Intellectual freedom is hard sometimes.

As a student of the amazing Ann Curry, I learned a thing or two about dealing with censorship, and in my four years at a public library in a mid sized Canadian city, I have had my fair share of parents complaining about books that are too sexy, too druggy, too violent, too magical, too realistic, too Christian, not Christian enough – the list goes on. And for all of those parents I have brought out my typical line of “I’m sorry that this book offended you, but…”, they have gone their merry way, possibly a little mad and likely to come back and steal the book later just to spite me, but I don’t have a problem with that. Well I do have a problem with it, but it’s out of my sphere of influence, so I can’t do much about it. Also, I will just order the book again.

But today I’  have a problem of a different sort. I recently ordered Andy Riley’s The Book of Bunny Suicides for the graphic novel collection, and neglected to remember one of my co workers recently lost her daughter to suicide. She finds the book to be completely distasteful and inappropriate for teens given the high rate of suicide today. While I obviously feel terrible for offending her and understand why she is upset, I don’t feel that the book is any more horrible than many of the graphic novels and teen novels we have in the collection, and in fact the book is quite funny and creatively done and I would like to keep it on the shelf.

But still I am perplexed, because I have never before had a book complaint from a co worker, and I feel it is much harder than just giving her my normal response – this woman has worked at the library for many years and I need to maintain a good working relationship with her. So while I know most of you will just tell me to keep the book on the shelf, I would like to know: how many of you have this book at your library, have any of you had complaints about it, and moreover, what do I tell this woman? I have read some arguments on regarding the book, but I feel that as a co-worker and human being, I cannot respond to a grieving mother in my standard political, library-speak manner.

About Jen Waters

Jen is the Teen Services Librarian at Edmonton Public Library in Alberta, Canada, where she happily spends her time ordering controversial teen novels, planning crazy programs and being insulted by teens on a daily basis.

12 Thoughts on “The Book of Bunny Suicides

  1. While I am sorry for your co-workers loss, you cannot be expected to not order a book because it happens to contain the word “suicide” in the title. Or even center around suicide plot-wise.

    Yes, suicide is a serious subject, but we are talking about a cartoon bunny here. It is supposed to be a humorous, irreverent take on a topic very much on the minds of teens, at least I am guessing, because I have not seen this book myself.

    Did your co-worker make a formal complaint with your (or your manager, as appropriate)? If so, then you should absolutely treat this a challenge and handle it according to your collection development policy.

    If she complained to you privately, or you heard from someone else about it, you could either choose to ignore the situation or approach her and say, “I am so sorry for your loss and I know this is an unfortunate coincidence, but here are some reviews from ________ that say it is appropriate for the graphic novel section because ______.

    We do not have it here. And I would not buy it without a favorable review in a standard review source, unless we had a patron request. And it would probably be placed in the adult section, from what I am judging by the Amazon information (best I can do!)

    Suicide–Caricatures And Cartoons is your subject heading here, interestingly enough.

  2. This coworker would probably never have thought twice about the subject matter of the book had her daughter not just committed suicide. But because it so near to her heart now, she probably feels like she needs to be an advocate for those who have killed themselves, or for those who, like her, were left behind asking “But why?” She should use this book as a tool instead of a weapon. She can be a guest at her library’s next Teen Advisory Group meeting, discuss what happened to her, and discuss depression (or drugs, or what have you) with the kids. She can become a Gatekeeper (suicide prevention/intervention operator) and train teens to become one themselves.

  3. Jen Waters on September 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm said:

    It wasn’t a formal complaint – I think she was hoping to solve it the easy way before it got to that. I probably will just apologize but keep the book. The teen advisory group is a great idea – but I don’t really think she would be open to it! Thanks for both your comments.

  4. OK, maybe this is going to sound too deep and weird (and too much like an English grad) but part of the humour in that book, in my opinion, is in taking the idea of suicide out into the open, where it’s safe to talk about and safe to laugh about. which is one thing. another thing is that it’s juxtaposing the idea of suicide, which is scary and dark and is stereotypically the domain of angsty teens or desperate adults, and ascribes it to bunnies, who are typically cute, cuddly and happy (for God’s sake, they hop!) So under the surface, we’re laughing at the idea that these animals we assign warm feelings to are actually feeling dark, destructive feelings. Maybe some kid or adult will pick it up and feel comforted by that: the idea that it’s not always what you see on the surface that is the truth about someone.

    good luck. that is totally the hardest book challenge i have ever heard of!

  5. Jen Waters on September 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm said:

    It is quite deep but I do agree with you – the book is a good discussion point for teens, their parents and in theory it could be one of those “laughing through grief” situations. Now if only I had an article stating this that I could send to my co worker … want to write one up, send it to a journal and get it published ASAP?

  6. considering the waiting period for peer-reviewed journals, nope!

    again, good luck!!!

  7. Jen Waters on September 26, 2009 at 6:17 pm said:

    I was kidding so it’s ok … I have started the email to my co worker and just need to tweak it a bit before I send it off. And I’ve pretty much decided to keep the book on the shelf too. Thanks for the advice and support!

  8. Teen paperbacks are ordered centrally at Edmonton Public Library and I heard of at least two branch libraries where staff discarded the bunny suicide books immediately upon receiving them in shipments of new books, rather than putting them out for people to borrow. The acquisitions librarian who had ordered them sent out an email to all staff, encouraging use of proper channels before censorship and also included supporting documentation for the worth of the bunny suicide books. I’m sorry that I can’t remember specifics of the positive aspects of these books, but I guess it was something along the lines of what Alex has said.

  9. The way I would handle it is to treat this co-worker like she was any other patron. I know she is a co-worker, but when she complains about a book, she is taking on the role of a library patron rather than co-worker. To avoid personal battles treat this case like she was a library patron. Gently remind her what the procedure is to make a formal challenge if she wants to do so. I hope you have a challenge procedure and a committee to handle this, and treat her challenge with the same dignity and formality you would any other. We do own the book in our system, and although I find it to be somewhat distasteful, It’s a popular item for our teen patrons. Whether it’s a conversation starter or just an outrageous work of dark humor, I wouldn’t use that as your main argument here.

  10. TRMite on October 2, 2009 at 2:05 pm said:

    I have been witness to internal complaints and I agree it can be the most difficult. In think your concern with being sensitive first and foremost means that ultimately everything else will work itself out. best.

  11. Stephanie on October 5, 2009 at 10:53 am said:

    I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder since I was 13 and at 14 I was hospitalized for being severely depressed and suicidal (and was hospitalized again at 25) so I know this is a very serious issue. However, I found one the best ways to deal with my issues has been a since of humor and sometimes mine can be pretty dark. Just because we joke about it does not mean we do not take it seriously or don’t care. I also agree that this can be one way to broach the subject with teens and others. Good luck.

  12. Metylda on April 22, 2010 at 10:29 am said:

    Okay, I’m coming to this discussion late. However, I think the one thing people need to realize is that the Bunny Suicide books were not meant for teens. While the books are cute and funny, I think we need to realize who the intended audiance originally was. Graphic novels, and books like this, are not just for teens.

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