Friday Fiction: J.T.

J.T. coverJ.T.
Wagner
1969

Submitter: This library book is still out there, living in a public library in NY. As soon as I read the first  sentence inside the front cover, I knew I should submit it here. Published in 1969, it is a sad story about a sweet boy who is trying his best. The language however is so out of date it’s almost alarming! Pictures by Gordon Parks Jr. wouldn’t even have me keeping this, if it were in my library.

Holly: Apparently there’s a movie of this book, and you can watch it here. The shadowy pictures and the pure outdatedness (do kids know what a transistor radio is?) make this an easy weeder for most public and school libraries.

J.T. inside cover

J.T. excerpt

J.T. excerpt

J.T. excerpt

12 comments

  1. Jane Wagner is Lily Tomlin’s longtime partner. According to her Wikipedia article, she is indeed the author of this book.

  2. Helicoptering, everywhere. I’m not sure I understand the need to remove this book based on potentially “alarming” language (based on whose standards?), or the fact that it mentions some outdated items such as a transistor radio, the idea being that kids might not know what that is. That would be like removing books by Mark Twain and Charles Dickens because kids might not know what a horse-and-buggy is. If they don’t know what a transistor radio is, I’m sure they will have the sense to either look it up or ask someone.

  3. This was a beautiful book for its day, but its day is past.

    I’d think the Parks photos might mean the library could get a good price for this selling it online. Maybe suggest that to them?

    Too bad the publishers didn’t adjust the brightness and contrast for the photos.

    Oh, the writing’s by Lily Tomlin’s wife, I knew I knew the name from somewhere. It led to them meeting, so awww.

  4. i would love this book. i saw this movie on TV in the 70s, a poor city kid caring for an old cat. Kevin Hooks played the kid and he was great.

  5. “do kids know what a transistor radio is?”
    There is so much wrong with that question. How can kids ever know what a transistor radio is if they are never exposed to images/information about them. Is this not a chicken/egg question? Or are transistor radios a thing of the past and so deemed irrelevant and unnecessary? Where is the sense of history? The book may be out of date, but kids should know about transistor radios and so much else that they are not exposed to in their current everyday lives.

  6. Not to mention the forced dialect is a little offensive by today’s standards.

    Yes, this is an easy weed.

    1. If the language is explicitly racist (or racist in any way) then that is the reason to weed this book, if the dialect/diction is offensive because it is forced (cliche) and seems racist then perhaps ask some (more than two) Black colleagues what they think. Considering Gordon Parks himself provided the pictures, that is reason TO KEEP the book, maybe in the Adult area; since the photos are taken by a Black photographer and it is a story about a black child and his pet that is important to Black culture. Isn’t the message today that white people not take the narrative away from BIPOC but remain always aware and ready to listen to that narrative? Because it mentions a transistor radio is NO REASON to weed.

      I disagree, THIS IS NOT AN EASY WEED. The photos are superb, it is a Christmas story about poor people. This does need a new edition. When it comes out then patrons will want to compare the two. Not unlike this book: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/180810/tao-te-ching-by-lao-tsu-trans-gia-fu-feng-and-jane-english-with-toinette-lippe-intro-jacob-needleman/

      First written with masculine pronouns then later re-edited to remove the gender specific language and make it universal.

    2. The dialect, at least in these pages, isn’t really “dialect”. A couple of questionable apostrophes, maybe, but they “sound” to me like average people talking.

      They’re poor people who don’t have college educations, they’re not going to be speaking the Queen’s English. The old lady likely didn’t have much education at all, being born when she was and being Black and a woman. “Transistorize” is a pretty good coinage, really.

      I do think the photos should have been reproduced better, and well… saying the kid got “turned on” by a cat certainly doesn’t mean the same now. But that’s just the flap copy, not the book.

      Whether today’s kids would be interested in a book illustrated by murky black and white photographs is the question.

      @Henri: This is by Parks Jr. who wasn’t as well-known. Still, if @Carolyn fondly remembers the movie after 50 years, it must have been pretty good.

      1. If it is a better representation of what they say than edited English, and isn’t used to suggest or emphasize how poor/stupid/OTHER they are, I say their accents are fine. (in general, not just this book.)

      2. All the more reason to keep this: his dad was the Gordon Parks and as his dad made Shaft he made Superfly with that incredible music from Curtis Mayfield.

  7. This was a great movie when I watched it years ago. I looked it up and watched it again 2 years ago. If you look at the YouTube comments, many people remember the movie fondly and tell how it affected them. I wouldn’t be able to throw it out.

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