Heroin Addiction, Brutality and Prostitution: It's the New Children's Book Prize Winner; TEACHERS OUTRAGED BY LIBRARIANS' CHOICE
Byline: BILL MOULAND
ONCE upon a time there was a book about child sex, heroin addiction and prostitution.
One school, asked to judge the novel refused to let its 13-year-olds anywhere near it. Another sent it home with a health warning to parents.
But yesterday, Britain's librarians voted it the best children's book in the country - The Booker Prize of the Playground, in its association's own words.
'Oh God,' moaned teacher Sheila Hales as the 9,000-word Junk, written by Melvin Burgess, was awarded the Carnegie Award.
Children at her school, Leiston Middle in Suffolk, had been asked to 'shadow' the real judges and come up with their own verdict on the eight short-listed books. They chose something by sci-fi writer Terry Pratchett, who was placed third by the panel of 13 librarians.
'We did not recommend Junk to our children,' said Mrs Hales. 'We are not that irresponsible. I found it very very depressing and I did not like the way the main character was OK in the end, despite all the drug-taking.'
Another teacher from the school, Tricia Andrews, said: 'I did not think it should win. I did not even think it was particularly well written. It's just horrendous brutality.
'There's one part when the character called Lily, who is a prostitute, has a client who almost strangles her. Is that really what we want children to be reading about? I'm sure there are pockets of life like this and I'm not in favour of censorship. But it is not the kind of thing children are ready for.' Mary Knowles, librarian at Alleyne's School in Dulwich, South-East London, said parents of 11, 12 and 13-year-olds had been sent a letter warning them of the book's contents so they could decide whether to let the children read it. Only two parents out of 14 returned the book unrea Mrs Knowles said: 'I read all the books and I thought this was outstanding and thought-provoking a book, I hope, that most children going through adolescence will read.' Children at Wolverley High School, Worcester, put the book top of their own list with the comment 'written with biting realism, showing the dirt behind the facade of drug culture'. Yesterday the chairman of the judges, Lesley Sim, said: 'Junk is a ground-breaking book, a mixture of social commentary and gripping drama. It is also about an explosive issue that is rarely approached in children's books. I'm very happy with the choice.' Another judge, Margaret Bell, said: 'This book was the leader all the way through. It doesn't glam-orise drug- taking.' Mr Burgess, 43, said: 'I think the judges have stuck their necks out.
It's typical of librarians that they should go for it regardless of the inevitable flak.' The book is aimed at 14-year-olds and upwards and Mr Burgess, who lives in Lancashire, said he would not let his children Oliver, nine, and six-year-old Pearl, read it.The author, whose brother was a heroin addict, said: 'The idea that huge numbers of kids are on heroin is obviously not true. But I hope the characters and the culture is recognisable to young people.
'In an age when we know that most of our 14-year-olds will try drugs of some kind or another in the next six or seven years, when many of them are taking drugs regularly, are we still seriously arguing about whether or not they should read books on the subject? …