One spring I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was privileged to hear Jane Yolen speak. Yolen, the author of over a hundred children’s books, identified herself as a Jewish Quaker. She spoke on the hazards of addressing spiritual questions in books for children, explaining that children’s book buyers are primarily public schools and libraries, which tend to shy away from spiritually inclined literature. Nonreligious publishers are often unwilling to take on material that might prove controversial. Yet as Yolen pointed out, children ask spiritual questions: Where did Rover go when he died? Why do some people attend church and not others? Who is God? Yolen argued that we do wrong by our children when we censor stories that might aid them in their seeking.
After Yolen’s lecture a member of the audience asked, “To whom do you think children’s authors should be accountable for the moral quality of their books?” The questioner was concerned that indoctrinating content might wind up in her children’s hands. Yolen responded fiercely, “Every writer has three responsibilities: first to the story, second to yourself, and finally to your audience.” Continue reading