This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

April 25, 2001 - Grim Story Still Belongs In Young Adult Literature

Recently I got a very thoughtful note from a Highlands Ranch patron. She had requested that the library purchase a book called "Forgotten Fire," by Adam Bagdasarian. We bought it. After she read it, she wrote that she believed that although the book was very valuable and important, some of what was covered in the book might not be appropriate for the audience we marked it for: Young Adult.

The story is grim. "Forgotten Fire" describes, in simple and straightforward prose, something I didn't even know about: the Armenian Holocaust. Between the years of 1915 and 1918, roughly 1.5 million Armenians were murdered.

Also arresting was the quote at the beginning of the book, from Adolf Hitler. In 1939, he said, "Who does now remember the Armenians?" Clearly, Hitler did.

"Forgotten Fire" is the fictionalized true tale of a 12 year old Armenian boy, who lived a lovely, protected life in a beautiful home. Then, one day, his father disappeared. Soon thereafter, soldiers came, interrogated the family, and shot two of his older brothers right there in the family yard.

The remainder of the book describes the next three years in the main character's life, through his eyes, in his words.

I responded to the patron that I believe the book is correctly placed with our other Young Adult materials. The main character's age and perspective, and the manner in which the story is told, are entirely consistent with this always fascinating genre of literature.

Then I asked my 13 year old daughter to read the book, and we talked about it. The truly tragic aspect of this powerful story is that it is TRUE. Some of the things briefly described in the book, in particular, the murder (by bullet, by blade, and even by rape) of children, did in fact take place, over and over.

I sincerely hope that my daughter never has to go through anything like those awful times. But in the midst of war, in the midst of ethnic conflict, even in our own suburban schools, such things happen still. Is it better for our young adults to think history is remote, distant, detached from life, SAFE? — or is it better for them to understand the true human dimension of history, and the depths to which human beings may sometimes sink?

People don't clearly remember everything we read. But books, nonetheless, constitute a kind of distilled experience. I believe that should my daughter ever find herself in a situation anything like that described in "Forgotten Fire," she will not now be quite as bewildered, as helpless, as she might have been otherwise. In some part of her mind, she will understand, and perhaps be able to act, when otherwise she would perhaps have been a victim.

It is this belief in the power of literature to help us understand life, to prepare for situations we may never encounter, that is one of the reasons I became a librarian.

I believe that if such things as described in "Forgotten Fire" can happen to adolescents, then adolescents must have the freedom to read about them, if only for their own safety.

The part that haunts me about the book is that so much depended upon luck. Some children are murdered. Some live. Sometimes, survival is solely a matter of chance. It's one of life's hardest lessons.

As many parents have discovered talking about Columbine with their children this past week, it is sometimes very difficult to explain just how unfair life — and death — can be. But the alternative is silence and happy talk.

Sometimes, about some things, children need to know the truth.

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