Top teen book`literary porn’

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The sexually explicit content of a novel that picked up the top prize at this year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards has concerned an Oamaru mother and counsellor.

But the author makes no apology for the racy content, saying the story was written to speak directly and strongly to young Maori men, even if it risks upsetting parents and booksellers.

Ted Dawe’s teen novel Into the River begins its dramatic journey on the East Coast, and won the New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and was also the winner of the Young Adult Fiction category.

The coming-of-age novel follows its protagonist from his childhood in small town rural New Zealand to an elite Auckland boarding school where he must forge his own way, including battling with his cultural identity.

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

Mrs Acheson said Oamaru parents needed to be aware of the sexually explicit content in order to protect their children and was concerned children would feel shame after reading the book.

She did not support the argument that children could use the explicit content as a platform for learning about their own lives.

“I actually have a problem with how teenagers would actually do that with this sort of content … I would describe it as literary porn,” she said.

Children needed to be able to discuss sex in relationship, not isolation.

“If a child reads that sexually explicit content there will be feelings of shame around what they are reading, as well as excitement and intrigue, but they need to be able to discuss that in relationship … not trying to work out sense of it on their own, in their own bedroom,” she said.

She believed protection and education had to work hand-in-hand.

“[Sex education] doesn’t get given to them in a book in their bedroom,” Mrs Acheson said.

“That needs to be learned in a safe relationship with mum and dad, or with a youth leader or with a teacher.”

She had considered that highlighting the book might only make children more curious to read it.

“What’s worse? Parents not even being aware of it?” she asked.

“It’s a matter of child protection.”

The book’s author said it was difficult to explain the importance of relevance and context to people whose minds were already made up.

“In writing, like every other field of human endeavour there are people who are experts and then there are people with opinions,” Dawe told the Oamaru Mail.

“Contrary to what some may think, I didn’t write this book to be controversial, I wrote it to speak directly and strongly to young Maori men. “Of course, others will read it and have read it but they were not the audience I wrote it for.”

Oamaru Intermediate School principal Deidre Senior said despite winning the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award, the school would not be stocking the book in the library.

The school’s library has a wide range to cater for students of all reading abilities and interests, she said, but it was inappropriate to be exposing 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds to the content.

Paper Plus Oamaru had sold out of the two copies it had and would not be ordering more unless there were requests.

Oamaru Public Library librarian Jean Rivett said the book would continue to be stocked at the library, as it was not its place to act as censor.

Before books can go on the shelves of the library, they must to go through New Zealand censors.

She said it was well-written and the intent of the book was not to focus on sexual activity, it was just part of the journey.

“This book is merely reflecting what most of our young people are very aware of,” she said.

“It’s an excellent book and has a place in our collection.”

The library would, however, put an age-appropriate sticker on its copy.

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards chief judge and author Bernard Beckett said Into the River was the book that stood out for the judges.

“Traditionally, books aimed at the top end of the young adult market [ages 15-plus] have not been a strength of ours here in New Zealand, with most books aimed nearer the junior fiction boundary,” he said. “We were delighted to see a book that engaged and respected older readers, with material as subtle as it is honest and provocative.

“We congratulate Ted [Dawe] for his superb book, as well as the other winners and finalists who have shown the calibre of children’s books in New Zealand to be well above par.”

The judging panel also included children’s literature expert and author Eirlys Hunter and presenter of Radio New Zealand’s Arts on Sunday programme, Lynn Freeman.

The panel picked 19 finalists from more than a 100 children’s book entries.

By Rebecca Ryan