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).

March 14, 2017

Let's Hear it for the Girls (and Women)! Part 1

It's Women's History Month and since I seem to actually be getting blogs out on time, I may be able to review some books while it's still March (no promises though).

Let's start with The Youngest Marcher:  The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton (Atheneum, Books for Young Readers, 2017)

Audrey was inspired by their friend Mike, who used to sit at their dinner table, say grace and talk about civil rights, while enjoying "hot rolls baptized in butter".  Mike would talk about segregation and that "An unjust law is no law at all." Audrey knew that meant that it was right to stand up to segregation and laws that forced her to use the back of the bus, never sit at the lunch counter, or drink from the 'white fountain'.

If you haven't guessed, 'Mike' is Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (Mike was the name given him at birth, his father was Mike Sr., Mike Sr. changed both their names to Martin Luther after the religious reformer).

Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Reverend James Bevel called for protest at Monday night church services at Reverend Shuttlesworth's church.  The congregation would sing songs like We Shall Overcome and then congregants would give testimonies about how segregation and racism were affecting their lives.

At first, there was a call for 'filling the jails' with adult protesters, but adults were too afraid (and with good reason).  "Boss man will fire me! Landlord will evict me! Policemen will beat me!"

Reverend Bevel came up with a new idea, "If grown-ups won't do it, fill the jails...with children!"

Audrey immediately wanted to participate (keep in mind, she was 9 years old), and with her parents' blessing, she showed up two days later in a nice outfit (protesters should look nice) and with a game her father gave her and walked out in the street with all the other children.  She was the youngest one there, but she kept her head high and sang loudly "Ain't gonna le-e-t nobody turn me 'round, turn me 'round, turn me 'round."

Audrey and all the marchers were arrested that first day.  Prison was miserable, lonely (she was so much younger than the others), the bed was awful and the food was worse. 

BUT, children marched every day until by the 5th day the PRISONS WERE FULL! After a week, Audrey and the others were sent home.

Now, I love this book and I love learning about Audrey, but I do find the pages that follow the protest a bit simplistic. "No one else could be sent to jail. Everything had changed." 

It makes sense in a way, since this book is written for younger readers, so this is a good 'entry' book to the Civil Rights Movement.  However we do know that it wasn't this easy and even though Birmingham took the segregation laws off the books two months later (this is 1963), it didn't mean that African Americans had an easy time sitting at lunch counters, getting jobs, or, of course, voting.

Sadly, this book is even more timely, given that we are seeing a resurgence in voter suppression (specifically of voters of color).  The Youngest Marcher reminds us that battles are never over and that we all can (and MUST) speak up and take action when we see injustice in our world.

p.s.  As a DELICIOUS bonus, there is the Hendricks' family recipe for 'rolls baptized in butter'.

Further Reading:

We've Got a Job :The 1963 Birmingham Children's March By by Cynthia Levinson, (Peachtree Publishers)


March 7, 2017

CENSORSHIP! (or is it?)

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

                              First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Censorship has been at the top of the news recently.  

 We just had the ‘Milo Debacle’ at UC Berkeley which has a lot of liberals defending free speech.   (On a semi-side note, I truly believe that those 100 ‘demonstrators’ were Milo plants, stirring up trouble to get Milo sympathy and air time on mainstream media, sadly, it worked).

I’m liberal, I love free speech,  I also believe that I get to use speech to fight hatred, bigotry, ignorance, etc.  I also know that the First Amendment is about the GOVERNMENT restricting my speech, not my fellow citizens restricting it and believe me, there are a LOT of people who would LOVE to restrict my speech (probably starting with my daughters).

So, is calling out a book, movie, t.v. show for racism, hate speech or homophobia (to just name a few), censorship?  Nope.  I don’t understand why people are so gung ho to say that bigots can speak up but for us to speak up against them is suppression (especially we liberals, we are so busy trying to make nice – yeah, ‘make nice’ got us a fascist President, but I digress)

Last fall I was at a publishers’ presentation night with various publishing reps showing us their top choices for Fall and Winter.   I started flipping through a book called Bad Children’s Books, a parody of the often treacly, old fashioned covers of the classic Little Golden Books for children.

Having the maturity level of an adolescent, I kept giggling and showing pages to some of my co-workers.  My favorite was Woody Wakes With a Woody, showing a little boy with, um, you know, a ‘tent’ when he wakes up in the morning. (I told you I had the sense of humor of an adolescent).

There was a raffle at the end of the evening and if your number was called, you could choose two books.  I immediately picked this one, with the intentions of reviewing it the next day.

I brought it to my Shut Up and Write group and before we hit the ‘shut up’ part, I was showing everyone this HILARIOUS book.  Then, I turned the page to an illustration of a little girl in a burka holding a ticking bomb and offering it to a little boy.  The title was Happy Burkaday Timmy!  We all gasped, we could not believe what we were seeing.

It was incredibly offensive, hurtful, shocking and, in my opinion (and I get to have one) unacceptable. 

I vowed immediately to write a scathing review of the book.  However, being the Queen of Procrastination, I didn’t do it immediately.  I did send it out to a couple of groups that I’m in. One is my own Bay Area Children’s Literature List and another is the Child Lit listserve.  Thank goodness people on those lists are not the procrastinors that I am and negative reviews were written and an outcry was raised.

The author, who writes under the pseudonym Robert Gackley (but, is children's book author/illustrator Bob Staake - this is public knowledge) asked Abrams (the publisher) to stop publication of the book.  It was not withdrawn from bookstores, but more copies would not be made once it was gone.

Gackley is quoted as saying "The book is clearly not being read by some in the way I had intended – as satire – and, more disturbingly, is being misread as the very act of hate and bigotry that the work was meant to expose, not promote. For this reason, I have asked Abrams to cease publishing the book.”

Let's look at this. Is Gackley owning that he crossed a line? No, he doesn't believe that he has.  Does he at least feel bad that it is hurting people?  No.  Look at his language "not being read..."  "being misread"  Let's call this what it is, it's  'blame the victim'  language.  It's "I didn't do anything offensive/wrong. It's those humorless people who aren't smart enough to read my book in the correct way."

As a woman and a Jew, I can tell you that this is what ALWAYS happens when 'jokes' are made about a gender, race, religion etc.  It's not that the joke is offensive, racist, bigoted, sexist etc.  it's that the offended person just 'doesn't have a sense of humor'.

Or as Abrams says “taking elements of the book out of context and failing to recognise it as an artistic work of social satire and comic parody”.

Again, blaming the humorless victims.  'ARTISTIC work?!?!" so now, those of us who are offended are just uncouth as well as humorless. Wow....

Abrams also released this statement:

“At Abrams, our books and our publishing house have never, nor will ever, stand for bigotry or hatred. Those misrepresentations, aspersions, and claims surrounding the book, and the attempts to promulgate them, fly in the face of the values that our company and our employees hold dear.”

Oh, okay, as long as you say that you don't stand for bigotry or hatred, I should believe you.  Hmm, do you also think I should believe Trump when he says that he's not Anti-Semitic and that his Executive Order is not a Muslim ban?

Just saying it doesn't make it true Abrams.

Recently, Simon & Schuster has come under fire for giving Milo (see above) a quarter of a million dollar advance for a book he hasn’t written yet.  Milo is a dangerous hatemonger who incites violence against transgender people, among others. 

The publishing/literature world blew up.  Some saying How DARE Simon and Schuster do this? Others saying,  CENSORSHIP to those who objected.

Let’s visit this again.  It is not censorship to disagree with the contents of a book or movie and to call out that book or movie for its racism etc.  To question a publisher for publishing/promoting racism and bigotry is not only acceptable, it's necessary.

Note: Since I wrote this, S&S has cancelled Milo's book since he came out in favor of pederasty.  I appreciate they did this, but they also sent the message that transphobia, racism and doxxing your  critics (Milo puts personal information about his critics out on the internet, thereby putting them in danger from his followers) are COMPLETELY ACCEPTABLE.  

Again, especially at this terrifying and unsure time in our country's history, it is our duty to speak up, to shine a light on bigotry and hatred. 

To read more, I HIGHLY recommend these blog posts that really nail the issues:

And, this article has some brilliant thoughts, stating the issues so much better than I can: