The School Library Association of NZ Aotearoa (SLANZA) is surprised by the invoking of the Interim Restriction Order on Ted Dawe’s award winning novel Into the river. Having submitted our opinion as part of the Office of Film and Literature Classification’s recent review of the book, (which contributed to the age restriction being removed), it was shocking to see that the reclassification has been overruled by the President of the Film and Literature Review Board, and an order put in place which effectively constitutes a total ban on the book.
Libraries are now required to remove the book from their shelves and make the novel unavailable to their communities. Individuals who own the book are not able to loan it to any other person, and book sellers are prohibited from displaying or selling it.
SLANZA believes that this unusual step by the Board of Review is not necessary, and that denying the book it’s intended audience is draconian. Removing young people’s access to literature which has been written specifically for them is a drastic step, and possibly one which works against the intentions of any restriction. This book has been recognised by a panel of experts with the highest award possible in New Zealand, for a book for young adults, when measured against all others in the year of its publication. To not allow young people access to this awarded novel does them a disservice.
We believe that it is important for students to read about the world they inhabit, and for some students the world depicted in Into the river is, unfortunately, very real. For others, it offers different cultural perspectives and experiences that are far removed from their own. We believe there is considerable value in texts like these that allow students to appreciate other points of view and develop an understanding of what it means to be part of a culturally diverse society. For some students a book like Into the river provides a way of connecting with text that appeals to them, and may be an entry to the world of books.
School libraries should have procedures and policies in place to guide them when selecting books. This may include input from students, staff, and parents. School librarians develop collections that work for their communities, and this includes books that might challenge and extend readers, and that reflect the reality and diversity of our students’ lives. School library staff bring a professional approach and mindfulness of their school’s unique character to that collection development. School librarians understand the needs of their community; they are knowledgeable about literature for young adults - including local writing - and know that enabling young people to make their own reading choices from a range of texts plays an important role in motivating them to read widely.
When school library staff recommend books to students, they take into account different abilities, interests, age groups, cultural backgrounds and so on. They can personalise those suggestions as appropriate rather than being bound by rules such as formal classifications, which although they may provide a degree of ‘protection’ for some, unnecessarily restrict access for many others.
Families who wish to restrict their children’s access to specific texts, or types of texts, must make those wishes clear. At the same time, those restrictions should not impinge on the rights of other students to make their own decisions about their reading. Likewise, members of the school community are able to raise concerns about library texts, or texts used in class instruction, directly with the school and have those concerns investigated according to school policy.
SLANZA reiterates its opposition to the Interim Restriction Order issued by the Film and Literature Review Board and would like this resolved rapidly. We welcome debate and reviews about what literature is available to NZ school children, and believe this can be achieved without such measures as banning an item as has happened with Into the river. This move is contrary to our philosophy of providing a diverse and open supply of literature and resources to young people in our schools and communities.
Individuals who feel that they are being disadvantaged by Into the river not being available are able to make a submission to the Film and Literature Board of Review. You can direct these via email to Julie Wall at the Department of Internal Affairs (Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org)