Brett Berk: Lauren Myracle is a church-going Christian, a mom, a Colorado resident, and the kind of awesome person who, when I call her up for an interview, admits that her kids are home on a snow day and driving her crazy -- so she's talking to me while hiding in her minivan out in the garage. But in addition to her skill at ducking the effects of a snowstorm, she's also highly capable of responding to a s*#t-storm, namely one that's erupted over her new book, Luv Ya Bunches.
Some months ago, her publisher, Abrams, submitted the book to Scholastic to be a part of two of their distinct in-school programs -- their Book Clubs, in which kids order books from a form, and their Book Fairs, in which actual books are set up for sale. The company came back with some comments.
"They DIDN'T say, 'Change this and we'll take it,'" Lauren told me. Rather, they said there was "some content that was problematic for them." There were some minor language issues, "things like the word 'crap,' and a 'dingleberry' reference," which felt kind of standard. But one of their other notes was a bit more significant. "They mentioned wanting us to address the fact that one of the characters, Mila, has two moms." Lauren blanched. "I said we'd do the other stuff, but not that."
Why didn't she cave, and turn Leslie into Les? Well, because she's got herself some authorial backbone. And because she's all about writing books that, as she says, "tell an authentic story," and the reality is that many American kids, upwards of 200,000 of them, have two moms or two dads. "The whole point was to have a cast of main characters that reflect the diversity of today's elementary schools," Lauren told me. "The moms' lesbianism is incidental. It's not a plot point or the source of some big lesson in the book. Just like there's a half Asian girl, an African-American girl who lives just with her dad, and a Muslim girl who wears a headscarf, there's a girl with two moms."
Well, dingleberries excised and "crap" changed to "stuff," Scholastic's Book Clubs agreed and accepted "Luv Ya" for sale and distribution. But the Book Fairs said that if the two moms stayed, they would pass.
"This isn't censorship, per se," Lauren stated. "This is a private company deciding what can and can't be included among the products they decide to sell." She should know about this kind of semantic hair-splitting. Her books for older kids (The Internet Girls Series) have all sat on the New York Times best-seller list -- and have been among those most challenged in our nation's libraries for the past two years running. "But librarians and teachers and parents who support the Scholastic Book Fairs don't realize that there's a vetting process," Lauren explained. "And that the selection of books they're offered have been chosen and considered. Again, this is perfectly legal and in Scholastic's rights. But it would be nice if they would make their selection process transparent so that people can make an informed decision about it."
Well, their process is certainly a bit more public now. Their refusal to carry Luv Ya caused public outcry when the story was broken by the School Library Journal -- it was picked up all over the Internet, and even on Conan O'Brien. In response, the Scholastic Book Fairs have caved a bit and said that they'll now allow the book at their middle school sales, noting that it contains "mature" content. But Luv Ya Bunches isn't a middle school book. It's about fifth graders. And anyone with even an iota of expertise in how kids work (like, perhaps, one of the biggest youth publishing and distribution companies in the world) knows that the last thing a 6th to 8th grader wants to be associated with is anything having to do with 5th grade. Duh!
It also isn't a "mature" book. I've made this point many times before, and I'll make it again: homosexuality is no more "mature" than heterosexuality, and we endorse and overtly demonstrate that "lifestyle" for kids -- even very young kids -- in stories, books, and other media all the time. One isn't any more difficult to comprehend than the other. It's all part of the normal range of human experience. Only the players differ.
Seems like Scholastic is starting to get this message, at least a bit. "I think Scholastic Book Fairs is full of good people who are trying to figure out what the world is today just like the rest of us are," Lauren said. "And perhaps they were operating from outdated selection policies."
I agree. And I agree with Lauren and her publishers' support of Scholastic's change of heart. But, as Lauren said at the end of our conversation, "That's no reason not to keep pushing." Push on, sister. I'm pushing right beside you.
|Brett Berk, M.S. Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years--as a classroom teacher, preschool director, and research consultant--and is the author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting."|