Hello all! It’s Emily, here for another round of Book Beat. Get ready, ’cause there is a lot to unpack here.
VIDA Survey of Gender Bias in Literary Criticism
VIDA has released the findings from its 2017 VIDA Count, which collects information on contributors to print publications. This year’s results show that female writers accounted for less than 40 percent of articles and reviews at the majority of publications surveyed. Only two of fifteen publications published 50 percent or more women writers: Granta (which also reached gender parity in 2016) and Poetry.
In the introduction to the report, VIDA board members Amy King and Sarah Clark discuss the current #MeToo era and the historical bias of celebrating men’s voices over female and non-binary writers. They argue that continually centering white men in literature and literary criticism “creates a dangerous lens through which the world is viewed,” and state that correcting imbalances “isn’t censorship. It isn’t book burning.” Instead, it ensures “the creation of countless books by women and non-binary people, books that would never stand a chance in climates of violence that deny access, audience, and the freedom and safety to create in the ways white cis men have enjoyed since the beginning of American letters.”
The report also looks at the presence of intersectional identities in print publications, analyzing the number of published contributor articles based on the writer’s race, disability, sexual identity, trans and non-binary gender identities, ageism, and academic access. If you’ve got time for a longer read, I’d highly recommend checking out the full report.
Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages
The Children’s Literature community is rallying support for immigrant parents and children being separated at the southern border of the United States with a new campaign called “Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages.” On Monday, a group of 20 children’s authors, including Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han, Victoria Aveyard, Margaret Stohl, and Melissa de la Cruz, released a statement condemning the actions of the American government. According to Publishers Weekly, the campaign began when author Margaret Stohl sent a group text to her author friends expressing concern and a desire to do something. They collected names to add to the statement, set up a link to raise funds, and sent out the email to 750 people in the children’s book industry.
Originally, the goal was to raise money to buy a full-page ad in The New York Times, but the group decided the money would be better spent if it went to agencies directly helping the families in crisis. Once the initial goal of $42,000 had been surpassed on Tuesday morning, the goal was upped to $125,000. De la Cruz says the committee is now working on graphics, scripts for calling reps, and more. In the meantime, donations continue to come in for this great cause.
Scholastic Responds to Trump Book Criticism
So, Scholastic published a children’s book called President Donald Trump shortly after his inauguration in 2017. Many have taken issue with the book because it does not give enough consideration to the controversies surrounding his policies and behaviour. In fact, Social Justice Books says it is an “incomplete story” that “falls far short of providing… a foundation of truth” on the Trump presidency.
In its review of the book, Social Justice Books has encouraged people to write to Scholastic about these concerns and states in an update to their original post that hundreds have already done so. Then, on June 16th, Scholastic responded. And… it’s not great.
Scholastic Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson states that Rookie Biographies, the series of non-fiction books for first and second graders to which the Trump book belongs, “features historical and contemporary public features” selected “with input from thousands of educators.” He also notes that the series contains features of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, before continuing in defence of President Donald Trump.
While he largely sticks to company rhetoric and corporate policy, there are a few key things to note. First, while he argues for the factual nature of the book’s contents, he does not address many of the points in the Social Justice Books review. These points include the book’s omission of information about protests and the current administration’s oppressive treatment of multiple marginalized communities.
Robinson also argues that “discussing controversial aspects of any public figure’s life isn’t appropriate for our youngest readers.” While I understand the desire to protect children, I strongly believe that there are ways to address such issues and that children need not be talked down to. Social Justice Books took issue with this statement as well, arguing that “children are critical thinkers.” The organization also tweeted numerous follow-up questions to Scholastic, and it is still encouraging people to write to the publisher.
After receiving 700+ letters of complaint & @yesmagazine & @thinkprogress articles about Trump bio, prompted by review of 2017 book (https://t.co/JdU204la6M) @Scholastic issued this statement: https://t.co/kZ7XwR7VbC (Excerpts & our response in thread below.)
— Social Justice Books (@sojustbooks) June 16, 2018
Whether this results in any change remains to be seen. However, it seems clear that there is a demand for fair, factual, and complex coverage of sensitive issues in children’s non-fiction. If a publisher isn’t willing to ensure their books meet these standards, it may be best to forgo publishing on such topics.
New Releases This Week
#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws The Line by David Hogg and Lauren Hogg
AYITI by Roxane Gay
The Speaker by Traci Chee
What My Sister Knew by Nina Laurin
Choose Your Own Disaster by Dana Schwartz