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Gary Younge
Blunt speaking

· In a country where SpongeBob Square Pants is regarded as a corrupting influence on the young and innocent, Ricardo Cortes's children's book, It's Just a Plant, was always going to be a risky proposition.

It's Just a Plant stars an eight-year-old girl, Jackie, who walks into her parents room and finds them smoking a spliff. In the ensuing 48-page adventure she meets a friendly marijuana grower, a progressive doctor and a police officer making a drugs bust. This gentle parable ends with Jackie insisting she will grow up and vote "so I can make all the laws fair".

Cortes, a former drugs education officer based in Brooklyn, thought children between the ages of six and 12 needed to say no because they are children, not because smoking marijuana is wrong.

"I don't think there's a magic age where it becomes OK to start talking about these things," he told the Village Voice. "I think it's very similar to sex. A five-year-old is ready to talk about sex in some way. You don't need to break down the protein content of sperm to a five-year-old."

Cortes, who published the book himself through his website Magic Propaganda Mill, could find just a few stores and even fewer libraries to stock it. Luckily, he received free publicity from Indiana congressman, Mark Souder, who held the book up at a House Drug Policy Subcommittee hearing on "harm reduction" last month and lambasted it as a "pro-marijuana children's book".

Meanwhile half of Cortes's stock has been bought up by the trendy clothing store, Urban Outfitters, where irony is its biggest selling point. Cortes remains unfazed: "Sometimes you have to talk to adults like they are children," he says.

· Times will be a-changing for the jailed domestic diva, Martha Stewart, who is soon to be released after five months in jail for insider trading. In between teaching other inmates yoga and doing her 12 cents an hour administration job, she has been doing some reading - Bob Dylan's Chronicles.

· For those who feel that the US has been too shy about its pain these last few years, Jonathan Safran Foer is at hand. His first novel, Everything is Illuminated, will be followed soon by Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, about a nine-year-old schoolboy whose father was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. "Both the Holocaust and 9/11 were events that demanded retellings," Foer told the New York Times. "The accepted versions didn't make sense for me. I always write out of a need to read something, rather than a need to write something. With 9/11, in particular, I needed to read something that wasn't politicised or commercialised, something with no message, something human." Mmm. Two aeroplanes; two tall buildings; 2,500 dead; two resultant wars; many more thousands dead ... Good luck stripping the message out of that one Mr Foer.

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