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1. Is happiness in our genes?

It is easy to observe that some people are happier than others. But trying to explain why people differ in their happiness is quite a different story. Is our happiness the result of how well things are going for us or does it simply reflect our personality? Of course, the discussion on the exact roles of nature (gene) versus nurture (experience) is not new at all. When it comes to how we feel, however, most of us may think that our happiness

The post Is happiness in our genes? appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Presidential Polar Bear Post Card Project No. 244 - 9.28.16


Ah, the many moods of the polar bear post card project... When they go low, we go high!

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3. Insights from an Author and a Giveaway

Claudia Mills' newest book Write This down was released on September 27th. In a recent essay, she shares some of her processes and revision decisions as she worked through drafts to published copy.

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4. New Voice: Christian McKay Heidicker on Cure for the Common Universe

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christian McKay Heidicker is the first-time author of Cure for the Common Universe (Simon & Schuster, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Jaxon is being committed to video game rehab...ten minutes after he met a girl. A living, breathing girl named Serena, who not only laughed at his jokes but actually kinda sorta seemed excited when she agreed to go out with him.

Jaxon's first date. Ever.

In rehab, he can't blast his way through galaxies to reach her. He can't slash through armies to kiss her sweet lips. Instead, he has just four days to earn one million points by learning real-life skills. And he'll do whatever it takes—lie, cheat, steal, even learn how to cross-stitch—in order to make it to his date.

If all else fails, Jaxon will have to bare his soul to the other teens in treatment, confront his mother's absence, and maybe admit that it's more than video games that stand in the way of a real connection.

Prepare to be cured.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

John Cusick
This all began when I told my agent, John Cusick, that I’d write a YA book about a kid committed to video game rehab. His excitement was infectious, and I got that fluttery feeling of embarking on a new adventure. Of darkness unlit. Of stones unturned. Of all the little surprises that come with blindly slashing out with my pen and hoping for the bloody best.

That fluttery feeling vanished when I realized I hadn’t played video games for years, let alone had any clue what it was like to be addicted to them.

In order to survive as a freelance writer, my entire life had become carefully structured to eliminate time-wasters. I worked all possible hours, filled my downtime with reading, exercising, eating healthily, and not buying expensive things like the next generation of PlayStation or Xbox. I had become completely unversed in the world of video games and unhealthy amounts of playing.

I realized if I tried to write a book about video games, I’d out myself as a fraud. I’d make out-of-date gaming references, the community would eat me for breakfast, and I’d become next on Gamergate’s death list. (Now that I know a thing or two, I can confidently say that many gaming references do not go out of fashion, and that being on Gamergate’s threat list is actually a good thing.)

Let’s face it. As novelists we’re all impostors. We don’t really remember what it’s like to have that first kiss. We’ve never reached to the back of the wardrobe and in place of fur felt pine needles. Our goal is to seem the least impostery as possible. To convince the reader that this stuff is legit.

Christian's office & Lucifer Morningstar Birchaus (aka writer cat)
Still, the idea was good. Video game rehab? I’d never seen that before, and that’s a rare thing in any medium. So I needed a plan. My plan was this: get addicted to video games.*

So out with work!

Sod off, schedules!

Be gone, exercise routines!

Forget healthy eating and gluten intolerance. Forget that coffee turns me into an absolute monster and dairy turns my insides into the Bog of Eternal Stench!

I bought myself a month and turned my life into that of a sixteen-year-old video game addict on summer vacation. I drank coffee from noon (when I woke up) until three in the morning when I went to sleep. (My character drinks energy drinks, but one can only go so far, dear reader.) I slept too much. I didn’t exercise. Sometimes I put whiskey in my morning coffee. I only read gaming news, but only if I really felt like it and only if I had to wait for a game to download.

Mostly, I played video games. I played a lot of video games. I continued to play throughout the duration of writing the book, but in October 2012, I played so much it would have made the characters in my book quirk their eyebrows.

I was trying to get addicted. All of my dopamine release came from beating levels, leveling up characters, downloading DLCs. When I went to the bathroom, I brought my iPad with me and played Candy Crush. (Considering what my new and worsened diet was doing to my digestion, I played a lot of Candy Crush.)

I beat Dark Souls. I beat Sword & Sworcery. I played Starcraft and Hearthstone and Diablo III. I bought a Nintendo 3DS and played through all the Mario and Zelda games I’d missed out over all the years. (Definitely the highlight.) I got lost in world after world, and adulthood as I knew it became a faint haze around an ever-glowing screen.

And guess what? It was hard.

You’d think it would be easy doing as little as humanly possible, only filling one’s time with video games.

Video games are fun. Many are designed to keep you falling into them again and again, to captivate you enough to stick around for hours on end. But I had so carefully trained myself to not be that way so I could write.

During this indulgent month of October, I felt lazy. I felt sick. I felt jittery and uncomfortable in my skin and a little voice inside my head kept saying, “No, no, no. Stop doing nothing. You’re dying.”

I was disgusted with myself. I liked the games I was playing, but they didn’t bring the same satisfaction of selling a short story.

Like I said, it was really hard. But it was nothing compared to what I was going to embark on next.

I ended my month of terror with a bang. On Halloween night, at 11:56 p.m., I drank four shots of whiskey and became a vomiting sprinkler on my friends’ front lawn. (Apologies, Alan and Alan).

My girlfriend at the time drove me home and poured me into bed. I slept for thirteen hours. . . and when I awoke late afternoon on Nov. 1, I began something new. I didn’t put on the coffee pot. I didn’t boot up the PlayStation to see if any system updates needed downloading. I didn’t bring the iPad to the bathroom.

Instead, I entered Phase 2 of my research.

The character in my book was going to rehab, where all creature comforts would be taken away from him. And so I spent the entirety of November without sugar, caffeine, music, phone, books*, internet*, or of course, video games.

I called it my no-nothing November.

(Er, no stimulants, at least. But that isn’t quite as catchy.)

After surviving a two-day hangover unaided by stimulants of any sort, I crawled out of bed . . . and I went out into the world. I ran in the morning. I talked to people at coffee shops while sipping herbal tea. I took ukulele lessons. I learned how to cross-stitch. I cleaned Alan’s and Alan’s puke-covered lawn (just kidding I didn’t; I just realized this would have been a nice thing to have done (sorry again, Alans)). I studied life without my nose buried in a book.*

And mostly, I wrote. I wrote about a kid who had all of his comforts taken away and was forced to earn points through a sort of gamified therapy. I don’t know if any of this actually worked or not . . . I’m not sure if it really added anything to the book.

So, um, take that into consideration before flying off the rails for your own book.

*I use the term "addicted" lightly. Read Cure for the Common Universe for a full explanation.

**The most difficult, by far.

***I also didn’t surf the internet, save my email—for emergencies and so I wasn’t fired from my job.

****Ug, this is starting to sound like some sort of new age instruction manual, which I swear it is not; I just wanted to see what it would be like to be the character in my book.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

@cmheidicker on Twitter
Video games are the fastest growing medium in the world, so it’s pretty difficult to remain relevant when writing about current games. Fortunately, there’s a persistent spine in gaming (your Blizzards, your Nintendos, your Easter eggs). I tried to focus on those mainstays and accept the fact that no matter what I did I would probably piss off and please an equal number of gamers.

If I had attempted to copy the language of gamers verbatim, I would have set myself up for failure. (Although having a game-addicted roommate during the edits of this book definitely helped me sprinkle in some legit jargon.) That’s why I like to follow the Joss Whedon rule of leading the charge on language instead of attempting to copy it.

For the dialogue, I ended up stealing a lot of hilarious lines from my friends—truly iconic things that I lifted straight out of real-life conversations and put into the text. During a rousing game of racquetball, a friend aced me, stuck his racquet in my face, and screamed, “Nobody puts princess in a castle!” A barista once mentioned how stepping on a LEGO was a lot more rage inducing than playing Grand Theft Auto. And a previous student told me about a—ahem—particular sensory combination involving Nutella. I blushed . . . and then I stole it.

I stole all of these with everyone’s permission, of course.

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5. how we keep on writing, how we center inside our song

The workshop was over. We stood there on the gravel road between the cabins we'd lived in, worked in, worked through. We stood there post-portraits, post-jazz hands, post-laughter, post-tears, and there were questions, still.

Mostly: How do we carry forward what has happened here? How do we write our stories through? Find the time? The calm? The self assurance?

I will write to you, I said, I promised. I will try, for myself, to remember how.

Often my life is not my own. There is no calm, no well of time, I do not see myself in any mirror. I can go on like that because I must go on like that, but then: I miss the words, I physically miss them. I feel an empty spin inside my soul until I can't help it anymore. I rise early to claim a sentence for myself.

Except: Days, weeks, months have gone by since I have written anything real. Except: The sentence that I write is obvious, flat. It is not art, and it is art I need, and so I turn to others. Just now Olivia Laing is sitting here. More Annie Dillard. Old James Baldwin. The first Ta-Nehisi Coates. I take what I need and my hour of me is up, but something, inside, stirs.

The next day I rise early again. I take out my flat sentence. I spin it around with a spoon. I work it until it holds some music for me, until it suggests what the next sentence might be. So now there are two sentences, maybe three, and for the next several days, in this earliest of hours, I read those sentences, I sink into their rhythms, I probably don't even know the story yet. But I've got me a song to sing through the rest of the day, when the client calls, or the work comes in, or I make a trip for oil or pepper. I've got me a song, a steadying place, and when the call I'm waiting for comes in late, or I'm put on hold, or the dinner simmers, there it is: my song.

The song is. I keep it close. It is a mystery, and it is something mine. That something alive, to return to.

We write our stories slow, from a centering place.





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6. Harts Pass No. 317


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7. Mervin the Sloth is About to Do the Best Thing in the World by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ruth Chen


I'm kind of done with meta picture books, but I will never be done with sloths, especially sloths named Mervin. Happily, Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World is a really fantastically fun meta picture book. Colleen AF Venable, graphic novel designer for the excellent FirstSecond by day and graphic novelist by night, makes her picture book debut with the help of illustrator Ruth Chen.


Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World begins with Mervin, center page, slowly moving to the right with each page turn, as the title drops in from the top of the book over the course of a few pages. A red panda, Mervin's friend, strolls onto the scene, taking excited notice of the falling title. More and more friends arrive, all speculating about the best thing in the world that Mervin is about to do. Flying? Digging? Gazelling (which is not even a word, as bird points out)? Is Mervin going to fight a shark? Turn into a robot? Do all our homework? Invent a time machine? 

There will definitely be lots of laughs as you read this book out loud, which is a must. Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World should not be read alone and when you get to the end of the book you will see just why...


Be sure to watch this brief video of Colleen and Ruth doing a stellar job reading their book out loud!




Soon to be on the shelves of my school library, Colleen's graphic novel series Guinea PI:





Source: Review Copy


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8. Time for WWU Poetry Camp, Poetry Makerspace, and 40 POETS all in one place!

Over a year ago, Sylvia Tag (librarian) and Nancy Johnson (professor), at Western Washington University, had the idea to host a "Poetry Camp" and invited Janet (Wong) and me to come and speak. Of course we said YES! Then Janet had the idea of inviting poets we know if they'd like to come and join us. And 40 poets said YES YES YES! And now the time has come and we're gathering in Bellingham, Washington, at the WWU Poetry CHaT Center for poetry for young people with 100+ others to talk poetry, make poetry art, share poetry ideas, and just plain have fun together! Here's the lowdown on the Saturday conference activities.


But first, we gather with just the poets to share ideas and have fun. Kathy Humphrey is presenting social media strategies. Paige Bentley Flannery, Sara Holbrook, and Michael Salinger are sharing presentation tips. JoAnn Early will be talking about publishing and Julie Larios will inspire us with Oulipo Leaping ideas. Then Robyn Hood Black will lead us (and the public at large) in a fun Makerspace activity night. What a blast!


The 40 poets presenting this weekend?


Janet helped create a special Poetry Camp celebration book of poems by each of the 40 participating poets and I've adapted that into a mini-slideshow. Plus, we're talking about sharing poetry everyday and making connections across the curriculum. (Hope to share details about all of that later.) So excited to meet each of these people IN PERSON and spend a few days reveling in poetry, writing, sharing. I plan to share photos and nuggets from this amazing experience afterward. Stay tuned. 

For the rest of the Poetry Friday gathering, go to Karen's place here.

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9. Into the unknown: professional development for future educators

One of the greatest challenges faced by schools and universities today is preparing students for an unknown future. Our graduates will likely have multiple careers, work in new and emerging industries, grapple with technologies we can’t even imagine yet. And so we’re asking our staff to equip students with the skills they need to thrive in a potentially very different world to the one we live in now.

The post Into the unknown: professional development for future educators appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. Thursday Review: THE FORGETTING by Sharon Cameron

Synopsis: The "every X years something life-changing/terrible/wonderful happens" trope always reminds me of that Ray Bradbury short story "All Summer in a Day," which I read for school in maybe 6th or 7th grade and found incredibly traumatic. In... Read the rest of this post

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11. Secrets and trivia from the Broadway stage

Why do some great Broadway shows fail, and mediocre ones thrive? How does the cast onstage manage to keep tabs on the audience without missing a beat or a line? Ken Bloom, author of Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Audiences, delves into the inner workings of the Broadway stage and the culture surrounding Broadway hips and flops.

The post Secrets and trivia from the Broadway stage appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. “The Devil gets his brew” I went back and worked...


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13. CARDS - kelly angelovic

Designer Kelly Angelovic was thrilled to announce the launch of her new line of soulful paper goods, including greeting cards, notecards, thank you notes, and prints. Six years ago, Kelly opened the doors to her design studio in Boulder, Colorado realizing a long-held dream of working as a professional artist and illustrator. After licensing collaborations with Oopsy Daisy, Robert Kaufman,

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14. ‘Angry Birds’ Co-Director Clay Kaytis Jumps Into Live-Action with ‘The Lunch Witch’

Animation veteran Clay Kaytis joins a long list of animation directors who have jumped into live-action filmmaking.

The post ‘Angry Birds’ Co-Director Clay Kaytis Jumps Into Live-Action with ‘The Lunch Witch’ appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

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15. Tracy Barrett's THE SONG OF ORPHEUS


THE SONG OF ORPHEUS
by Tracy Barrett

     I’ve published twenty middle-grade and young-adult books with Random House, Macmillan, Oxford University Press, and others. My first book came out in 1993, when self-publishing was difficult to do, expensive, and mostly looked down on as a way that clueless wannabe authors would get sub-par books printed, only to have unsold copies mildew in the writer’s garage.
      Now, of course, that has changed. Self-publishing—now usually called “indie publishing”—is less expensive and easier to do than it used to be (although doing it well still isn’t cheap, and indie publishing isn’t without new challenges), and the advent of print on demand and eBooks means you don’t have to stockpile.
      Many still look down on indie-published books, and that’s understandable. It’s possible to self-publish a dreadful story with no editing and a garish cover. Of course, plenty of traditionally-published books are bad too. But the lack of gatekeepers means that the percentage of awful books is higher among the indies than the traditionals. Still, every day there are more and more beautifully written, interesting, well-edited, and attractive indie books. A tiny fraction of them become bestsellers and a few are even made into movies.
      So when one of my manuscripts received careful consideration by several major publishers, only to be rejected for vague reasons each time, I decided to give indie publishing a whirl.
      The result is The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard, which came out in July. My target reader for this collection of little-known myths is the kid who loves Greek myths but is tired of reading the same ones over and over. The research was challenging and enjoyable, and I loved discovering stories that I thought middle-schoolers would like. Rewriting them to keep true to the originals while sounding fresh to today’s readers was great fun.
      But there are many facets to a published book. It’s not enough for it to be well written. To be successful—and for the author to be able to take pride in it—the book must also be well edited, copy edited, and designed, with an attractive cover and formatting. It has to be made available to readers and promoted effectively.
      I’m a professional in only one of those areas: writing. I used to copy edit, but I know better than to copy edit my own work, and similarly, I’m not about to trust my own judgment of my writing. My very editorial agent had made me go through several revisions before she submitted it, and then, as I said, it received positive attention at some good houses. So I was comfortable that I wasn’t deluding myself about its quality. But what to do about the rest of the book-production process?
      Fortunately, my agent, Lara Perkins, came to the rescue. Her agency (Andrea Brown Literary Agency) was one of the pioneers of “agency-assisted self-publishing,” and she steered me to a copy editor, a cover artist, a designer, and a formatter, who all did stellar jobs. She also handled getting the ISBN, dealing with Amazon, and lots of other aspects of publication, some of which are ongoing. I found a publicist on my own, after getting Lara’s input.
      What’s in it for Lara? She collects her standard commission after I’ve earned back what I spent on everything but the publicist and other expenses I’ve run into after publication. (This is another reason I was confident that this was a marketable project; Lara’s not about to spend all that time on a book that she didn’t think would sell!)
     I had complete control over every step. Lara presented me with options for each of the services she helped me find, and I consulted directly with Joe Cepeda, the brilliant illustrator who did the cover. For this reason, I’m not going to say how much all this cost—you can spend a lot less than I did, or a lot more. Expect to go into four figures, up to five, for high-quality work.
      Is this expensive? Yes, it is. But it’s a business, just as a KFC franchise is a business. And considering that a KFC franchise costs between $1,250,000 and $2,530,000, I feel like my much, much smaller investment was money well spent.
      One of my added expenses was getting a review from Kirkus Reviews. You have to pay for their review of an indie book, but this doesn’t guarantee it will be a favorable one. They allow you to choose whether or not to publish their opinion, and rumor says that at least 90% of the time, the author chooses not to do so—Kirkus is notoriously tough! This was another financial risk, but it paid off: While I was writing this post, Orpheus received a glowing review!

Tracy's fave work spot - notice the light bulb.

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16. Darwin ~ Publishers Weekly Review
















"Letting her background in map illustration shine, Thermes (Little Author in the Big Woods) follows the travels of Charles Darwin while concisely explaining the influence they had on his growing understanding of the interconnectedness of nature..."

Read the full review here...

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17. Long Way Westward

The Long Way Westward. Joan Sandin. 1989. 64 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: "Look, Carl Erik," said Jonas, "the streets of America are not paved with gold."

Premise/plot: The Long Way Westward follows a Swedish immigrant family as they travel across parts of the United States to reach their new home in Minnesota. Their travel involves a lot of TRAINS. The immigrant experience of the late nineteenth century is captured quite well in this early chapter book.

My thoughts: It is so nice to have stumbled across historical fiction for the youngest of readers. Historical fiction was probably my first true genre to LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. And I think I would have really enjoyed this one if I'd read it as a kid. As an adult, I can still appreciate it and recommend it to teachers, parents, and grandparents to share with young readers in their lives.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. ‘If You Say Something, See Something’ by Gina Kamentsky

Animated film drawn on found subtitled footage set to "Funeral March of a Marionette."

The post ‘If You Say Something, See Something’ by Gina Kamentsky appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

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19. Rebuilding and restoring the Houses of Parliament [timeline]

The Houses of Parliament in London is one of the most famous buildings in the world. A masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture which incorporates survivals from the medieval Palace of Westminster, it was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO along with Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret’s Church, in 1987. With its restoration and renewal in the news, find out more about the background in this interactive timeline.

The post Rebuilding and restoring the Houses of Parliament [timeline] appeared first on OUPblog.

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20. The Most Interesting Man

An ad campaign for many years
To sell Dos Equis beer
Employed a pitchman, who has now
Appeared to disappear.

They called him “The most interesting
Man in all the world,”
But now he’s been laid off and rumors
Naturally have swirled.

The truth, of course, is no surprise –
They’ve kicked him off the stage
For reasons very Hollywood –
In other words, his age.

The actor, in his seventies,
Has quickly been replaced
By someone forty-one, whose youth
The marketers embraced.

I guess you can’t be interesting
When your years advance,
So if offered a Dos Equis now,
I’d smile and say, “Fat chance!”

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21. सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक

भारत पाक सीमा पर बढता तनाव भारत पाकिस्तान के बीच तनाव तो चल ही रहा था कि अचानक एक ब्रेकिंग न्यूज आने लगी  कि हमारे सैनिको द्वारा सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक की गई … आखिर सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक क्या होती है .आईए जाने !! सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक क्या होती है ? सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक  के बारे मे जानने के लिए ये भी […]

The post सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक appeared first on Monica Gupta.

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22. Sony Classics Releases U.S. Trailer for Michael Dudok de Wit’s ‘The Red Turtle’

Studio Ghibli's first co-production, "The Red Turtle," now has an American trailer.

The post Sony Classics Releases U.S. Trailer for Michael Dudok de Wit’s ‘The Red Turtle’ appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

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23. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.6: Old Man earthenware figure, 1978

The sixth item in A History of my Archive in 10 Objects is an earthenware figure, made during my Foundation Course at Bournville School of Art early in 1978.

Old Man, earthenware figure, 31cm tall, 1978

Bournville School of Art was located at Ruskin Hall in the beautiful surroundings of Bournville Village, the famously idyllic workers' community built by the Cadbury brothers next to their chocolate factory. Opened in 1903, it was purpose built as an art school by a friend of John Ruskin, and stood in that role until it's controversial closure in 2012. The suburb was deliberately created to mirror a pastural tudor village, the college overlooked the 'village' green. It was a very straightforward commute for me, as it lay on the same train from Four Oaks to Birmingham, just on the opposite side of the city. Every morning I'd get off the train and walk past the chocolate factory to Ruskin Hall, breathing the chocolate scented air - it was almost perfect, the only downside (from a student point of view) was the lack of a pub, the Quaker Cadbury brothers being of course abstainers.

There was also a secondary studio at Steelhouse in the middle of the city, used mainly for life drawing and painting.

The year I spent at Bournville School of Art was an incredibly rewarding experience, it opened my eyes to new artists and a more directly relevant graphic business, many of the tutors were working artists and designers as well as lecturers, so had direct experience of the creative business, it was an intense, exciting course that broadened my horizons, introducing me to life drawing, etching, photography ... and ceramics.



And so to this figure, the "little old man" as my mum always called him. It's a character from my doomed novel In Search of Summer Gold, so in many ways a last gasp of my adolescent fantasising before the maelstrom of degree course. Standing 37cm tall he's quite heavy, with a detachable head. He used to hold a clay pipe in one hand, which has now broken off and lost.

Like many of the things studied at Foundation Course, this is regretably the only thing I made in ceramics, the course was all too short - focusing all my attention on illustration thereafter, I've never been anywhere near a kiln since. Similarly I've not made etchings either, which I greatly regret.

This figure would have been familiar to anyone who visited my parent's home, as it sat in their front room window looking out onto the world for decades, it was the first thing you noticed as you approached the house.

For that reason it conjures intense memories of the family home to me, every trip back from Japan I'd wander up the drive and there he'd be, my "little man", welcoming me back to the old place. He now sits in my studio, not looking through a window onto the world, but instead glaring reproachfully at my work table. He's telling me to get back to work....

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24. Banned Book Week Roundtable: The Evolution of Censorship

This week is Banned Book Week, a celebration of the freedom to read and an acknowledgement of the ongoing fight against censorship. There is much to talk about this year, including a fascinating survey by School Library Journal about librarian self-censorship and a PEN America report on challenged diverse children’s books, coupled with recent conversations sparked by author Lionel Shriver’s controversial comments about cultural appropriation and freedom of speech.

So, where are we when it comes to censorship? We asked authors, scholars, teachers, and librarians to share their thoughts with us in today’s roundtable. Participants:

  • Guadalupe García McCall, author and teacher
  • Jo Knowles, author
  • Pat Scales, librarian
  • Debbie Reese, scholar
Pat, as the former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, you’ve seen a number of book challenges over the years. What has changed since you first began looking at these issues? What has remained the same?

Pat Scales: Issues related to profanity, violence, and sex have always brought the censors calling. In the early 1970s and 1980s Judy Blume was being censored in school and public libraries coast to coast because she dealt with topics related to sex, bullying and other issues associated with coming of age. These were relatively new topics at the time. Now, her books aren’t challenged so much, but a host of others are. 21st century issues and concerns have ushered in a new wave of books that trouble censors. The Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage legal has caused some conservative groups to target books that deal with LGBTQ topics. As states wrestle with issues like North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill,” the censors storm libraries looking for books about transgender youth like George by Alex Gino, Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart, and I Am J by Cris Beam. These books are the subject of Internet chatter on various listserves and blogs. Book Fair and Book Club companies refuse to offer these books in an effort to avoid controversy. And librarians, especially school librarians, sometimes avoid purchasing the books because they themselves are uncomfortable with the topic, or because they don’t want to “raise a red flg” to the censors.

The growing incidents of school violence in this country have caused censors to question whether violence has a place in children’s and young adult literature. Never mind that violence has always been present in children’s literature, and that children and young adults get a healthy exposure to street violence on the nightly news.

Conservative Christian groups have always raised concerns about topics that conflict with their religious beliefs. In the days when OIF and NCAC began tracking book censorship attempts, there were lists of “Inappropriate Literature” circulated among conservative organizations. Now these groups have websites and make such lists available by simply clicking a mouse.   These websites come and go, but it remains alarming that a small number of groups want to control the narrative about what children should or shouldn’t read. There is some good news: Calling out censorship attempts to the public has caused the number of challenges to decline.

Book censorship does reflect trends. There is no way to predict what will be next. We must deal with them one at a time.

Jo, your novel Lessons from a Dead Girl appears on ALA’s list of frequently challenged books. How do you respond as an author when your book is challenged? Have you seen challenges change over time?

Jo Knowles: I can’t think of a single conference I’ve attended in the Banned Book Week quote, Jo Knowlespast ten years in which at least one person has not said to me, “I love your books but could never have them in my library/classroom.” Often they say their community is too conservative for books with
“homosexual content.” Sadly, this hasn’t changed.

How do I respond? I share on social media in an attempt to start a thoughtful conversation. At a librarian dinner a year or so ago, one librarian noted she couldn’t have See You At Harry’s in her library (for the usual reason), and then another agreed. I asked them: “What would happen?” One said, “A parent would complain and I’d probably have to remove it.” “That’s it?” I asked. They both got quiet, then agreed they could handle that. I realize that in some communities, people fear losing their jobs. It’s a sad reality. But I still have to try to have the conversation, because sometimes people realize the risk isn’t that great. And if one kid gets to read the book and feel less alone or gain more compassion for others before it gets pulled from the shelves, it’s worth it.

As a teacher and a writer, how do you balance the need to tell the truth about history and parents’ desire to protect their children?

Guadalupe Garcia McCall: As a teacher, parent, and now grandparent, I do have to consider my audience carefully. Because I am in the classroom, I am sensitive to the concerns of parents and other teachers. I try to balance writing about controversial issues by writing with young people’s best interest in mind. That is, I always try to approach these topics honestly, but also respectfully and responsibly. Truth is, young people have information at their fingertips. Even as we are talking about a topic or time period, they reach for their phones and Google it. So there is no point in trying to pretend these things (e.g. the lynching of Mexicans by Texas Rangers in South Texas at the turn of the century) didn’t happen. . . . By discussing sensitive issues in a respectful manner, we are teaching young people not only to have respect for these topics but also to be sensitive to others.

Thinking about recent examples of books with problematic content (i.e., content that was not culturally accurate) being pulled prior to or just after publication, how do you feel about the publishers’ decisions to pull the book?

Debbie Reese: I hope that the recent decisions by publishers to withdraw a book, just before or after the book has been released, marks a turning point for us. We all care about the quality of representations of people. We’re not all in the same place in understanding what “quality” means, but I think social media is helping us reach a wider audience, and therefore, we’re in a substantially different moment.

Pat Scales: Books that reflect a culturally diverse society need to be in classrooms and in school and public libraries. But I’m uncomfortable with a “checklist” that leftist groups have developed to critique these books. I fear that publishers have become so sensitive to these groups that they have second thoughts about books they have committed to publication.

Jo Knowles: If I was a publisher and had a book recently released, or about to be, only to discover that we overlooked a very problematic aspect of the content, at the very least I would want to pull it back for revisions. I know if I were the author or illustrator of such a book I would want the same. If there’s a way to correct the problem, why wouldn’t you?

What, if anything, differentiates these examples from censorship?

Jo Knowles: Teachers and librarians weed books from collections when they discover they’ve become outdated or have incorrect information all the time. I don’t see that as censorship but as standard practice for collection development and management.

What differentiates these examples from censorship is that they are an issue of factual inaccuracy and cultural misrepresentation. That’s not the same as pulling a book because an individual found the content inappropriate for personal reasons, such as containing the presence of witchcraft, use of the word “scrotum,” or, as is often the case with my books, including an LGBT character.

Pat Scales: Publishers have an obligation to “fact-check” their booksBanned Book Week quote, Debbie Reese for “accurate portrayals” of diverse groups before the books are actually published.   Companies are for profit, and make business decisions regarding the sales of books, but when a book is pulled prior to or immediately following publication it smacks of censorship. Is the concern that a reviewer may pan the book, and therefore affect sales? Or, is it about doing the right thing?   Teachers and librarians are placed in the position to defend books when the censor calls, and publishers should defend the books they elect to publish. Librarians make mistakes, and so do publishers. But those mistakes die a natural death.

Debbie Reese: I don’t view publishers making decisions to hold or withdraw a book as engaging in censorship. These are business decisions made by business people who’ve reflected on concerns they heard. They responded to those concerns. We aren’t privy to the conversations, but my guess is that some of the conversation was about the public relations and reputation of the company, and that some of it was about the new information brought forth via social media.

I imagine the conversations were terse at times, with some arguing that the company should not “give in” to voices of dissent. I also imagine that such arguments were countered with an argument that the demographics in the US are shifting, and that it is a wise business decision to pay attention to that shift.

The ideal is to have more books with good representation, but problems do persist. How should we handle books with incorrect or culturally insensitive content? 

Debbie Reese: Even very young children understand the concept of fairness. I think that concept is one avenue by which teachers can approach incorrect or culturally insensitive content. I firmly believe that the idea that young children are “too young” to be taught about bias and stereotyping is a problem. It lets ideas they absorb–simply by being a person moving through a society laden with stereotyping at every level–take root. It makes it harder for children to unlearn these stereotypes. Some resist, while others feel betrayed that their teachers gave them worksheets for years, of (for example), smiling Indians at Thanksgiving.

Teachers have a very important job: to educate. Parents trust that teachers won’t do wrong by their kids. There is an implicit trust in the teacher’s judgement. Teachers choose–every day–what they will, and will not, share with their students. . . . If a teacher gives children a book with inaccurate information in it, I believe they have a responsibility to point out those errors–or choose something else! If they choose to use it and point out the error, it teaches children a valuable lesson: you can’t trust every word in a book. That’s a powerful lesson!

Debbie Reese

Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, Debbie Reese founded American Indians in Children’s Literature in 2006. Her book chapters and articles are taught in Education, Library Science, and English courses in the US and Canada. A former schoolteacher and assistant professor in American Indian Studies, she conducts workshops for librarians and teachers and delivers papers and lectures at professional and academic conferences.


Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Guadalupe Garcia McCall was born in Mexico and moved to Texas as a young girl, keeping close ties with family on both sides of the border. Trained in Theater Arts and English, she now teaches English/Language Arts at a junior high school in San Antonio. McCall’s debut novel Under the Mesquite earned the Pura Belpré AwardHer newest novel is Shame the Stars.


Jo Knowles

Jo Knowles is the author of seven young adult novels, including Lessons from a Dead Girl and Still a Work in Progress. She lives in Vermont and teaches in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. Find her online here.


Pat Scales

Pat Scales is a retired middle and high school librarian from Greenville, SC.  She has authored five books that deal with banned and challenged books, including Defending Young Adult Books: A Handbook for Librarians and Teachers, (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016).  She also writes a column “Scales on Censorship” for School Library Journal and is a regular contributor to Book Links magazine.

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25. ORLA KIELY - halfords collection

Orla Kiely has done it again and created another wonderful licensing deal for her prints. This is time it is with UK retailer Halfords to produce a series of bicycles, bike accessories, and camping gear. Orla's designs now appear on everything from saddle covers, to tents and, enamel mugs. Branded under the Orla Kiely diffusion label 'Olive and Orange' (named after her labradoodle dog) there

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