Vital Signs

Kiddy Lit for the 90's

Children's books used to relate tales of heroes and villains. They presented a Manichaean world in which good triumphed over evil. Children might be scared, but they were assured that the forces of light could easily be distinguished from the forces of evil. Well, that scenario of yesteryear has been replaced by a very different condition today.

The 1994 Newberry medal for the "best" children's book went to Lois Lowry for The Giver. This is a tale about a hypothetical community in which issues of suicide, euthanasia, and mental telepathy are emphasized. Characters in this novel reside in a controlled community with narrowly defined roles of birthmothers, caretakers, nurturers, laborers, and givers. The government determines the number of children per family. In the House of the Old, leaders decide when a person is to be released (read: put to death). At the Ceremony of Release, there is a toast, and a goodbye speech given by the person released. When twins are born, only one is allowed to live. Invariably, the smaller twin is "released" with a lethal injection. On one occasion, a 12-year-old objects to the practice, but he is mollified by a Giver who points out that her daughter asked to be released ten years earlier and was given a syringe to inject herself.

In one California school system, several parents complained about the use of this book in an elementary school, charging that...

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