The story broke last fall, but it’s worth repeating now that Spring book fairs are nearly upon us. Scholastic Books, publisher of the oft-banned Harry Potter series among other popular books for kids and young adults, was caught in a queer dilemma last October. School Library Journal and others reported that the company sent a letter to author Lauren Myracle’s agent, asking that she make some changes to her newest book, Luv Ya Bunches. Seems that the folks at Scholastic were concerned about words like “crap,” “sucks” and “geez.” But that’s not all. The fact that one of the main characters, Milla, has two moms was also worrisome. Myracle agreed to change the language, but she drew the line at recasting Milla’s family, noted the School Library Journal.
“A child having same-sex parents is not offensive, in my mind, and shouldn’t be ‘cleaned up.'” says Myracle, adding that the book fair subsequently decided not to take on Luv Ya Bunches because they wanted to avoid letters of complaint from parents. “I find that appalling. I understand why they would want to avoid complaint letters—no one likes getting hated on—but shouldn’t they be willing to evaluate the quality of the complaint? What, exactly, are children being protected against here?”
The compromise? Scholastic says it will include the book in its middle school book fairs this spring but not ones held at elementary schools. But that’s a problem for the book’s target market. Its characters are ten years old and in the fifth grade–at an elementary school. Do middle school kids really want to read books meant for the elementary school crowd? Plus, how are elementary school librarians made aware of this book, which is more appropriate for their libraries than those at middle schools?
In the end, it seems that Scholastic got its panties in a wad for just about nothing. The book focuses on the children themselves; Milla’s moms are barely mentioned and her family structure doesn’t figure into the story at all. Still, as far as I can tell, the company’s decisions stands.
And why should this matter? A representative of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sums it up:
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, acting director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, points out that Scholastic is free to market books as it likes because booksellers aren’t government agencies and therefore aren’t held to the same standards as public libraries and school libraries, which serve entire communities. At the same time, Caldwell-Stone says, asking Myracle to alter her book, does have a chilling effect.
“It discourages other authors from writing similar books that include same-sex parents or diverse characters, so it’s problematic,” says Caldwell-Stone.
Especially in a time when the publishing industry–newspapers, magazines and books–is under great duress.