My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

May 19, 2015

When we can't see past our own special interests

Recently I was at a FANTASTIC children's literature conference sponsored by the Arne Nixon Center at Fresno State University.  It was called, OUTLAWED:  The Naked Truth About Censored Literature for Young People.  It was informative, inspiring and often heartbreaking as many participants shared how painful it was for them not to see themselves in books.

One of the keynote speakers was Leslea Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies.  Let's put this out there right away, the original version of Heather was a terribly written book.  It was pedantic, wordy, dull.  HOWEVER, as I always say in my book talks, since I always, ALWAYS include LGBTQ, books on my list, it needed to be written. Heather broke down walls, got people talking, and paved the way for better written, fully fleshed out LGBTQ literature (including Ms. Newman's own STUNNING October Mourning).  Ms. Newman faced angry crowds, banning, death threats and more, all because she dared to write a book about a lesbian couple and their daughter.

At the conference Ms. Newman read us the original Heather and then read us the 25th Anniversary edition that is being released this year.  In the first book, all the children are asked to draw pictures of their families (showing that families come in all shapes and sizes).  One of the pictures showed a boy in a wheelchair, the text underneath listed everyone in the picture including, "One boy was in a wheelchair." (okay this may not be an exact quote, I don't actually have the book in front of me). In the new edition, the boy has been erased from the text and the illustrations.  When I asked about this, Ms. Newman answered "They told me the book was too wordy and I needed to cut down the text."  Yes, I'm in complete agreement with that, the book WAS too wordy and it needed some serious editing (it was originally self-published), but why was this boy taken out of the illustrations and why didn't Ms. Newman protest (or her editor notice)?  In a book that was/is about embracing everyone, why was this child so easily deleted?

What would the reaction be if this book had been about a child with Cerebral Palsy or Muscular Dystrophy and one of that child's classmates had drawn a family picture with two moms or two dads, but that picture didn't make it into the newer edition of the book?

There is another book that came out years ago (and is thankfully out of print) called King and King and Family.  Now, I love, LOVE King and King and have been booktalking it since it came out (and, I'm happy to say the reaction to it has gotten less and less hostile over the years). King and King is about a prince who has a parade of eligible princesses brought in front of him and he finally falls in love with one of the princess's brothers.  Delightful! Thought provoking!  Yay!  THEN, these two go on a honeymoon to Africa, and to make a long story (well, not that long, it's a picture book) short, a little African girl stows away in their luggage and they become King and King and Family.  What a bunch of colonialistic BS!  It's written and illustrated by two Dutch women and I do understand the colonial mindset is still there.  I remember going to Efteling, an amusement park in the Netherlands and seeing a ride that was spinning 'cannibal pots' with a 'native' with big lips and a flattened bone pierced nose overlooking the ride, stirring the 'pots'.  This does NOT make it right, but it's harder to be aware of a bias when many in your country think the same way.

However, K&K&F was published by a California (liberal Bay Area even) publishing company.  Did the excitement about supporting a pro gay couple book overshadow the other issues?  As I said in an earlier post, I run into people who are liberal about race, but blindingly sexist.

Can people only consider one issue at a time?  Only support one specific group at a time? I like to think not.  Life, and literature, are more interesting when no one is excluded.