I was in NY this weekend meeting with a (new for me) publisher. The publisher happened to be in NJ, which I gather is where publishers go now since the rents are cheaper. During the weekend I was able to get together with two of my favorite New Yorkers and children’s lit people—our very own effervescent Jill Davis, and one of our previous guests, the divine Ellen Levine. We shared writing/publishing woes, laughed and gossiped in a Thai bistro uptown, like three women on a Sex and The City episode, only our show would be titled Writers for Children and Young Adults and the City.
Much of the conversation turned to Ellen’s latest foray into the world of book challenges. For those not familiar with her novel Catch A Tiger By the Toe, it is a middle-grade historical novel taking place during the McCarthy era in 1953. One might imagine many book banners protesting from a certain political side. But the surprise is that the person challenging the book is a leading Civil Rights Activist who noticed the “n” word appearing in the book and claims the book is racist. The word is spoken by the bully in the novel as a racial slur. The protagonist denounces and rejects racial and ethnic stereotyping. It is yet again another situation of a word in a book taken out of context. The irony of the activist trying to ban this book is both amusing and mortifying. These days no word is safe. If anything Ellen said she expected protests from the right since the family in the book are members of the CP, but this was a surprise. Had the person read the book she may have noticed her faux pas.
As Ellen herself put it: “To remove a book from library shelves for the use of a word is to travel down that mindless but painfully destructive McCarthy road once again. Have we learned nothing?”
And so now I am home from the city, back in my quiet studio and working on something to give that NJ publisher.