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>When "opportunity, opportunity, is knockin’ at your door . . .

>. . . Opportunity knocks but once–
And don’t come back no more.”
(from “Snatch and Grab It,” sung by Julia Lee)

The SRA/McGraw Hill folks have responded to Patricia Polacco’s charges; their full statement can be found in the comments on yesterday’s post, but I’ll repost it here:

SRA/McGraw-Hill welcomes the opportunity to present the facts about Patricia Polacco’s scheduled appearances in SRA’s exhibit booth at IRA on May 2 and 3, 2006.

SRA/McGraw-Hill and Ms. Polacco signed a very clear contract, which can be viewed at

In the contract, signed by SRA on Jan. 10, 2006, and by Ms. Polacco on Feb. 8, 2006, Ms. Polacco agreed to be an SRA/McGraw-Hill exhibit booth speaker at four 30-minute presentations on two very specific topics: heroes who made a difference in her life and the real stories that inspired several of her books. In the two-page contract, SRA/McGraw-Hill was identified by name 14 times. She further agreed that her appearances at the SRA exhibit booth would be limited solely to these four presentations.

Ms. Polacco chose not to honor her commitment to SRA/McGraw-Hill. Shortly before the event, she began insisting that she wanted to use her appearances as a platform for expressing her personal views on public education policy. We respect her right to express her ideas; however, since the SRA educational presentations were focused on writing and children’s books, SRA did not believe that its exhibit booth was an appropriate forum for a public policy speech. Ms. Polacco’s statements about this event are inaccurate and unreasonable.

SRA’s intention was to have Ms. Polacco deliver four presentations that would inspire the people who have the greatest impact on educating our children’s classroom teachers.

1:23 PM, May 12, 2006

According to the SRA web page, Polacco was asked to speak about “the heroes of [her] life” and “the real life stories that inspired the books Meteor!, The Keeping Quilt, and Thank You, Mr. Falker.” I suggest (with 20-20 hindsight, of course) that Ms. Polacco could easily have spun both topics in such a way that made a discussion of NCLB fitting, nay, inevitable. There is nothing in the contract linked above that would have prevented her from doing so. Too bad Polacco showed her cards too soon.

I discussed a similar failure of nerve or imagination in an editorial about Laura Bush and the antiwar poets. It reminds me of something Deborah Stevenson wrote for us years ago in “Rewriting the Rules: Girls and Books” (Horn Book, Nov/Dec ’97): “Caddie Woodlawn syndrome, where girls’ energy is really an adorable and completely safe sauciness, seems to be alive and well. Feisty and spunky are two words that, unfortunately, also seem to apply with great frequency–unfortunately because they are adjectives reserved for the nonthreatening and the totally unserious, who have the nerve to attempt to be fierce in a world that understands they can be nothing of the kind.”

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Gregory K. says:

    >I was also just now posting a similar thought on my blog (you aced me). While I had, like you, said this wasn’t censorship related, seeing that contract where there is no explicit request to read/see Ms. Polacco’s speeches in advance makes it veer in a different direction.

    I also got the SRA/McGraw-Hill comment on my blog (as have others). Impressive damage control that now actually has, for me at least, made them look worse. I’ve asked them publically on my blog if they can note where they have approval rights to the speech. We’ll see if they come back again….

  2. Andy Laties says:

    >Roger, you’re bad. This sounds like a DARE!

    “Rebel Bookseller” just won an 2006 Independent Publisher Book Award in the “Writing & Publishing” category, so I’ll be working the aisles of the BEA convention in one week, trying to stir up controversy. I gather you advise me to go over the top. Take no prisoners. Get myself ejected, maybe? Why should people with strong opinions wait for a contractual speaking engagement? All that’s needed is a crowded room…

    And — whatever scandal I manage to ignite, it will all be YOUR fault for egging radicals on.

  3. Melinda says:

    >I got the same reply on my blog, too.

    Kind of freaky that they’re going to all this trouble to search us out and exercise their right to free speech. Myself, I wish I had that kind of free time. And it would be nice, she added wistfully, if they’d just read my blog and add random comments to my other posts. That’s what they’re there for ….

  4. fusenumber8 says:

    >A bit unfair saying Polacco showed her cards too soon, isn’t it Roger? They wanted to read her speech. Short of showing them a fabricated version and then reading a different one aloud (legal but morally sketchy, no?)what else could she have done? Ah well. Nice to see SRA/McGraw Hill shooting themselves in the foot like this.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >I also love to see McGraw Hill messing its pants, but if you look at Polacco’s account, it’s more complicated than them wanting to read her speech. It sounds like the company shilling for McGraw Hill asked for an outline and she ignored them. NCLB only came up late in the game when she finally called the shills to ask why they wanted an outline. I am also not buying Polacco’s account of McGraw Hill’s simultaneous desire to have Polacco speak and expressing their concern that she would speak against them. I think there is stuff we don’t know.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    >Our Roger actually got the last word about Ms. Polacco in an article in today’s Times. I’m not good at making links “live,” but here’s the address:

  7. rindambyers says:

    >I think this is an excellent point. Truly powerful words must somehow infect and change, yes often quietly, unnoticed, often subtly like viruses do, their listeners. You can say your point of view excellently, powerfully, and freely, but if you don’t infect, touch, change, yea, even convict your listener, you have failed as a wordmaster.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >I’m referring to Roger’s editorial above…hope everyone read it…excellent work.

  9. rindamybyers says:

    >In thinking about Ms. Polacco’s particular situation, I am reminded of a time when I was given a prayer to read at a church service. I said nothing, took the paper printed prayer up to the pulpit, and spoke instead, in deliberate defiance of the pastor’s instructions, my own words, my own memorized poem prayer. I paid, in certain negative ways, for taking that partiuclar bit freedom of speech–the pastor was furious with me for one thing and I was never allowed to perform that fucntion in the pulpit ever again in that church–In a small way, I exerted a certain freedom of speech, but I also was willing to pay a certain costly-to-myself price for that action. Perhaps, Ms. Polacco could have taken better advantage of the “pulpit” opportunity offered to her had she been more willing to endure the negative consequequences of truly speaking freely and effectively in it. But perhaps, I’m now preaching nauseatingly to the choir in an easy century. In earlier ones, in Europe, even small, defiant freedom of speech actions in the wrong places could get you burned to death.

    How dearly bought–and precious–our freedoms are!

  10. >Heroes in her life…. I suspect she’s one for many struggling in schools with the NCLB mandates. While I agree, Roger, that the situation isn’t as straightforward as it appears, I’m not sure she showed her cards too soon. I mean, she could have perhaps done those IRA appearances and subversively made her points, but this way they’re getting made to a much larger audience.

  11. >I have been saying that about Sam Hamill for some time. (I know Sam fairly well, and NO ONE would mistake him for a tame, quiet poet.) But I would have gone into the lion’s den and prosletized the lions. And have said so often. (Ritual disclaimer: I had two anti-war poems on his site.)

    In fact I was one of the speakers three years ago at the National Book Festival and wore my anti-war pin the entire time. Spoke about my voting for Kennedys and love of Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, and called myself an unabashed liberal in my talk.


  12. KT Horning says:

    >Ah, but Stephen Colbert did it best of all at the White House Correspondents’ dinner a few weeks ago.

    To respond to your concern, Roger, about “…Polacco’s account of McGraw Hill’s simultaneous desire to have [her] speak and expressing their concern that she would speak against them…” I assume that Polocco knew nothing of McGraw-Hill’s connection to NCLB until later.

    My guess is that it happened like this: McGraw-Hill had heard through the grapevine that Polocco gives a great speech about being dyslexic and learning to read late in childhood, thanks to the efforts of one teacher, about whom she’s written a picture book (or perhaps someone in the company had actually read “Thank You, Mr. Falker” and based their invitation on that). The story is a perfect example of the theme “The Heroes in My Life,” especially given the audience (classroom teachers). It’s a nice, feel-good kind of story, so they invited her to speak on this topic.

    After the contract was signed, stipulating only that she had to speak on “The Heroes in My Life” and talk about the real-life inspiration of three of her picture books (including “Thank You, Mr Falker”) — and nothing about the need to submit the text in advance — they got wind of the fact that she might be very critical of NCLB in this speech. It would have been a huge embarrassment to have had someone criticize their cash cow, right in their own booth! So they tried to back-pedal and asked to see her speech in advance, hoping to control the content. When she refused, they uninvited her. And now they’re trying to make it look like she was the one who reneged on their agreement.

    I have another theory that involves Karl Rove, but I’ll keep that one to myself.

  13. Gregory K. says:

    >Patricia Polacco has a new statement/info up on her webiste ( The most interesting thing I found in her new stuff (and there’s lots) is that the two speech topics that McGraw-Hill “asked” her to speak about (and “ask” comes from the statement they left on all our blogs) are actually two of her long-time presentations. In fact, videos of each are available for sale from her site. Now if that’s not spin on McGraw-Hill’s part, I don’t know what is.

  14. >I agree with your editorial, Roger, about the anti-war poets. Several of my colleagues in Emily Dickinson studies were invited to the White House as part of the event back then. One of them commissioned an anti-war pin for them all to wear. Laura Bush’s cancellation of the event ended up creating a lost opportunity for both sides.

    In instances like this, I say, go–participate, and speak. We have to be willing to do the hard work for change–that is, engage civilly and intelligently with those with whom we disagree–not just sit on the sidelines among those like-minded to us and shout about how “they” on the other side never listen.


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