First, some random business.
-Our contest is still ongoing, so if you haven't commented for the chance to win books and cookies, you have until November 10th, so comment here!
-My company celebrated Halloween last Thursday in the office. To take a look at some of the great costumes (and to see who I dressed up as this year), check out my post over at bloomabilities here.
-The NYPL has posted the audio of last week's "Reflections on YA" panel. If you missed out on the discussion, hear what went on here.
And now on to our regularly scheduled program.
There have been two blog posts that have lit up the internet (well, my internet, at least) for the past week that have both saddened and enraged me. One is this blog review of a Middle Grade novel, Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder. The blog's author, Noël De Vries, liked the book until she came to a depiction of a character who happily lives with her two mothers. De Vries finds some interviews online of the author's motivation for including these characters and writes:
As Snyder writes on her blog, "if more books represented diversity this way, simply, without it being a big issue all the time, more kids would understand that it isn‘t always a big issue. I’d like to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people about how varied human experience is, and about how all of it, all of it, is normal." (emphasis mine)
The only problem is, being a lesbian is not normal. It's not something that "just happens" to people, like being poor or brave. In fact, when you look through Biblical glasses, homosexuality is, well, an abomination.
Characters like Willa and Jenny, however, with their happy little family, show elementary-age readers that Christian beliefs are hateful and silly. Add these characters to the full-blown assault of politically-correct propaganda that is molding America's children.
The second blog post is a dating blogger named Maura for Marie Claire Magazine who wrote a post entitled "Should "Fatties" Get a Room (even on TV)?
She writes about the show Mike & Molly and answers this question that her editor asks her: "Do you really think people feel uncomfortable when they see overweight people making out on television?"
My initial response was: Hmm, being overweight is one thing — those people are downright obese! And while I think our country's obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it's at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity! Yes, anorexia is sick, but at least some slim models are simply naturally skinny. No one who is as fat as Mike and Molly can be healthy. And obesity is costing our country far more in terms of all the related health problems we are paying for, by way of our insurance, than any other health problem, even cancer.
So anyway, yes, I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.
Holy moly. Where do I start? First of all, I also read much of the comments on both blogs, and I have to say, the kidlit community is, for the most part, much more civil and reasonable, even when confronted with beliefs many found extremely offensive and disturbing. On the Marie Claire blog, on the other hand, a large chunk of people hoped that the blogger would die, and both sides resort to immature name calling.
What I'll say about both posts is that they are pretty clear examples of bigotry. And, mind you, I'm talking about what was written in the posts, not about the authors themselves. I'm also not suggesting that homosexuality and obesity are similar in terms of categorizing people, except in the sense that they are both demographic groups, and the groups under attack by these two blog posts.
Although there was much to object to in both posts, there was something that Ms. De Vries wrote in her own defense in the comments that particularly spoke to me. She said:
But my concern is the “writing in” of publicly visible “diverse” characters, when it is done, not because the characters are necessary to the story, but because an author likes “to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people….”
As a children's book editor, I can certainly understand how something in a work of fiction can feel forced or contrived so as to take you out of the story and affect your reading and enjoyment of it. That is something all authors strive NOT to do. Everything should feel very fluid and natural and realistic.
However, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for authors (and TV producers, and movie directors, etc. etc.) to put in diverse characters to reflect the reality of our world. And yes, that includes overweight people. I've said it a thousand times, and I'll say it again: as an Asian American growing up in a very white community, I hungered to see depictions of characters in books and TV and movies that reflected my reality, and sadly there was very little.
When I became an editor, it became one of my missions to publish books featuring underrepresented people. So, I guess I became what the first blogger would call part of the "politically-correct propaganda that is molding America's children." Oh boy. Hide your children from the books I edit! For a series I was working on a long time ago, I made the suggestion of adding in another minority main character, and the author responded with something to the effect of, Well, we already have this character and that character and this character and wouldn't it be a little too obvious/overkill to add in yet another? At the time, I let it go, because that wasn't the author's reality and if she had forced it in, it would have felt that way: forced (although perhaps not to the child of that ethnic group reading the book...). But the sentiment of it has always bothered me, because the answer is no, it shouldn't be too obvious or overkill, because that exists in reality--in my reality, in other's realities. I've always hung out with a diverse group of friends. A former colleague of mine who was Mexican-American said that when he was in high school, his two best friends were an Asian guy and a black guy. And that was how it was. That was their reality, not a fake depiction of diversity in a book or TV show. And so, as an editor, I now try to find a diverse array of voices whose realities reflect our diverse world.
Author Jackie Dolamore stated it very succinctly in her comment:
My books reflect the world around me. I only have one book published so I can't say there is a HUGE amount of diversity there, but I know wonderful people who are gay, I know wonderful people who are devoutly religious. I know lots of different people in life, so when I write, if I didn't reflect that, it wouldn't feel real to me. I don't think all writers who include gay characters are trying to push a pet agenda, many of us are just reflecting the world we live in, just as if I write about a devoutly religious character I'm not pushing a religion because I don't belong to one, I am reflecting my world which includes many wonderful devoutly religious people.
Sorry to be preachy, but to Noël and Maura, I will just say: we have all kinds of people in the world, and we need that to be reflected in our media. Please, just practice tolerance and acceptance. Or if not acceptance, then I'll settle for tolerance. If you don't want to watch, if you don't want to read, then just look away. But allow others who do want to read and do want to watch do so. And allow those of us who are lesbians or obese exist and be happy, even. Your reality is not my reality, but we have to live in the same world. As Roger Sutton stated so succinctly, "not everything is about you, dear."
Note: after writing this post, I came across author Laurel Snyder's excellent response to the review.