As complaints go, it was an easy one to handle. A school librarian in Texas emailed us about Big Nate and Friends (the color edition), saying, “On page 166, Big Nate and his friends are talking to each other about being ‘rated’ by the girls in their school and how the boys feel like ‘sex objects’…this type of language and content should not be even attempted (funny or not) in a book that may go to an elementary school library!” Since Kirkus had not reviewed this compilation of comic strips, we couldn’t apologize for misleading her about its content even if we wanted to. Case closed.
But as I thought about it, I’m really not sure that we would have wanted to. Nate and his pals are in sixth grade. “Funny or not,” and whether or not we adults like it, this is the sort of conversation that young adolescents are having, and the spin Big Nate puts on it is a valuable one.
Think about it. The word “sex” is not a foreign one to sixth-graders; take a look at the magazines in your supermarket. Glamour: “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Cosmopolitan: “Sex Tips So Hot You’ll Get Turned on Just Reading Them.” Essence: “Why Celibacy Is the New Sexy.” Women’s Health: “The Year’s Sexiest Sex Position.” Shape: “SEX, the way you want it.” Even Girl’s Life, a magazine for preteens and teens, features an article on “boob” anxiety.
Lincoln Peirce, the creator of Big Nate, opens the sequence our correspondent found so objectionable with Nate wondering about girls, “We rate THEM, right? I’m wondering if THEY rate US the same way!” By turning the conversation about objectification on its head, he gets readers wondering too. It’s effective satire, and it may well help to counteract at least some of the hypersexualized messages children are getting everywhere else. You go, Big Nate. Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.