Monday, June 6, 2011

banning a kid's book from the children's section: the power of one self-righteous parent

This weekend I read with interest a Wall Street Journal article about edgy children's literature. In Darkness Too Visible, Meghan Cox Gurdon took many of my colleagues to task for writing explicit or violent novels for teens. I admire these Young Adult authors. It takes guts to tell stories that aren't going to end up as a Hallmark movie.

The Winter Of Red Snow (Dear America)I thought, well at least my books won't be ripped to shreds by Ms. Gurdon. Most are for younger kids anyway and are fairly pleasant. No dogs die and there's usually a happy ending. HOWEVER, I love researching history and learning stuff they didn't teach in school -- which is a lot. I've been privileged to have publishers who trust me to tell-it-like-it-was and weave truths into stories that hopefully will inspire kids to read and learn. And hopefully inspire them to care about the future, seeing to it that our country doesn't repeat mistakes of history.

Silly me! Yesterday, I received an email from a mother who disapproves of The Winter of Red Snow, a Dear America story set at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. Her letter:

[no salutation] "My 9 yr old daughter, who is a gifted and talented student, has loved reading the Dear America Series (approximately 14 of them). Here are her comments about your book that I felt I had to pass them on to you:
     'I think it's inappropriate for someone my age, especially the part with the human hands and feet in a trough. I understand it you're trying to make it as detailed as possible but I think it's too much. Also it makes me afraid to read other Dear America books because I don't want to have to read something that makes me cry.'
     Just for your information, Ms Gregory, we have reported the gore of your book to our local library and they pulled it off the shelf of the juvenile section...I think maybe they're reshelving it for Young Adults in another location.
Thank you, 'Jane Doe'"

Hm. We've handed our kids a messed up world -- political chaos, wars in the Middle East, economic disaster, bullying and shootings in their schools, a nuclear meltdown, an epidemic of teen and young adult suicide -- and this mother is so worried that her daughter might cry at a shred of historic realism that she marches down to her local library and succeeds in having the book taken off the shelf so that other children and families won't be able to access it in the juvenile section? Are you kidding me!

What about the "gifted and talented student" destined to be our future president of the United States? I hope she will have been allowed to read and to cry and to be horrified by the affects of war, and that she -- okay, or he -- will be appalled by overprotective parents trying to ban books because the topics are icky.

I'm appalled. And I'm furious. I edited out my earlier rough language here, even though it would have bumped me up to the Young Adult section and put me in good company.

Readers, what do you think?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

answering children's letters Part 1

Holiday Evergreen FOREVER Stamps, Strip of 20
This afternoon I'm taking a break from a Fun Writing Project to answer some children's letters, a different sort of fun.

My post office box was stuffed with mail from all over -- Wyoming, Iowa and Michigan, northern Sweden, and from a Mennonite boy in Pennsylvania. What delighted me the most was that many of these children had tucked in return postage to encourage my response. Or as one third-grader wrote in her pretty handwriting: "P.S. I've included a stamp and when you get a chance to write me back to my school that would be awesome."

I'm hurrying because most of the return addresses are to the schools and I worry summer vacation has already started. If teachers would PLEASE tell their students to include a home address, there's a greater chance my letter will reach them. Or if such personal detail is a 'safety' issue, have the students write in the early spring with the date so I'll know in which order to answer.

Mail from young readers is always a thrill. One fifth-grade boy from Northampton thanked me for my books then went on to more substance: his love of playing football. "I was the nose guard. I'm that guy in front of the ball snapper. We won 4 and lost 4. Let's get off of football. My favorite color is orange and my favorite food is general tos chicken. It is chinese."

I love kids! They're so refreshing.