First of all, I didn’t expect to be writing this particular column today. I’ve spent the past two days working on the launch of my client Helen Wan’s fabulous novel The Partner Track, which has had an amazing narrative and a unique marketing and publicity angle. Helen has had the first two of her appearances in the last 24 hours, and we’re getting some great momentum. And I will write about this process, because it deserves writing about and makes me intensely happy.
But then I was on Facebook and I saw a post by another of my clients, Mary McCoy, who’s a librarian in California when she isn’t writing searing YA noir.
The post had to do with Meg Medina and Rainbow Rowell, both of whom have written children’s books dealing with tough situations of bullying, coming to terms with growing up, kids trying to navigate adolescence. Both authors speak all the time at schools. And both recently were uninvited to appearances because small, small-minded groups of parents determined that the words in their books—“Ass” in the title of Medina’s “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass” and a number of curse words in Rowell’s Eleanor and Park—made the messages of perseverance and tolerance in their books irrelevant: Their children needed to be protected from the word Ass.
Medina was told she’d still be allowed to read at the school—provided she neither stated the name of her own book or showed a picture of the cover (see above). This was the way she responded:
I’ll say only this: I make absolutely NO APOLOGIES for the title of my book. The title is bold and troubling, and it suggests exactly what’s inside. Besides, we can fret all we want about the word ass, but that word isn’t the real trouble, is it? What’s hurting our kids is the savagery on their phones, and Facebook pages and in their classrooms. That, and the reluctance of those around them to step up and do the tough work of pulling the issue out into the open and talking about what bullying really looks and sounds like and about its radioactive impact that lasts for years into the future.
Rowell wasn’t even certain she’d been uninvited, until her contract with the State of Minnesota was returned. She said in an interview here (http://the-toast.net/2013/09/17/chat-rainbow-rowell-love-censorship/), that
“The Parents Action League is mostly responding to the cursing in the book – there’s a lot of it.
But it’s so bizarre to me that they’re objecting to the cursing because Eleanor and Park themselves almost never swear. I’m not anti-profanity, personally, but I use profanity in the book to show how vulgar and sometimes violent the characters’ worlds are. The very first line of the book is:
XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus.
Park pressed his headphones into his ears.
He’s trying to block out the profanity! And Eleanor hates that her stepfather curses so much. She complains about it throughout the book.
There’s also some pretty vulgar sexual language that the parents have objected to: Someone harasses Eleanor by writing gross things on her school books. It’s one of the more traumatic things that happens to her.”
So let’s get this straight: Two authors, writing books they are hoping will be read by children and teenagers who can empathize with the bullied and abused kids portrayed, are prevented from talking to these same kids because there is cursing (which is pretty broadly defined if you use “ass” as a line in the sand). It’s astonishing. Bullying, both in person and online, is such a massive problem now that you end up seeing heartbreaking articles like this one (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/queens-girl-12-hangs-citing-harassment-article-1.1352387) and this one (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/us/suicide-of-girl-after-bullying-raises-worries-on-web-sites.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).
I’ve got two daughters. One is 10, the other, 11. They have had their run-ins with bullies. They are young, but growing up really quickly. They have access to social media, and they have lockers in the hall of middle school. They are now on a break for ten days for the end of the Jewish holiday season. I’m going to Barnes and Noble tomorrow morning and I’m buying them each a copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, and my whole family is going to read it and talk about it. And it’s tragic that the kids in the school Meg Medina is not going to visit won’t have that same opportunity.
For more information, click here http://megmedina.com/2013/09/04/author-uninvited-a-school-decides-im-trouble/ and here http://the-toast.net/2013/09/17/chat-rainbow-rowell-love-censorship/