Friday, February 13, 2009

More censorship

School Library Journal has a great, thought-provoking piece on self-censorship here.

Here's an excerpt:

Self-censorship. It’s a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about or admit practicing. Yet everyone knows some librarians bypass good books—those with literary merit or that fill a need in their collections. The reasons range from a book’s sexual content and gay themes to its language and violence—and it happens in more public and K–12 libraries than you think.

“It’s probably fairly widespread, but we don’t have any way of really knowing, because people who self-censor are not likely to broadcast it,” says Pat Scales, president of the Association of Library Services to Children and author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your School Library (ALA Editions, 2009). And since most people think librarians are the best champions of books, adds Scales, their jobs give them the perfect cover.

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom only documents written challenges to library books and materials (there were 420 cases in 2007), and even then, it estimates that only one out of five cases are reported. But when it comes to self-censorship, it’s almost impossible to quantify because no one is monitoring it or collecting stats, and there’s no open discussion on the subject. We most often hear about it through anecdotes or if someone is willing to fess up.

“In a way, self-censorship is more frightening than outright banning and removal of challenged material,” says author and former librarian Susan Patron, because these incidents tend to “slip under the radar.”

I was especially surprised by this paragraph:

Researchers Jeff Whittingham and Wendy Rickman asked media specialists if their collections offered the most popular gay-, bisexual-, lesbian-, and transgender-themed books published between 1999 and 2005, including Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys (S & S, 2001), Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club (HarperTeen, 2003), and David Levithan’s award-winning Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003). Almost always, the answer came back no.

Boy Meets Boy is one of the sweetest, most delicious YA novels out there. I can't believe that it's not shelved in most/all libraries!

In terms of censorship, I must admit that on occasion I do ask authors to replace certain words that I know teachers, parents, and librarians may object to. Two of the main culprits, aside from the obvious curse words, are "retarded" and "fag." (It actually makes me cringe just to type them.) And yes, I know kids and teens really do use those words when they speak, but personally, I wouldn't mind if they used them less. But I'll only recommend changing or deleting words depending on the usage, and depending on whether the same tone and authenticity can come across using different words. I've also often asked an author to cut down on the cussing by 50% or whatever percentage I feel is appropriate depending on the type of book it is, the intended audience, and the subject matter. But I do leave it up the author to decide. And I would never not acquire a book because of the language.

For you authors and editors, teachers, parents, and librarians out there, do you self censor?

Read my other recent post on censorship over at the Blue Rose Girls blog here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I thought this clip from last night's The Daily Show was particularly good:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Kindling Words--it keeps getting better!

Cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls:

Last weekend I attended my fifth Kindling Words. (Incidentally, I remember the first one I attended, with Grace--I read a very early draft of what turned out to become The Year of the Dog!)

Kindling Words, for those of you not familiar with it, is a children's book professional retreat. Attendees include published authors and illustrators, and editors. I wrote about the retreat two years ago here, and my very high opinion of it has not changed at all. I was sorry to have missed last year because of my trip to China (although not sorry to have gone to China!), and it was good to be back this year and see so many familiar faces--and many new ones, too. Because of the great demand for the retreat, the number of attendees was increased this year to 85 from 75. And I was absolutely shocked and thrilled to discover that the editor strand was 16 people deep! Incredible. Over twice as many as two years earlier.

Kindling Words is held at the beautiful Inn at Essex, also home to the New England Culinary Institute, so yes--the food is delicious!

This year I drove up with fellow editors Nancy Mercado of Roaring Press, Rotem Moscovich of Scholastic, and Stacy Whitman, formerly of Mirrorstone, now freelancing. We arrived in time for cocktails and dinner. Thursday nights have been unprogrammed in the past, but this year the organizers had something special planned. We split into three groups and rotated into three different rooms. My first room was being led by Gregory Maguire, and we went around the room, each composing one line of a poem (the first and last lines were provided by W.H. Auden). The result, as you'll see later, was both humorous, random, and moving.

As we were writing the poem, we could hear drumming in the background, and so it was no surprise that our next room was filled with drums. This is us before getting any guidance:

I can't remember the name of our drum leader, but he was incredible. He also left his drums for us all weekend, with the one caveat that we were not allowed to drum alone, which resulted in some spontaneous community drum circles.

The final room was filled with large canvases and lots of paint. We were to paint until all of the white of the canvas was covered, and paint using our poem as inspiration.
Here's a video of us painting while Gregory reads the second half or so of our poem:

And here is our painting farther along:
The next morning, the "regular programming" began. This year, KW regular Nancy Werlin led the author's strand. She spoke about matching your writing with a reader's appetite, accepting the fact that not every reader will have the right sensibility for your work, and making sure you satisfy their craving at the end. I found a lot of what she discussed helpful in thinking about how I edit.
Mary Jane Begin led the illustrator's strand. Now I've seen first-hand why her courses are in such demand at RISD. She was extremely informative and the images she showed were inspiring. Here she is using sketches from Ratatouille to discuss characterization and development. I also found her presentations helpful to my own work as an editor, in terms of evaluating art.
The amazing Ashley Bryan was the keynote speaker for Friday night. I had heard him speak before, but just briefly at the Eric Carle Honors and the Original Art Show opening. I realized that those had just been an appetizer for the main event. He read poem after poem in his wonderful, rich voice, so expressive and inspiring. He also had us repeating lines after him. I, for one, was energized! It made me want to read more poetry. And that's the whole idea, isn't it?

Saturday night was the traditional candlelight reading. One change was to divide the readers into two rooms so that everyone who wanted to read would have the chance--personally, I didn't prefer this set-up, as not everyone had the same experience to discuss later. But still, as always, it was such a wonderful and varied event, as people read five minutes of their unpublished work--from humorous picture books, to tragic young adult novels.And the grand finale was the bonfire where we burned pieces of papers with goals and/or things we'd like to let go. I chose to write down something I wanted to let go (the secret stays with me and the fire!). And, as always, we sang song around the fire. It was a bit too cold to stay outside for very long, though. But each night we retired to the hospitality suite for wine and socializing.
Over the weekend, the editors met in three closed sessions (two planned, one spontaneous). Our topics ranged from the economy (bad), technology (eBooks), the child safety act (frustrating), our editorial processes (varied), dealing with agents (auctions), relationships with authors (fulfilling), and more. We also held a panel with the larger group where we answered pre-submitted questions, the majority of which were about the economy. I was coming from a very different perspective in that regard, as I work for one of the few publishers who is doing quite well right now (Stephenie Meyer!), but everyone, even us, is bracing for the worst and being extra-cautious. That's not to say that we all are not continuing to buy books and publish them carefully and well. In some cases, the editors welcomed a bit of a slow-down in acquisition, as that allowed them to focus on special projects that they've been meaning to work on for a long time. I think we can all sympathize with that.

Oh, and another thing I discovered with horror was that many other companies were discouraging their editors from taking agents to lunch, to help cut costs. You know how I love those agent lunches!

In all seriousness, though, these are tough times. I've been seeing friends lose their jobs, both in publishing and out. For all of you authors and illustrators out there, it probably will be true that publishers are buying fewer books right now. But don't despair--if you can't sell your project now, do what you always have done--keep creating art. Keep writing, keep painting, keep on keeping on. This too shall pass.

Special thanks to all the organizers: Marnie Brooks, Tanya Lee Stone, Alison James, and Mary Lee Donavan. This truly was the best KW yet!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

This meme is going around Facebook like wildfire, and so I decided to cheat and use it as a blog post, since I'm already falling behind in my resolution to post more often. So, here goes:

1. I'm a morning person in that it doesn't take much for me to wake up and be alert, but I'm also a night person, because if I don't have to wake up at a certain time, I'll stay up forever doing nothing.

2. I don't believe in fate, but I do believe in love that can last a lifetime.

3. I'm an atheist. I've spent a lot of time (especially in college) thinking about religion and what I believe. I was raised Catholic, but I don't know if I ever truly believed. I did a stint at a Protestant church in college, but that didn't stick, either. I know I may change my mind in the future, but for now I've settled on secular humanism/atheism.

4. I love Karaoke. It's in my blood. Some of my stand-bys are Un-break My Heart, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Hello, Don't Speak, Suspicious Minds, A Whole New World (with TS), All Cried Out (with Tracy--I'm the boy's part), Against All Odds, and more. But I try not to do the same songs each time.

5. I wouldn't call myself clumsy, but I do have a knack for knocking things over. For example, I often tip my coffee mug (full of coffee) out on my desk at work (I had to buy a travel mug for work to lessen the spillage). My boyfriend calls me "The Alvina Monster" because of my tendency to knock things over in his apartment.

6. I almost never wear makeup. I never really learned how. When I do wear it on special occasions (weddings), I feel a little like a clown.

7. My first word was "hammer." My first sentence was "It's a bumpy, bumpy road!"

8. I've kept diaries fairly faithfully since I was 10 or so. I love reading them over. But it's always a little shocking to find how much my thinking hasn't changed.

9. My favorite picture book is A SNOWY DAY. My favorite novel is LITTLE WOMEN.

10. I'm more energized by cold weather than warm.

11. I'm a very fast reader. But unless I'm editing, I'm not a very careful reader.

12. Since moving into my current apartment about 4 years ago, I was determined to save money by walking to work every day (about a 40 minute walk to my old office, 35 minute walk to my current office). I'm proud to say that the only time I've ever taken public transportation between work and home is because I was carrying something too heavy to manage. And that's been, I think, a grand total of twice. Yes, I walk even when the weather is crappy. And yes, sometimes that sucks.

13. I'm a horrible speller. Spell check is my cruch. I mean crutch. I'm not great with grammar, either. Thank goodness for copyeditors and proofreaders.

14. I'm not an adrenalin junkie, but I do love having adventures and experiences. Like skydiving, traveling, eating bugs, running a marathon...

15. Over 6 years ago, after realizing that I ate way too much candy, I decided to give it up entirely as a New Year's Resolution. I've kept my resolution every year since then, but decided to just eat candy on my birthday (and last year added Halloween), because a life completely devoid of candy is a dismal life indeed.

16. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. This lasted many years, until one day I read a book about a girl who also wanted to be a veterinarian--her father was one--and then one day, her dog got sick and her dad asked her to help care for the dog and help him give the dog a shot, and she realized that she didn't have the stomach for it. And so I decided I didn't want to be a veterinarian anymore. I always remember this as a reminder of how powerful children's books can be to a child reader.

17. I grew up watching and loving a lot of "boy" tv shows (prob. because I have two brothers). I loved the A-Team (can still recite the opening sequence), Airwolf, Knight Rider, Robotech, Transformers, Voltron, Battlestar Galactica, etc. My main girly show love was FAME. I had a huge crush on Rand from the Third Robotech War.

18. Some of my friends think of me as a human jukebox, because I have a song for everything, but I don't actually know the correct lyrics to most songs, I kinda wing it. I almost always have a song stuck in my head. I can sing most of the theme songs from the shows listed above. The music from the video game "Moon Patrol" is also forever imprinted in my brain. This one entry could have actually been 4 separate items.

19. I am incredibly adaptable, annoyingly optimistic, and generally capable.

20. I feel extremely lucky to have found my dream job on my first try. My second choice career after college was working in radio. Sometimes I wonder if I had decided to try for a career in radio first, if I would have decided that was my dream job. That's kinda how I am. If I weren't a children's book editor today, I'd want to work for NPR.

21. I have Temporomandibular Joint Syndrom (TMJ) and my jaw clicks when I chew. I have to wear a mouth guard when I sleep because I grind my teeth. It seems that everyone in publishing grinds their teeth, have you noticed?

22. I was born in Atlanta, GA, but only lived there for 9 months. I've also lived near Pittsburgh, in Edison, NJ, upstate NY, in LA County, in Berkeley, Taipei, Oakland, Somerville, East Boston, and NY. I've never lived anywhere for more than six years, until now. I never know how to answer the question, "Where did you grow up?" or "Where are you from?"

23. I believe that positive thinking, hard work, and perseverance can get you anywhere.

24. I used to be in introvert, but now I'm a fairly extreme extrovert.

25. I like making lists, but I can't believe I finally got around to making this one. And I think I cheated by combining many different random things into a single entry.

As I was writing this list, I remembered doing similar shorter lists on my blog a few years ago. I went back to find them, and was interested to find that the only item that overlapped with any of them was #22 above.

Six Weird Things
Eight Things About Me

I'm happy to see all of your lists!