A quandary over censoring childrenAt 3 p.m. on May 12, 439 copies of book of poems by a 10-year-old titled “A Single Dog” were shredded at a recycling company in Goyang, Gyeonggi. When parents demanded to see the evidence for disposal, the publisher left photos and video of the shredding scene. It took about three minutes to destroy all copies, and the book disappeared from the market some 40 days after publication.
The shredding of “A Single Dog” illustrates Korean society’s understanding of “children” and “children’s literature.” The author, identified as Lee, said, “Poems are poems, but grownups take them seriously. I wrote poems about what I think after watching horror movies, television shows or animations.”
But readers say the child needs therapy and may be experiencing psychological problems. They also criticized her parents, who filed for an injunction on the recall. When an adult author writes violent and cruel content, no reader considers him psychologically troubled. However, people connected the mental state of a child author with her work.
In the controversial poem, “The Day I Hate Going to the Academy,” she intended to describe the pressure of the world described as “mom” and “the academy.” The grown-up readers focused on her language of expression. “I am afraid my child would read such a cruel poem.” “I will not tolerate it if the books are not destroyed.”
Children’s literature critic Kim Ji-eun said that the author may be rejecting the social pressure represented by her mother.
Still, it is a different question whether it was right to publish her poems. Once a literary work is published and put on the market, the author takes responsibility. An author is exposed to likes and dislikes, religious and ethical criticism, social responses and various misunderstandings.
At first, Lee’s poems were criticized for their cruel and violent language. Then, other poems with insightful expressions like “Our dog lies flat on the floor. Loneliness is flat,” or “Tears and face meets to form a triangle on the leopard” led to suspicions of ghostwriting.
She was even called the “9-year-old Rimbaud” who has “the world view and sentiment of Brothers Grimm and Kafka.”
Others suspected that her family was using the publication for her resume.
Both criticism and praise are not easy for the young author to handle. Critics unanimously say that the core of literary education is to inspire young children to honestly express their thoughts but that publication should be prudent.
The poem collection “A Single Dog” has disappeared form the market, but we need to discuss the questions that the book cast on our society. We need to seriously contemplate what our children read and write, how their freedom of expression should be protected and how we educate and nurture children with literary sensitivity.
*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.JoongAng Ilbo, May 14, Page 33
by CHAE YUN-GYEONG