Young Adult Lit/Crit

April 2, 2008

More From Chris Crutcher

Filed under: Censorship and Related Isseus — sunyprof @ 6:53 pm

I am sharing two emails with you–the first is an email Chris received yesterday. The second is Chris’ response in which he references SUNY Cortland (SUNY teachers). He suggests we “get a dialogue going.” I agree. KES

Sent: 4/1/2008 6:39:54 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time
Subj: Whale Talk

Mr. Crutcher–

Just had to take a few minutes to tell you our experience with one of your books. I know you are an
acclaimed author winning many awards, but as we, my husband, 13 yr old daughter and I, were on a 9 hour
car ride going to a State Swim meet in Long Island we were all enthralled with listening to Whale Talk on
tape. We hadn’t finished witht he first tape when the language started spiralling downward. We continued to
listen because the story line was so good, However we could not put the second tape in and it was because of the language. Now I understand you want to reach a certain population, but there is no rating on this

I am a special education teacher and work for a college (SUNY Geneseo) as a student teacher supervisor
and value books, libraries, etc.I will be sharing this experience with my student teachers about making sure
they check out the language before recommending books to their students.

I also know that with music at the library there are often 2 versions because of offensive language. I was
wondering if there are 2 versions of your book? Seems to me that if you really wanted to reach teens you
would make it so that if could be included in schools????

I really got into the book, but could not get past the first tape.

Debbie McAllister

From: Stotan717
Sent: 4/1/2008 6:55:28 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time
Subj: Re: Whale Talk


There aren’t two versions. That’s all there is. While I appreciate your concern about the language, the truth is that the Rich Marshall’s of the world talk just like that. They’re mean and they’re viscous and they take people out emotionally and psychologically every chance they get. Raw racism sounds exactly like that. The character of Heidi is based on a real girl who, when she grew up, gave me permission to use her story. I heard her being called those names when she was five. In my mind it is a testament to her resilience and her heroism that she made it through. I can’t tell you the number of Rich Marshall’s I’ve dealt with in my years as a family therapist. So, I guess the point is, it’s all real.

I have to say it’s interesting to me when a teacher takes issue with language. Any teacher out there can sit with his or her students and get a discussion going about that language and the hate that goes with it, and it will instantly be instructive… for the teacher and the students. What you’re talking to me about are YOUR sensibilities. Kids read that book all the time and report back how “real” it seems.

I was at SUNY just a few weeks ago, and met with a number of teachers who think it’s a great book. I will be back in your area next week visiting schools, many of which have used it. I also met with a number of student teachers who plan to use it. If you feel the need to “share your experience” with your fellow teachers, feel free to go ahead. I will send your email to the SUNY teachers and the upstate NY teachers I’m acquainted with and maybe it will get a dialogue going. I have to say it’s sad to me when educators put this much weight on language and miss out on the things that get kids reading.

Chris Crutcher



  1. Oh Deb…Deb,Deb,Deb… do you really think that your 13-year-old was offended by this language? Or are you just to sheltered to realize that “offensive language” is everywhere in real everyday life situations, especially in cases of hatred and racism. Like Chris suggests, using this language as an opportunity for discussion rather than a roadblock for learning would perhaps open your mind as well as some of the minds of your fellow teachers. You want an edited version of this novel? Mark Twain used the word “nigger” in his writings, are you suggesting that we should no longer teach his novels to our students as well? To Kill a Mockingbird battles racism head on as well… should we remove it from our shelves?

    As we discussed in our panel on censorship a few weeks ago there is a long slippery slope of censorship and banning books in schools, but where does it begin and where does it end? Instead of hitting the eject button on the CD next time, have a conversation with your teenager about the language and she might surprise you. Let her decide if she would like to continue listening to the book. As for the idea of rating novels like movies, I can asure you that I saw plenty of R rated movies before I was “of age” and I read many more novels that might have had explicit language or adult content, but I had a book in my hand and I was reading it. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

    Comment by kariredmond — April 2, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  2. Chris Crutcher proves once again why he’s my hero and mentor, whether he realizes it or not. I am here to tell you, Deb, just as millions of other survivors of abuse could tell you, that the world is not always as pretty a place as we want it to be. I read Whale Talk. I’ve read all of Chris’ books. The thing I most respect about him is that he does not talk down to kids. He does not use profanity for the sake of using profanity any more than he weaves the real-life problems of racism, homophobia, incest– these ARE offensive things! No doubt there. Those issues, like the words his characters speak, are from real life.
    I wish I could sit down with you one afternoon to share stories of my childhood-from-hell, which was by no means an experience that is unique to me. I was grown by the time Chris’ books came along, but I can tell you this much. If I had read one of his books and been able to see my own life reflected on those pages, I would have felt much, much, MUCH less alone than I did.
    I was so impacted by Chris’s books– which I began reading around age FORTY– that I wrote a young adult fiction novel myself. It releases in September. And, YES, it has swear words in it. I hope you’ll read it any way.

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    Chapter One is online!

    Comment by Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience — April 3, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  3. Amen Chris! I am so sorry to see another example of an unenlightened teacher regarding the power and instructional value of ANY and ALL language. This woman needs to get out more and readjust of her idea of what exactly it is that adolescents do, say, understand, need to know, etc. Seriously, I think we know teens who have far bigger problems than worrying about curse words. Further, it becomes a much bigger problem when teachers try and keep this material out of their hands, rather than use it as a tool to promote critical literacy.


    Comment by mandygrl101 — April 4, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  4. First of all, Debbie, I want to commend you for the obvious care and involvement you put into parenting. I think that Kari makes a good point that would be a natural fit for an involved parent like yourself. She wrote: “have a conversation with your teenager about the language and she might surprise you.” Chris also makes the point that if you “get a discussion going about that language and the hate that goes with it, and it will instantly be instructive.” I agree with both of these comments. It would be great to hear what your daughter thought of not just the language, but the story. It would also be interesting for her to read our blog. We’ve got lots of information on great YA literature here. I’d personally love to hear her thoughts on what we’re discussing.

    I want to add that the language in Whale Talk shocked, repulsed and offended me as well. I, like you, am a parent, and the thought of those hateful words being directed at a child is heartbreaking. Even more so because I know this kind of abuse exists. As a teacher, I have worked with students who have been abused – some I know about, some I don’t. The point is that this kind of abuse is real. Thankfully not for your daughter or my children, but real for so many others. Chris Crutcher’s books bring hope, understanding, friendship and healing to readers who have experienced abuse (look no further than Beth Fehlbaum’s comment above). But they also bring hope, understanding, friendship and awareness to readers who have NOT experienced abuse. Chris is doing important work. I believe that discussing the content of his book (of which language is only a component) with your students at SUNY Genesseo, your colleagues, your friends, family and especially daughter will yield insightful conversation.

    I’m looking forward to hearing how this turns out. Keep in touch.


    Comment by sostrom — April 7, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

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