Do You Think the World is Ready?

I don’t shock easily, but two recent incidents had me reeling.

The first happened during a creative writing workshop I ran for kids in Grades 4-6. At the start of the workshop, several kids mentioned which of my books they’d read. Then one girl raised her hand and shyly announced that she wanted to read my books, but her mom wouldn’t allow her. “She says they have bad words,” the girl reported.

I tried to seem blase. “Has your mom read any of my books?” I asked her.

“No,” the girl admitted.  “But she’s seen the covers.”

I assured her that I was always careful not to use “bad words”–and that it wasn’t fair to judge a book by its cover. But how a parent viewed any of my covers and decided the text contained inappropriate language  was a mystery to me. And the sad thing was, this girl was an enthusiastic writer who clearly craved access to all sorts of books.

The other incident occurred at the start of an elementary school’s Read Aloud Day. Because my books fall into the  upper elementary/ middle school category, I was assigned a fourth grade class, as was the local middle school principal.  As the two of us chatted before the program, he asked what books I had on the horizon.

I told him about my upcoming middle grade novels:  TRUTH OR DARE (Aladdin, S&S/Sept. 20, 2016), which is about a mom-less girl’s experience of puberty, and STAR-CROSSED (Aladdin/S&S, March 2017), which is about a girl who has a crush on the girl playing Juliet in the middle school production of Shakespeare’s play.

The principal’s face turned pink. He laughed nervously. “Oh,” he said. “Do you think the world is ready?”

I explained that all my books were wholesome, completely appropriate for tweens. I hoped he’d express enthusiasm, maybe even extend an invitation to the middle school, or say he’d mention the books to the school librarian.  But he didn’t do either. Instead, he changed the subject.

I’ve been thinking about  both of these incidents  a lot lately, in light of Kate Messner’s recent dis-invitation from a school uncomfortable with her newest MG, THE SEVENTH WISH. That book, which I deeply admire, is about a girl whose older sister has a heroin addiction– a topic the school decided was inappropriate for its students .

What scares me is not so much outright book-banning, because that happens in the bright light of day, and often leads to heightened interest in the banned book, anyway.  What I find even more troubling is “quiet censorship,” the sort of thing that happens when an adult decides the world, or a school, or a classroom, or a particular kid “isn’t ready” to read about certain topics. And so he doesn’t extend the invitation, or order the book–not because the book isn’t good, or isn’t written at the right level, but because the subject makes him nervous. It’s a type of book-banning–but because it happens under the radar, it’s difficult to detect.

When Kate Messner was disinvited from a school, she had an overt act, the revoked invitation, to react to, and she did so eloquently and effectively, both on her blog and behind a podium at ALA 2016. But many authors who tackle challenging subjects just won’t get the initial invitation, or their book simply won’t get ordered by the library.  So how do they even know they’ve been “quietly censored”? And how can they–or their readers–protest? After all, schools and libraries are free to make their own choices, as they should be.  If they choose not to order a certain book, who’s to say the choice was motivated by the book’s challenging or controversial subject, and not by the author’s writing style?

I keep coming back to the realization that kids are older than we think they are, older than we were when we were their age.  Girls are menstruating at younger ages, getting eating disorders at younger ages (this is the subject of my upcoming eighth novel STUFF I KNOW ABOUT YOU (Aladdin/S&S Sept. 2017).  The internet has exposed all of our kids to a cruel, violent, judgmental world. If we don’t allow kids to read MG novels that reflect the world they live in, one of two things will happen. Either kids will turn off reading realistic fiction altogether (and with the internet constantly beckoning, that’s a real concern)– or they will crash the gate, choosing, and perhaps sneaking, YAs that are too explicit and dark for their years.  As any parent of a teen knows, once a kid starts reading YA fiction, he/she seldom wants to discuss the edgier content with an adult. Isn’t it better to allow access to books specifically geared toward a MG sensibility–the way  THE SEVENTH WISH is?  And shouldn’t we as adults want to stay in the conversation–even when (or especially when) the conversation makes us nervous?

We can’t be in favor of diversity in kidlit without welcoming books that include all sorts of previously ignored characters: kids of color, LGBT kids, kids in nontraditional families, kids coping with a family member’s addiction, kids coping with mental illness (like Dunkin in Donna Gephart’s  beautiful LILY AND DUNKIN).  There’s nothing inherently “wrong” or “inappropriate” about these characters–they’re just kids on the basketball team, kids on the school bus, kids in the play. And they deserve to be represented, read about, identified with, empathized with.

The world is ready.

Barbara Dee’s next book, TRUTH OR DARE, will be published on September 20, 2016.

The Winners of THIS IS NOT THE ABBY SHOW & a Critique Are…

Thank you all again for celebrating the launch of This Is Not the Abby Show with author Debbie Reed Fischer by reading her Mixed-Up Files interview, commenting, and entering her giveaways.

Rafflecopter has selected the winners! Huge congratulations to the winner of a signed copy of This Is Not the Abby Show:

Cover photo Abby Show

Lynnette Allen

And the winner of an MG or YA critique from Debbie of up to 10 pages is…

Leslie Santamaria

Congrats again to the winners! Debbie will contact you soon about your prizes. Enjoy them. 🙂

Literary Descendants of Classic Characters + Giveaway

Throughout history, there have always been characters, fictional or otherwise, who capture our collective imaginations. Usually these characters possess supernatural powers of some sort, but sometimes they’re mere mortals, who have somehow fascinated us. In recent years, several middle-grade authors have been inspired by the gene pools of cultural icons. The most recent of these is Annabelle Fisher, whose novel The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, is out now from Greenwillow Books.

9780062393777Annabelle has generously donated an autographed copy of her book. Keep reading to learn how to win it and to read about other fabulous middle-grade novels about fictional descendants.

In  The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piperan ordinary fifth grader with a talent for coming up with rhymes and poems without even trying discovers she is a direct descendant of Mother Goose. Pixie’s flair for poetry sometimes leads to unexpected challenges. But, eventually, she comes to accept and appreciate her uniqueness. The novel mixes charming literary allusions with magic, humor, and issues about family and friendship.

 

9781484720974Melissa de la Cruz’s well-known Descendants Series about the offspring of Disney villains is a favorite of many middle-grade readers. The Isle of the Lost and Return to the Isle of the Lost follow the adventures of Mal, whose mother is the evil fairy, Maleficent, from Sleeping Beauty. Mal is accompanied by Evie, Jay, and Carlos, who are descended from Jafar, Cruella De Vil, and The Evil Queen. These descendants of villainous characters are coming of age on the Isle of the Lost, where their parents have been banished.

 

9780062004963It’s not just the villains who fascinate us in fairy tales. In Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters, Diane Zahler takes readers to a time where Sleeping Beauty is married with two daughters, one of whom has been cursed similarly to her mother. When Aurora begins to struggle not slip into an enchanted sleep, the sisters accept the help of a young fisherman and embark on an ocean voyage to find their good fairy aunt who might be able to reverse the magic. They encounter beasts, storms, and  other dangers, but they can’t give up. If they do, Aurora could end up taking a one-hundred-year nap.

 

9780786856299Another series based on descendants of the famous and powerful is the well-known Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, by Rick Riordan. These mega-popular books follow the exploits of Percy, who finds himself at a camp for demigods and learns he is the son of Poseidon the Greek god of the sea. His companions include Anabeth Chase, the daughter of Athena, and Luke Castellan, the son of Hermes. The series includes The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian.

 

9780312602123A certain famous fictional detective has inspired a few series about his descendants. One of which is Tracy Barrett’s The Sherlock Files, which follows the adventures of Xena and Xander Holmes, who think living in London will be boring until they’re handed a cryptic note that leads them to a hidden room and a secret society. When they discover they’re related to Sherlock Holmes and inherit his unsolved casebook, life becomes more exciting. In the first installment, The 100-Year-Old Secret, the siblings set out to solve the cases their famous ancestor couldn’t, starting with the mystery of a prized painting that vanished more than a hundred years ago. Other titles in the series include: The Missing Heir, The Beast of Blackslope, and The Case That Time Forgot.

 

9780810993228Real-life brothers, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, who collected and published folklore in the nineteenth century, have inspired a series called The Sisters Grimm, written by Michael Buckley. In these books, orphaned siblings Sabrina and Daphne Grimm learn they are descended from the Brothers Grimm. The sisters soon find out it’s their legacy to keep a group known as the Everafters, a parallel race of magical beings, in line. Books in the series include The Fairy-Tale Detectives, The Unusual Suspects, The Problem Child, and more.

If you have any favorite novels about the descendants of famous fictional or historical characters, please tell us about them. And for a chance to win the autographed copy of Annabelle Fisher’s The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, share this post and let us know where you shared in the comments section. The deadline is Wednesday midnight. We’ll announce the winner on Thursday.

Dorian Cirrone has written several books for children and teens. Her recently published middle-grade novel, The First Last Day (Simon and Schuster/Aladdin) is available wherever books are sold. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @DorianCirrone. She gives writing tips and does occasional giveaways on her blog at: http://doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog/