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What Gets a British Children’s Bestseller Banned?

By Dennis Abrams

LONDON: With over three million copies sold in the UK alone, it’s safe to say that Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series is a bestselling phenomenon and Muchamore himself is in high demand as a school speaker. The series consists of 15 YA novels about a group of orphans working for a junior division of the British Security Service.

It therefore came as a surprise to all concerned when Muchamore was notified that his appearance at London’s Highgate Junior School had been canceled, and his books removed from the junior school’s library after receiving complains from parents.

On learning of the cancellation, Muchamore tweeted, “Highgate School invited me to an event, then decided [to] read my books first and promptly banned them. Tossers . . . ” He later said in an interview that “I suddenly got an email saying we don’t want you to come in, and we have taken the books out of the junior school library after a couple of parents complained. It only takes one busybody parent to complain and they have to react to it — that’s the sad thing.”

School head Adam Pettit confirmed that two families had asked the school “to look more closely” at Muchamore’s books. “Having done so, we took the view that they were more suitable for the senior school age range than for the whole of the junior school age range where pupils as young as seven have access to the stock.”

Muchamore had been scheduled to speak to years five and six (ages 10-11), the oldest in the junior school. “It didn’t make sense to invite Mr. Muchamore to the junior school given this decision. Ideally we would have made these checks before extending the invitation, and we are sorry that Mr. Muchamore has been inconvenienced,” said Pettit.

The CHERUB (Charles Henderson Espionage Research Unit B) books do touch on such hot-button themes as violence, teenage sexuality, along with plots involving prostitution, drug dealing, and, in the latest title, People’s Republic, human trafficking. Muchamore, though, insists that his titles pass one all important test. “I always call it the Eastenders test -– that broadly speaking nothing happens in my books that doesn’t happen in an episode of Eastenders,” adding that “I’m always reluctant to have age ranges on books because kids vary so much, but maybe 20% of nine-year-olds would like to read my books, 40% of 10-year-olds, and 80-90% of 11 to 12-year-olds.”

Muchamore said that this was the first time that he knew of that his books had been banned from a school library. Although once he did receive an email from a man in Utah “which said that after reading my book, he was praying for my eternal soul.”

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