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Not in Room 204

Not in Room 204 - cover
Not in Room 204
Riggs
2007

Submitter: Once again this book was found in the last weeding of the children’s room collection. It was found located in the parenting section and not regular picture books, but that is no excuse. If you just go by the cover, it comes across as just another book about elementary school, but that is not the case. It is the story of a new teacher who teaches her students about personal space, self-respect and the dangers of bullying, but then it becomes clear that one student, Regina, has a very, very, horrible problem…she is being molested by her father. There is actually a 2 page spread of the student at home! One side she is playing with her naked Raggedy Ann doll in bed and on the other side, she is huddled under the covers crying as the dark shadow of her father walks away. It is truly disturbing and dark and one wonders who this book was published for. On the one hand, it does encourage children being abused to tell a trusted adult (like a teacher) if they are being hurt BUT you can’t just read this to any child – it would have to be a very specific child in a very specific situation or else you could be causing nightmares, I would think anyway. In the end, the reader is led to believe that Regina gets the help she needs, but honestly I was too creeped out to read every page to get the whole story. I think that 2 page spread will haunt me for awhile.

Holly: There just aren’t any good ways of writing children’s books about difficult subjects, are there?  They all include some sort of creepy picture that hints at the dark situation.  I don’t know enough about child development or child psychology to say, so my question is: Do small children NEED to see pictures like these to understand and/or identify with the story? It seems to me that they would need to see the actual thing happening, which no publisher is probably going to  include in a picture book (although we’ve seen some incredible things here at ALB…).  That’s why doctors and counselors use puppets to indicate “bad touches” – so the child can actually SEE the body part being touched without having to experience it themselves.  No?  So do books like these do more harm than good because they aren’t explicit ENOUGH, or do they cross a line by being TOO explicit?  My second question, then, is: Do these pictures only creep out adults who understand what’s being implied in them?

Not in Room 204 - Raggedy Ann Doll

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35 Responses to Not in Room 204

  • This wouldn’t creep out a child in that situation. That is part of the problem. What they would need to see to realize there may be a way out would cause years of therapy to other kids.

    I did try to research this topic in the local public library when I was a kid and found nothing. Of course, I didn’t have the right words to check in the card catalog.

  • I don’t find the pictures creepy. Just very sad and dark. Perhaps too dark for children with that text beneath the second picture.

  • Look, abuse IS creepy. This book does not deserve to be weeded just because you are uncomfortable about the idea of child abuse. Who wouldn’t be? It was published recently — 2007 — and the illustrations look contemporary enough. How sad that the previous poster wasn’t able to find anything on the subject when she was searching as a child. Don’t perpetuate that situation by weeding a book like this.

  • This would be a good book to give to a school counselor.

  • Becky: The problem, as I see it, is that the book’s (very serious) subject isn’t readily apparent and it doesn’t seem appropriate to drop a subject like that on an unsuspecting kid who might easily have picked the book up based on the cover. This might, as Kata said, be a good book for a school counselor, but I don’t think it seems like a good fit for a public library’s collection.

  • Having read this book, I consider it to be very appropriate for a children’s department (I am a children’s librarian). It recieved positive reviews from Kirkus and SLJ, and a starred review from BookList. Here is part of BookList’s review:
    “This picture book’s strength is in the forthrightness of its message and the sensitivity of its presentation: Regina’s father’s actions are implied but never stated, and Regina’s trust in her teacher is firmly in place before the situation unfolds. When the time is right, Regina decides to share something that she has been keeping, even from her mother. The text and digitally enhanced artwork work together well to express the book’s message smoothly. The characters, especially Regina, dominate the illustrations, which are notable for their clear lines and interesting and varied textures and colors. This helpful picture book will raise children’s awareness of sexual abuse without raising anxiety.” (review found on NoveList).

    I believe the illustrations are creepy to adults who are (understandably) uncomfortable with the topic. The topic is very well handled. I do not see any reason why children should be “protected” from a book like this. I think it can be a good catalyst for discussion even if there is no abuse in the child’s life.

    There are a lot (A LOT) of bad children’s books on difficult topics, but I do not consider this one to be on that list.

  • I find the title creepy. The pictures are creepy too. This is such a horrible subject that I wouldn’t have the slightest clue on how you could translate it to a book so a kid could look at it and hopefully get the help they need. But it could help a kid that’s in this kind of situation.

  • Some issues just can’t be dealt with just a book. That said, I think the images are going to be more confusing than upsetting to a child who isn’t being abused (if you don’t already know what Daddy is doing, then it’s just kind of vaguely ominous rather than extremely creepy). It’s probably important enough to give children suffering from abuse some clue as to what to do about it that it’s worth sowing a little confusion among the rest.

  • As a molestation victim who was 14 and reading fantasy novels for adults before ever finding any indication that this had happened to other people, I have to agree with keeping this book in a public library collection. I never talked to a school counselor or anyone else about what my grandfather had done until I was in college; keeping a book like this only on the shelves of mental health workers is severely limiting its usefulness.

  • I agree that this should NOT be be weeded. It’s only ≈3 years old and this is exactly the kind of book a counselor should have on hand to hand to suspected cases.

    It should also be in the library, available to all so a child going through this can “discover” it on their own. That’s empowering to them and would let them know they are not alone which are motivation and inspiration to take action.

    Believing it’s not “readily apparent” underestimates children’s intellect especially if they are experiencing this. If they are, I highly suspect they’ll make the connection. Taking action if one is victimized needs paths of least resistance and this is another potential path for a child to speak up.

    “There were things her father did” speaks volumes to anyone who reads it, especially victims. Reading that the submitter was unable to finish reading the book likely speaks of how effective the text and images are.

    The fact that it suggests telling a teacher suggests to me that it should remain where a child can find it on their own and take a path outside of their parents (who are half the problem) towards a solution.

  • Any explanation of the title?

  • I’d like an explanation of the title.

  • I agree with Daniel. It’s not obvious enough what it’s about, and while I tend to be a lot more open than many people about what I think kids should be allowed to see, there’s no real reason for a child who isn’t dealing with this issue to read this book.

    I also don’t think there’s QUITE as much need for such a book as has been implied. I remember very well being taught all about “uh-oh touches” in kindergarten, first grade…through 4th grade, if I remember correctly. There were puppets and “no go tell” drills in the lower grades, and in 4th grade we watched a video dramatizing a child who was molested (possibly two different children). I really think that most kids now know well enough what they’re SUPPOSED to do if anything happens, and I doubt giving them a book about it will make them any less afraid to do it.

    That’s assuming, of course, that all schools make such an effort. I don’t know that that’s the case.

  • I don’t think the picture is that creepy either. Just really sad.
    It’s an interesting question though, of how to write a book about abuse and who the audience is. Sexual abuse in particular is secretive, and isolates the child – we have to be able to give the kid a way out. I can see that an abused kid might discover this book and it might help him/her to realize that someone can help. But I’m thinking it might be more useful for the friend of an abused kid? And help the friend help the victim?
    I don’t think it’s an inappropriate topic for a book. And honestly I don’t think books are awful just because they might cause nightmares.

  • I agree with Daniel. The problem is, the book doesn’t give much (or any) indication as to what it is really about. An unsuspecting parent would easily check out this book along with other similar looking books for a child to read alone, maybe thinking it’s just about bullying. The ambiguous creepiness of a shadowy dad who is doing “something” (what?) to his child is bound to be scary.

    This could be made available for a school counselor’s office, with a sticker on it explaining that it is to remain there.

    And, Becky, there are many more books available on this subject nowadays, thankfully, so I think removing one can be done safely.

  • Another molestation victim chiming in here. When I was a kid, there were commercials on tv about telling an adult I trusted if another adult did something I didn’t like. I didn’t get it. The commercials were too vague to be understood. So I didn`t get help for a long time.

    Any book on this topic will be upsetting for adults, but better to have it around, just in case.

    Nice try, Webster, but this book needs to be around.

  • The review sounds very positive, and the book fills a need. That said, I do wonder about the reading level. Many children Pre-K-1-2 who might randomly pick this book out of the library, would need it read to them. They are NOT going to discover/relate on their own. A child who is older and reading independently might not be looking in the picture book section. So, this book would either be a serendipitous find or a serious read-aloud disaster.

  • “Look, abuse IS creepy. This book does not deserve to be weeded just because you are uncomfortable about the idea of child abuse. ”

    I have to agree. Children are intuitive, intelligent, and aren’t necessarily scared off by unpleasant realities (in fact it’s adults who have hangups, that they then deliver to children) – but when grownups studiously avoid subjects or infantalize them, these grownups are letting children down. Too many victims are shamed and silenced and many of us aren’t interested in continuing that tradition.

    We talk about all sorts of unpleasant realities in our home with our young children – according to their interest level (something many grownups don’t think to consider). My kids don’t have nightmares.

    This book seems fine and entirely matter-of-fact.

  • I remember talking to a librarian about a book similar to this one that I wanted removed (I was dumb back then) for being wordy and dark. She told me that the book was made for parents to pick certain parts out that they found important enough to read to their children, and the storytelling style was made for children who had this happen to them could understand what was going on, while not scaring children who didn’t know otherwise. But still, a book doesn’t beat a sitdown in effectiveness, both mentally and emotionally. I mean if you just threw a book at me and left me to figure it out, versus actually sitting down and asking, “Is there something wrong at home?”, I would feel like you actually cared if you did the latter.

    @ Angel-these types of books are usually in the parents section, way high up above where kids can reach.

  • “It was found located in the parenting section and not regular picture books…”

    Assuming it’s a parenting section for parents/teachers, then I don’t see the problem. And isn’t that what the parenting section in a children’s room is for? According to my library’s catalogue, this book’s neighbours in the parenting section include a book about a friend dying, a book about a grandfather being lost to Alzheimer’s, and another book about sexual abuse called “No More Secrets For Me”.

    So if it’s shelved properly, I think it’s very important that it be there.

  • Seems to me the easiest solution to the problem of it seeming to be a book about bullying but it really being about a pedophile father is for the library to tape a disclaimer inside the book.

  • ALB gold but hardly appropriate for placement next to Curious George.

    Aside: cover clearly illustrates a hand-shake bad-touch.

  • The picture with the father’s shadow doesn’t seem that creepy to me. When reading the submitter’s description, I imagined something far more scaryer than this.

  • I have this book in my collection, and so do many other libraries in our system. I keep this in the Parenting section, and pulled it out to reread it after seeing it here. As a children’s librarian, I agree with the other comments; the book isn’t outdated, and not overwhelming in it’s depiction of sexual abuse. As long it’s not shelved with the regular picture books, I don’t see any reason for it to be weeded.

  • @Satu–Hey, that’s what my Mom did for puberty…handed me the “information booklet” free from Kotex!

  • I have to chime in, too, and agree that this is a book that is totally appropriate for a public library. As a children’s librarian, I have found that there are so few worthy books about abuse for kids. Not in Room 204 is especially valuable because 1) the abuse is going on in the family, not by a stranger, 2) the underlying theme of the book is respect. The title is taken from a line the teacher in the book repeats to her students in response to fighting, name-calling, stealing: “We don’t do that here. Not in Room 204.”

    Most picture books are written at a level that most preschoolers or early elementary students can’t read yet, and they interpret the pictures as young people, not adults. The pictures above don’t show any outright violence by the father. Picture books are written to be read TO young kids, and it’s at the adult reader’s discretion to handle the book how they wish. But kids do happen upon them, and in fact seek out the “issues” books pretty often (even when they’re hidden away on high shelves), because they are curious about the world around them, and books are a safe way to experience the world.

    This book handles the subject responsibly and respectfully. It’s crucial that we don’t hide information from kids even if it makes us uncomfortable; sometimes their lives depend on getting their hands on a book like this.

  • I agree that the illustrations are more sad than creepy. I wonder, what *would* be a better way to illustrate a book like this? Doing pictures for a book about molestation sounds like a very difficult job. I don’t envy the illustrator of this book. I do think the title’s a bit misleading and does sound like a girl who’s being teased by classmates, rather than being molested. Again, though, I’m not sure what a more appropriate title would be.

    All in all-this is a hard subject and I appreciate that some people are willing to tackle it, even if the results aren’t completely perfect.

  • All the comments about how it’s a good book to have because it’s in the adult section anyway and the kid would need it read to them seem to be missing one key point…it’s normally (like for the girl in the book) one of the parents DOING the molesting. Do you really think a child molester is going to read this book to their kid? And I doubt anyone else would unless they suspected something. If it’s not where the kids themselves can get it, it’s pretty much worthless.

  • I can only say that I wish I had happened upon a book like this when I was a child. The problem with hiding it away in a councelor’s office or special section is that the councilor has to know or suspect sexual abuse before the child has access to it and the majority of children being sexually abused work very hard at keeping the abuse secret because they are so ashamed and they think it’s their fault. All children need to learn about sexual abuse because unfortunately it is epidemic. 1 in 6 boys is abused and 1 in 4 girls is, the average age being 11.

  • There is no way to write a book about child abuse and not have it be awkward, a good compromise is maybe making a ‘tough stuff’ section for books like this. That way a kid won’t stumble on it accidentally and get confused, but students or counselors, or even kids themselves can look books like this up.

    This book has the plus of it being her father, unfortunately parental abuse is usually swept under the rug and REALLY needs to be addressed. On the other hand it is very vague, so while it might start a conversation, it wouldn’t be so good for a kid on their own.

  • As I am the one that weeded it I will say that in 3 years it had never been checked out and that was the main reason it was being weeded and that and the fact we were moving the parenting books to a much smaller section. Perhaps it does illustrate the subject matter effectively but it is not the type of book kids and parents go looking for at our branch.

  • This really is an excellent book. It’s very reassuring–the teacher is so calm and confident, and lets the girl know that, now she has been told, the teacher knows EXACTLY what to do.

  • I’m not surprised it hasn’t been checked out – if you were an abused kid, would you take a book like that home, or read it at the library?

  • I came across this website and article because I googled the name of a book I found in the library and am useing for a project on issue-based books.

    I have the book in hand and have read it a few times. I honestly find nothing wrong with the book at all. I did not find this book in the picture book section but in the older student section of the public library. I find the book very sensitive of the subject and understanding. Also, comeing from a perspective of someone who was molested at a young age, I can say that I wish I would have found this book then. It may have given me the courage I needed to go ahead and tell my parents or my teacher that this was going on behind their backs. It is way more common then some people think and a lot of the times the children who are being effected are told that this is normal (as I was) and that there is no reason for it to be told to anyone. I was never told in school or in a book that is was not normal for an older adult to touch you that way.

    I think this book is not an awful library book and should be kept on the shelves for students.

  • As much as we would like to believe child sexual abuse doesn’t happen to every child, we do have to believe the statistics that one in every four girls and one in every six boys is sexually abused. My first memories at the age of four are of my father sexually abusing me. I wish someone had talked to me about what is not allowed to happen to me when I was a child.