words like pissed, screwed, and bastard. She felt she couldn't recommend it to the 9 and 10 year olds she serves, and wondered if this was the new norm, allowing coarse language (obviously not true profanity) in middle grade books.

What do you think? As parents, do you want this language in your middle grader's books, even if it is "realistic" to the way kids speak? As writers, do you feel the need to include this kind of language? As publishers, what do you find acceptable?
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Callum
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Re: Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

Post by Callum » July 20th, 2010, 12:22 pm

I think there is nothing wrong with it, but it should be used sparingly. It adds a hard hitting aspect to the story which, when I was in school (I don't know what age group you are on about since I'm British) added more punch if used once or twice in the novel. It's only language, kids'll be swearing all the time when they're away from their parents - it's up to the parents themselves (and somewhat the child's own morality) to teach them that it's wrong.
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Re: Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

Post by sbs_mjc1 » July 20th, 2010, 12:29 pm

I think if the coarse language is appropriate to the story (ie, it's organic to the setting/tone), it's fine if used sparingly. The children reading the book have probably heard (or used) these words enough themselves.
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Re: Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

Post by Down the well » July 20th, 2010, 12:30 pm

Hi Susan,

I've thought about this too. My first novel was MG (bad, let's not go there). I did use the word damn in dialogue, and at the time I questioned it. It's not the harshest of words, but I was writing for ten year-olds and part of me thought I should have left it out. I had agents and editors read the full and never did any of them mention the word choice -- of course we don't always get pages of notes back, do we. Still, I think it was the wrong choice. My opinion only, but I think I'd rather see it left out of MG.

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Re: Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

Post by cheekychook » July 20th, 2010, 1:16 pm

I have no idea how the publishing world views this issue, but I can address it as a mom and as someone who worked professionally with this age group (as a counselor) for many years.

Words like the ones you gave as examples are not appropriate for the average 9-10 year old reader. Occasional use of something like "damn" or "crap", maybe, if really necessary to add to the story, but nothing stronger or more colorful. Some kids in that age group may be ready for language beyond that, may be exposed to it more, may even use it, but in my opinion it doesn't belong in books geared toward that age group.

Once kids hit the adolescent/immediate-pre-adolescent age of 11-12 they are more prepared to encounter those words in reading, understand them, and respond accordingly. There is a dramatic difference between a 9 year old and 12 year old. Some 9 year olds are mature beyond their years but, generally speaking, they're not ready for the same reading material. The ones who are ready will read the books geared for an older audience. If a book is geared toward 9 and 10 year olds it should be completely appropriate subject matter for them to read, handle and enjoy. Again, just my opinion.
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Susan Quinn
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Re: Should coarse language be used in middle grade fiction?

Post by Susan Quinn » July 20th, 2010, 5:09 pm

cheekychook:
I have no idea how the publishing world views this issue, but I can address it as a mom and as someone who worked professionally with this age group (as a counselor) for many years.
I think parents and professional gatekeepers (librarians, teachers, counselors) have a more conservative view of this, and as a parent, I agree with what you've said cheekchook. I think writers tend to look at it more through the viewpoint of what "works" for a character and a story, but I think we need to also think about the audience as well.

I like the way Westerfeld used made-up words to allow one of his characters "swear like a sailor" without using actual coarse language. I think this was a nod to the target middle grade audience (ages 8-12, generally speaking, for those not familiar with the U.S. system).

Thanks to everyone who's weighed in on this!
Susan Kaye Quinn (young adult and middle grade author)
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