Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scholastic censors Luv Ya Bunches

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 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.

Scholastic Inc.:
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.


Kathleen McDade said...

I would add that parents could also let the librarian know what they would like to see or not see at book fairs. I'm all for leaving out the expensive toys and focusing on books; fortunately our librarian and PTO seem to agree. I like the suggestion of independents; do you have someone locally that you work with, Laurie?

Rebekah said...

Hear, hear, to all of this. I hadn't even realized before that Scholastic versions could be any different than the real book. Ugh!

Teresa Kravtin said...

I second the notion of contacting local independent bookstores to host a book fair. Oftentimes, they are very responsive to the local community, and take the time to offer a depth of title representation that is not reflected in the more "commercialized" representation of Scholastic. I am a commission rep in the SE, and my 13-year-old son goes to a school that has Scholastic book fairs. My bookstore accounts, offer a similar service to local schools, and seem to be tuned in to the needs of the community in a much more proactive sense.

LaurieA-B said...

Here in Seattle, Secret Garden Bookshop, a fabulous independent, provides in-school book fairs. I had one in my library last year (first time I had a non-Scholastic fair) and they were great.

I believe Elliott Bay Book Co. ( also offers in-school fairs, and University Book Store (where I do most of my shopping; offers in-store book fairs for schools.

Liz B said...

I am outraged that apparently it's viewed as OK to "tone down" a book to make those with an extreme religous/conservative view happy. What about those parents & teachers with no problems with "geez" (Jesus, so lord's name in vain), "Oh my God" (taking lord's name in vain), "sucks" (talking about oral sex)?

Myracle's (and other book publishers) don't edit & publish with one small (but vocal) part of the community in mind, which is why it was in the original hardback. But here is Scholastic, apparently revising away to make this segment happy (or more like as a preemptive strike against any vocal complaints from this segment.)

I haven't held a Scholastic Book Fair/Club book in my hands in a while; how obvious is it on the cover? does the child, parent, teacher, family know they're getting the sanitized version? What happens when those books are used for reports & discussion?

I hate even saying "sanitized version" because I don't believe every use of sucks means "oooh oral sex." Or that there is anything wrong with a character saying Oh my God or Geez.

Barb said...

Well, I don't let my kids say "Oh my God!", but when my son was in first grade and came to me freaking out because kids in his class were "swearing" and the teacher was allowing it, I told him that different people have different beliefs and it is important to our family, but not necesarily to other people. He understood "live and let live" when he was 6 - what is wrong with adults who can't comprehend it?

Angie said...

Hi - I talked to my book fair rep about this because some of my parents were concerned. I've also read the book, and we discussed it...quite candidly. We both agreed the same-sex parents are not an all. The mature content for me is: the kids talk about having an aunt who is a pole dancer, there's reference to an erect penis (or penith, because the student speaking has a lisp), and a mom tells her daughter (I think it was Milla and her mom talking?) about her friend who committed suicide in college. There's also a scene where a pre-schooler gets beat up on a playground and called a racial slur. And some of the language was a little rough for me...not the “crap”s or “geeze,” but the girls say “slut” and “slutty” a lot and talk about the color of a teacher's thong, for example. Again, for me, homosexuality isn't (and shouldn't be) the issue here, but the other stuff is a little too heavy for our school (we're an elementary school). The book is really cute, but it's just not something we would be able to have for our elementary students because of the scenes and language I mentioned above. Also, I just have to throw in my two cents about the whole censorship issue. I'm having a hard time with this, because I don't want to be accused of censorship just because I wouldn't have a book in my library that was not age-appropriate for my students. There are thousands of books that are too old for my students, but just because I don't have them here doesn't mean I'm censoring. At least I hope not! Otherwise, where do we draw the line? I think my local Scholastic folks have always done a pretty good job...not perfect, by any means...but pretty good at keeping the books at the right age for my school. But I also think if another school wants to have it, that is perfectly fine too! P.S. Your links to other book blogs are great. Thanks for the list. There are so many great blogs about books!

LaurieA-B said...

Angie, thank you for writing. You said, "I don't want to be accused of censorship just because I wouldn't have a book in my library that was not age-appropriate for my students." Choosing books for your library based on your selection criteria and collection development policy is absolutely not censorship. I appreciate that you read the book before deciding whether to add it to your collection. I hope that you have already or will find books that include gay characters that you think are age-appropriate for your students. If Scholastic had simply chosen not to include LYB in elementary book fairs, I might have been concerned (and would have wanted their criteria to be public), but the request to change the characters' sexual orientation that made me outraged. Gay parents are not mature content.

Darsa said...

Our old school in Portland uses Powell's for its book fairs.

Liz Meyer said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments and suggested strategies. I reposted a link to your blog on mine because I found your perspectives as a librarian addressing these concerns to be so helpful for other educators to learn from:

Sacha said...

An alternative to the Scholastic book fair would be to have an Usborne Book Fair. The titles are great, the benefits to the school are great, and you would be supporting a local home-based small business. (Usborne Book Fairs are conducted by their consultants which are independent small businesses.)