The other week I was reading this excellent blog post by Saivta Kahlan about drawing the line. I urge you to go and read it: a) because as I've mentioned before it's excellent b) I rattled off a quick witty response and c) was challenged to consider my response in more depth. If you go and read it you will see evidence of b, and c, and a, will get you thinking. Now, if you are extremely busy (and only if that is the case) Savita questioned whether there were some subjects that should be should be taboo in children's literature.
The teacher as gatekeeper:
A few months ago I took a couple of books home to read as the teacher felt they were not suitable for ten year olds. One of them I couldn't get into and haven't read, the other one I absolutely loved, but agreed to send on to the secondary school as there was a death at the beginning of the book, some criminals, criminal activity, rap stars and pedophiles. While I would be quite happy to let a ten year old read the book, given the complexity of the the story, the age of the characters and some of the issues in the book, I felt more kids would read it in the high school.
The parent as gatekeeper:
One of our favourite books is: De la petite taupe qui voulait savoir qui lui avait fait sur la tête. You may know it as The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business. We find it hysterical, we love the onomatopoeias and boy did we use a lot of them when in the throes of potty training. We pulled the book out at a some family do a while ago and one of the aunties was well and truly not amused because it was a book all about poo. Another one of my personal favourite's is Babette Cole's: Mummy laid an egg, but at present it's still on the top shelf (ooh er missus) of our book shelf. It will come down one day when the Frog has finished with the kamasutra like pages.
The writer as gatekeeper:
So far the examples I have mentioned have all involved other people as gatekeepers, but should the writer be a gatekeeper. In my current WIP, I did everything to keep my antagonist alive. I knew he had to die, but I didn't want my protagonist to be the one to kill him, and until I worked out a way for that to happen, I kept him alive. In the end it wasn't killing a character off that bothered me*, it was the main character. She could not become a killer, she's not a killer. She's pretty special, but if push comes to shove, she can't and won't kill anyone.
So after much thought and consideration I am actually in complete agreement with Savita (but you'll have to go to her post and see what I'm agreeing with), and as I mentioned in my comment I only draw the line at swearing, because as I say to the kids: we all do it, but there's a time and place and so far it hasn't found it's place in my WIP.
* I'd just like to make it clear that I do not condone murder, the death penalty or vigilantes, but boy does it make good stories.