January 11, 2005

Brother's Grimm Need Not Apply: The Politically Perfect World According to Children's Book Editors

Want to write for children? Want to create the next Harry Potter, Lemnony Snicket, Huck Finn? (Whoops, forget about that last one.) If you do, you'd better know THE RULES before you set pen to paper. Otherwise, you are out before you are even in.

Heres my annotated selection of quotes taken from a "helpful" book "advising" authors on "the limits." The original from Writing for Children and Teenagers was found and typed up by Cameron Wood from Way Off Bass

1) Don't waste our time with traditional values:

If you have a story in which Mom is in the kitchen while Dad is repairing the car, and Betsy has just returned from her ballet lessons at the same time Rob has come home from a rough and tumble game of football - you can be certain that the story will be rejected.
2) Don't forget, and even elevate, the fringe kids:
Every woman does not spend all her time in the kitchen, nor does every man have facility with mechanical problems. Girls are not necessarily interested in gentle activities or boys eager to participate in contact sports.
3) We need to see our brains in your book:
Let at least one of the characters reflect today's thinking.
4) Ye olde gandma and grandpa are extinct:
Gone are the white-haired grandmothers who always wear aprons and cook turkeys on Thanksgiving while Grandpa sits in the living room, smoking a pipe and showering his family with a supreme knowledge of how to live one's life.
5) Grandpa, being male and probably white, is a drooling, ranting, incontinent embarrassment:
Grandpa might be shuttled off to a nursing home because his presence is making life difficult in the home.
6) Grandma, being female, never slows down or loses her mind:

Grandma has no time to bake because every Monday she takes her disco dancing lessons.

7) Give us the trends. Here's what "trends" means:

Trends reflect whatever currently concerns large numbers of people.
8) Things were easier back in the good old days when editors discovered African-Americans could read and had money:
When they were made acutely aware of the lack of books and stories about black children - in the middle class and among the disadvantaged and deprived - editors eagerly sought to correct the situation. In their initial enthusiasm to fill a void, almost anything went.
9) Gone are the days. In fact, there's a glut:
Now there is no lack for such books, and the editors have become stringently selective both in subject and quality of what they accept for publication.
10) But be of good cheer, there's always another ethnic group looking to celebrate itself, so climb on the Hispanic-Oriental gravy train:
Other ethnic groups are pressing for recognition, and there has been a healthy spate of stories of Spanish-Americans (sometimes in dual-language, so if you speak and write in Spanish, you can check out what has been published and see what you can add to it). The Oriental-Americans also want recognition for their contribution to our society, so books of the past and present, if well done, would be welcome.
11) Whitey, go home and shut up:
It is difficult for the middle-class, white writer to portray authentically, realistically, the life-style, thought, and viewpoint of the black person - the black child - especially in the ghetto or otherwise disadvantaged situation.
12) Or get a brain transplant:
Unless you can think black or for that matter, Latino, Native American, or whatever, do not attempt such writing.
13) If you have no brain transplant and a license to write about black characters, be prepared to be called "racist" if you even try to touch this area:
The errors, the false notes will be pointed out to you by groups who stand ready to spot and pounce upon misrepresentations, real or imagined "racism" or what not.
14) What blacks, Mexicans, Italians, and Chinese are forbidden to do or be in books:
Characters in all these stories must be presented as individuals, not stereotypes - the black with the great sense of rhythm, the "lazy" Mexican, the stoic Native American, the gesticulating Italian, the bowing Chinese.
15) The young are delicate and sensitive and need to be programmed. No jokes and no fooling around, just toe the line or else:
Neither satires nor ethnic caricatures are wanted in literature for the young.
16) In spite of all these rules and regulations, cut your spirit loose and be... er... somewhat shocking:
If a bit of controversy does result, it will only boost the sales!

Posted by Vanderleun at January 11, 2005 5:10 AM
Bookmark and Share



"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I don't know if it plays in your market, but
there's this commercial where 3 people are at
a meeting. They are all seated and the voice
over starts the power point on the left side
of the frame and one of the viewers says to
the one seated on the otherside to 'Rotate Bob'
in his swivel chair to be able too see the PP.
Bob goes OW OW OW OW OW because he slept on
a bad mattress. Next the scene shows the power
point going to the right wall and they have to
Rotate Bob, and he goes OW OW OW OW OW. Very
funny, though I've not done it justice. But
OW OW OW OW, but it's my head that hurts.

Posted by: Steel Turman at January 11, 2005 7:29 AM

Read any Newberry Award winner if your want to see the best (worst) examples of the genre.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at January 11, 2005 8:34 AM

Don't worry too much about this. Just as we eventually saw the light, our children grow up even faster. They begin to question this pablum in middle school now, instead of waiting for college.

My son takes pleasure in asking his Model United Nations teacher, "What about the Oil-for-Food Scandal?" or latest UN flub just to see her reaction.

The Newberry Award is my reason to reject a book as they haven't had a good story since "Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH."

Posted by: Stephen B at January 11, 2005 8:58 AM

Nobody cares about the apostrophe any more.

Posted by: Hank Roberts at January 12, 2005 12:15 PM

How funny that the commissars who wrote that little tract manage to be un-PC while trying to be PC.

Even I know that a "Spanish American" is Caucasian. Spain is part of Europe. The correct term for a Spanish speaking person from the New World (eligible for affirmative action) is Hispanic, or when referring to Mexicans specifically, Latino(a).

"Oriental American" smacks of buck toothed, grinning coolies. The preferred term is Asian-American, or Asian/Pacific Islander American, when including Polynesians, Aleuts, etc.

Tsk tsk!

Posted by: Patrick at January 13, 2005 5:59 PM