This week came the news that Scholastic asked Lauren Myracle to change a same-sex couple to a straight one in her new book, Luv Ya Bunches.
When she refused, they opted not to carry the book in their book fairs. A spokesman for Scholastic said the company often asks for changes to “meet the norms of the various communities that host the fairs.” Myracle did not budge.
This is no small thing. Scholastic represents money and sales for children’s book authors. To refuse them is to take money out of your own pocket—both actual and potential. It might not just be an issue of sticking to your guns, but paying for day care or college or simple time to write.
We talk a lot about book banning in children’s literature. Stories of various books getting removed from schools and libraries make the news (including that of our own Lisa Jahn-Clough.) But we don’t often hear about the books that never got through the gatekeepers at all for fear of protest. SLJ had an excellent article about self-censorship–bookstores, schools, libraries that don’t buy a book because they fear a backlash. And it’s not just these gatekeepers, as the Scholastic story indicates, but the publishers, too. A few years ago, Simon and Schuster asked a picture book writer to take out a photo in a fall-themed book of a child dressed as a witch. He refused, and Simon and Schuster released him from his contract and ultimately sold the book to another publisher.
It’s scary, sure. We just want to tell stories, and the prospect of getting removed from shelves–or never getting on those shelves at all–is a terrifying one. But there’s something new happening. A few months ago, a small internet storm exploded over the US edition of Justine Larbalesteir’s Liar, published by Bloomsbury. The protagonist for the book is black, but the publisher put a white girl on the cover. Justine protested, but they did not change their minds and sent out advance copies of the book with that cover. But then people started to read the book, and they (shockingly) noticed the discrepancy and started to talk. And blog. And tweet. Soon the story was all over the kidlitosphere. And after awhile, the noise was too loud, and Liar had a new cover.
And that’s what’s happened with Luv Ya Bunches. Within days, Scholastic backtracked. They were scared of angry letters–and they got them, but not from the side they were expecting.
It’s a new era. Stories of book banning and related stupidity will spread quickly. There are a ton of kid’s lit blogs out there–writers, editors, librarians, reviewers, and readers–and their audience posts the stories to Facebook with links to online petitions and contact information for the perpetrators. A petition to Scholastic garnered 4000 signatures in 48 hours. Thanks to the internet, we have a voice now–we have thousands of voices. And children’s literature will be stronger for it.
This blog is excellent evidence that the writers voice is loud and being heard! Thank you for sharing all of this and keeping us aware that its okay to stick by our guns, if they are for the right reason!
Sometimes the charge against censorship takes a Myracle. Kudos to her and good news for us!
I went to a presentation a few weeks ago (before the Laren Myracle story broke) by someone on the national book selection committee for Scholastic Book Fairs. Their goal is to sell, rather than censor, books. But they do have to be sensitive to their market. She pointed out that they are a guest in each school, and if they don't fit the values of that school's community, then they aren't invited back to sell any books at all, which does happen sometimes. They facilitate special orders for schools whose librarians feel parents will support students reading a broader range of language. (she gave Sherman Alexie's Diary of Part-time Indian as an example b/c of the swearing.) The squeaky wheel gets the grease here. How often do people write to their libraries/schools to commend them for offering a range of literature that portrays diverse life experiences for young readers? I'll bet almost never. So when complaints about a book do come in, they sound loud, even if they represent just a few individual voices. The internet is one vehicle. But we shouldn't be shy about also communicating directly to our local booksellers, school administrators and librarians.