The headlines last week read:
Luv Ya Bunches Will Be in Middle School Book Fairs
Scholastic reverses decision regarding 'Luv Ya Bunches'
Scholastic to Sell 'Luv Ya Bunches' at Middle School Book Fairs
Scholastic Reverses Decision to Exclude Gay Friendly Book from Fairs
An accurate headline, though, would read: Scholastic Sells Censored Luv Ya Bunches in Middle School Fairs; Refuses to Include Gay Parents in Elementary Schools.
Luv Ya Bunches is about fifth graders. Publishers Weekly recommended it for ages 9-13. Clearly it is intended for both elementary and middle school students.
Let's talk a little about book fairs. Scholastic dominates the U.S. school book fair market. From 2003-2007 I hosted a Scholastic book fair at my middle school (continuing the previous librarian's tradition). On the appointed date the deliverymen wheel in giant carts that open to become book displays. The middle school fairs offer certain titles, which have been advertised in advance to students via posters and book fair brochures. The books, published by Scholastic and other publishers, range from paperback classics to brand-new releases. Schools can make special requests; I always asked for more multi-ethnic books to reflect the interests and diversity of my students. The person in charge of the book fair can choose to remove items from the display if they don't want to sell them. Most librarians I know do: expensive software, toys with small parts, books you don't think students are interested in might stay packed in boxes. At my last Scholastic fair I didn't display the posters for sale, because space was tight and I wanted to focus on books.
My point is that with any book fair, including Scholastic, you can choose what to offer from the books provided. No school is forced to offer a book for sale.
If you (librarians or book fair chairs) live in a community that is so homophobic that parents will protest a book with gay characters, and you are not willing to take a stand and offer the book, you don't have to. But Scholastic Inc., whose credo says they strive "To enlarge students' concern for and understanding of today's world," should not pander to this homophobic constituency by refusing to offer Luv Ya Bunches or other books with gay characters in its elementary school book fairs.
Michael A. Jones of Change.org writes, "This was a victory for us all." I see no victory. Scholastic Book Fairs concluded their review process and decided to include an expurgated edition of Luv Ya Bunches in its middle school book fairs. This may be what they were already going to do before last week's outcry. It represents no brave stance on the part of Scholastic, despite what Lauren Myracle claims. Here's what needs to happen to achieve a real victory.
School librarians/Teachers/PTA (anyone who hosts a book fair in a school): Look into other options, such as local independents, for book fairs to reduce Scholastic's corporate monopoly. With any book fair (Scholastic or otherwise), be sure to request age-appropriate books that include LGBT characters. Let the book fair provider know that these books are both welcome and necessary in your school book fair to meet the needs of your community.
1) Make your book fair criteria public and transparent. Are books with gay characters automatically excluded from elementary school? Sometimes excluded? As a customer of Scholastic Book Fairs (both as a school librarian and as a parent of an elementary-school child), I want an answer.
2) Apologize for asking Lauren Myracle to change the sexual orientation of characters in Luv Ya Bunches. Yes, you have a review process and you can only include a small number of books in the fairs each year. You can exclude books; it's your choice. But there is NO EXCUSE for asking to change gay characters to straight. NONE. You made a big mistake. Apologize, and make a donation to Lambda Legal or some other organization that helps families.
Authors: Do not agree to Scholastic Book Fairs or anyone else censoring your book. You wrote your book a certain way--maybe with hell, damn, Oh my God--because you, and your editor, believed it was right for your book. If it's not right, take it out in the editing stage. If it is right, DON'T CHANGE IT. This is disrespectful, dishonest, and deceptive to your readers. You can't champion the freedom to read while you are agreeing to sanitized versions of your own books.
Three weeks ago another librarian and I were talking about how there are quite a few picture books with gay characters, and more YA books all the time, but very few novels with gay characters for readers in grades 4-8. I mentioned Dear Julia by Amy Bronwen Zemser as a good new example: the main character's best friend has two moms. Children need these books. We need to keep the pressure on.