25 October 2009

Love Ya Bunches and Scholastic Book Fairs Near You

Yesterday on Facebook I started seeing friends link to this petition asking Scholastic to stop censoring gay-friendly books. (Scholastic, for folks not in the US or not parenting kids in school, is a a publisher/distribution company that promotes children's books via book fairs at schools and catalogs; when parents purchase books through the catalogs, classroom teachers earn credits that they can spend on more books for their classroom library.) This petition has arisen because of a controversy about Lauren Myracle’s new book Luv Ya Bunches. Luv Ya Bunches, the first in a planned four-book series, is about the friendships that form among a group of girls with nothing, apparently, in common besides the fact that they're all named after flowers. But over the course of a new school year, their social circles collide and friendships form. And one of the girls has two moms.

Scholastic asked Myralce to change the character's family structure to a one mom, one dad family so that they could feature Luv Ya Bunches at book fairs. Myracle did make some other small changes to the book in response to Scholastic's concerns, but she refused to change the character's family. So Scholastic--while it is offering the book in its catalog--will not offer Luv Ya Bunches at book fairs. For a fuller version of the story, see a fine School Library Journal piece on it, and for a cool video of Myracle talking about the book, see Dana's post at Mombian.

Scholastic says it’s not censorship because there are lots of books they don’t offer at book fairs; they pick and choose based on many factors--they run a business, after all, and it seems sadly reasonable that from a business perspective, they want to avoid potential controversy. But then, from a social change perspective, why are we assuming that the very fact of two-mom families is likely to cause controversy?

So, what to do? I heard a bit from a librarian friend today and she offers a few practical suggestions. We can sign the online petition to Scholastic, of course, but I'm a little skeptical that online petitions do a lot to actually change anyone's mind (Politica, who studies such things, tells me that the political science literature suggests that politicians respond more to contacts that are clearly individualized, like hand-written letters, and less to things that are easy to click on and clearly organized by someone else).

But more importantly, we can work with our local book fairs to make the book available. Turns out that the people who organize book fairs can request that particular titles be shipped. So if your school has Scholastic book fairs, contact the librarian or parent who organizes the book fairs and ask them to order Luv Ya Bunches for the book fair.

Why is this important? Book fairs are chances for children to browse book displays and decide, on their own, what books they're interested in. Book displays offer a chance for students to look at books and think "Hey! I'd like to read that." And they offer a chance for students to look at many different books--and perhaps see themselves in a book, perhaps see someone very different from themselves in a book. If Luv Ya Bunches or other books with characters with gay/lesbian parents aren't available at book fairs, then children won't have the chance to make their own choices about reading about families like mine. And if Scholastic successfully keeps books like Luv Ya Bunches out of book fairs, it's contributing to a world view that says two-mom families, or two-dad families, are controversial in and of themselves, or distasteful on face.

So: when you attend your school's book fair (usually there's a parent afternoon or night), ask for Luv Ya Bunches. Before the fair, ask the librarian or book fair coordinator to ask the Scholastic book fair rep to include Luv Ya Bunches in the books that get shipped for your fair. Ask your friends to do the same.

And of course, if you see the book at a book fair: buy it. Buy two, and gift one to a friend.

I've not been impressed by the Scholastic book catalogs that Curious Girl has been bringing home for the past few years. For every bundle of Caldecott award winners or Jan Brett or Judy Schachner book they offer, they seem to have 20 books based on commerical tie ins, or bundled with cheap plastic crap. But Curious Girl loves looking through the Scholastic catalogs the same way I remember loving them when I was a kid (and were they so filled with crap 40 years ago? perhaps my mother felt the same way...). And CG loves the book fairs (even if her book preferences seem to be driven by what covers sparkle or have necklaces attached or have something to do with High School Musical). Books on display can be thrilling. So do your part to get Luv Ya Bunches to a book fair near you. Students at your school probably already know kids with gay or lesbian parents--it doesn't take books to inform children about the social reality that surrounds them. So let's help Scholastic figure out that a book like Luv Ya Bunches makes kids and parents happy, not mad.

And if you've still got a little energy for doing good for gay rights: help the folks in Maine with the No On One effort (voting No one One will allow the marriage equality law to go into effect) or help folks in Washington State protect domestic partner benefits (by approving Ref. 71).


Magpie said...

You know what's curious about this? I am quite sure that I bought a copy of the penguin book (And Tango Makes Three) at a Scholastic Book Fair. Maybe I'm misremembering.

Anyway, thanks for pointing it out - I hadn't heard about it.

liz said...

I posted as well!

Mummy/Crit said...

I came to your blog via Liz (who linked in her post). I've got to say that I've also been less than impressed with 'plastic crap club' as Scholastic's book club has become known in my house. I will keep an eye out for Luv Ya Bunches, though the book fair model isn't one that Scholastic uses here. I'll check their website.

liz said...

My son's school sent me this email this morning: "I telephoned Scholastic and they do not carry the book above.

I appreciate your visit to the library and thank you for your suggestion. I'm sorry we cannot carry this book at our book fair."

I am now at a loss.

susan said...

The scholastic rep also told my school they couldn't get the book. I'm going to do some more poking on this.