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>Shoot me now.

>While I was running yesterday in the glorious weather (ha ha, I know) I came upon a woman walking her dog, a little cattle-dog mix-thing. Hyper but cute. The dog was desperate to come over to me and say hello, so I stopped and played with her for a minute. The woman started talking to the dog: “Yes! Yes! You like him ’cause he looks like your grandfather! Yes!” She then explained that she meant her father of course, like that made anything any better.

I felt . . . seasoned again this morning while pawing through the review carts, and remembering when a book about anorexia (Deborah Hautzig’s Second Star to the Right) or lesbian mothers (some Norma Klein novel) was still cause for comment–and review–simply by virtue of its subject. So is it a good thing or a bad thing that books on such topics can now pass unremarked?

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. Elizabeth says:

    >Leaving aside the discussion of how old we are (I was once interviewed because someone needed a young adult’s opinion of the “bad” ending in A Chocolate War–aah, those were the days), I think it’s a good thing that books with lesbian parents, anorexia, etc. no longer provoke comment just for their subject matter. It used to be enough to publish a book just because we “needed” a book on a subject, now a publisher can be more choosy about finding the best written or most thought-provoking books about rape, anorexia, bullying, etc. Because it’s not enough to just bring up a difficult subject in a book for young adults, YA literature is the better for it.

  2. Andy Laties says:

    >There’s a fallacy here, which is that American society has been getting more progressive as the time of your life has been passing. (Concealed within your post however seems to be a lament that your old opportunities for transgressive appreciation of taboo-busting books are no longer available, since no-one CARES if you transgressively appreciate a broken taboo.)

    In fact, of course, back in the Seventies we thought these culture wars had basically been won. We were slapped in the face by the Moral Majority, however. So I’d say that as we enter the Twenty-Tens, just because Barack Obama is in the White House doesn’t mean social progress and enlightened children’s book selection from now on is guaranteed. This is still the indecisive, anti-intellectual U. S. of A. It could be eight years from now we have Jed Bush as president and books with lesbian mothers will once again be unshelvable in school libraries (and once again only transgressively reviewable in The Digital Hornbook…thus you may find yourself I.D’d (white hair spiking) as Raging Gramps.)

    Andy Laties

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think I would be hard put to think of a subject that would make a children’s book “groundbreaking” these days, although format and treatment remain ever-questing.

  4. Andy Laties says:

    >How about the absolutely brilliant, never-to-be-repeated “10,000 Dresses” by Marcus Ewart, ill. Rex Ray. (published by Seven Stories a few months ago). I would say that boys wanting to dress like girls would push the buttons of more than a few librarians. This is a terrific book. Are you telling me its subject isn’t groundbreaking?

    Publisher’s blurb:
    Every night, Bailey dreams about magical dresses: dresses made of crystals and rainbows, dresses made of flowers, dresses made of windows. . . . Unfortunately, when Bailey’s awake, no one wants to hear about these beautiful dreams. Quite the contrary: “You’re a BOY!” Mother and Father tell Bailey. “You shouldn’t be thinking about dresses at all.” Then Bailey meets Laurel, an older girl who is touched and inspired by Bailey’s imagination and courage. In friendship, the two of them begin making dresses together. And Bailey becomes the girl she always dreamed she’d be!

  5. Malinda Lo says:

    >I think it’s a fantastic sign if book reviewers are not thrown by a book about lesbian mothers. Or lesbians. Or any other folks along the LGBTQ spectrum. But truthfully, they still throw up flags for many people in this country. Books with LGBTQ themes are still routinely challenged at libraries and schools across the country; I just heard about one this week, unfortunately.

    And, incidentally, did a particular book remind you of the Norma Klein novel? I’d love to know what it is.

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >That’s true, Andy–while transgenderism is all over YA, that book is probably a first for younger children.

    And, coincidentally, Malinda, the lesbian mother book was a nice little board book about a two-mommied baby by Leslea Newman, published with an equally nice board book about a two-daddy baby. I’ll get you the full citation when I get to the office.

  7. jimmyprell says:

    >I think the great thing is when we see books that include two-mother households, or a kid in a wheelchair, or a student with Aspergers, and the book isn’t ABOUT that, when those inclusive particulars aren’t the “hook” and don’t necessarily overwhelm STORY.

    James Preller

  8. fran hodgkins says:

    >But what happens when you, as a writer, has included a character, for example, in a wheelchair, and you get chided by an editor because the “character’s difference doesn’t add anything to the plot — is it really necessary?”

    And Roger, don’t worry — you’re fabulous.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >Well, what your editor might really be saying is that your attempt to show how cool and hip and open-minded you are by randomly sticking in a disabled person is embarrassing. I imagine that sort of thing is hard to say right out to an author and gets expressed in less unkind terms. But beating around the bush, might give you the impression that your editor is a jerk. Or maybe your editor is a jerk. Hard to know.

  10. Roger Sutton says:

    >That’s always a tough one, Fran, especially as editors (and others) sometimes think the casual inclusion in a book of anyone outside their personal sphere of interactions is “gratuitous.”

    The lesbian-moms and gay-dads board books are, respectively, Mommy, Mama, and Me and Daddy, Papa, and Me, both written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Carol Thompson, published by Tricycle Press. Lesbian mothers are also put to casual but not gratuitous use in Tim Wynne-Jones’s terrific new thriller, The Uninvited (Candlewick, May)

  11. >Fran, a critique buddy of mine had an agent tell her, “I’m not sure why you have a Hispanic character in this story.”

    I was thinking, Um, because she’s a main character?

    What if your character *were* able-bodied, would that add anything to the plot? I doubt it. I don’t see how a character’s mode of transport should be an issue. Now if the character were in a wee little cart drawn by a flock of pigeons, I would probably question that. But otherwise, no.

    Fiction is about being human. That’s what matters to your plot.

    I’m not sure what to do about your editor. I would probably send him a bit of chocolate and then politely disagree. Except that might create a dangerous precedent if your editor is a chocoholic.

  12. Malinda Lo says:

    >Thanks for the book titles!

  13. >There is a picture book by Laurie Stiller and Gregory Rogers that came out in Australia in 2001, called Princess Max, about a little boy who enjoys dressing up in in his mum’s dresses and dancing around the house . . . I don’t recall there being much fuss about it at the time (I was working as a bookseller when it came out), but maybe libraries run into more problems with objections that bookstores.

  14. Andy Laties says:

    >Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for the reference. I love Gregory Rogers.

    This title, unsurprisingly, does not appear to have been picked up by an American publisher for sale in the USA, and I don’t see any evidence that it’s in print in Australia anymore, either.

    Surely there are financial reasons why transgressive books don’t get published at all: publishers (sometimes rightly) may expect they won’t sell well.

    So I would say that the absence of fuss didn’t help the book: people didn’t buy it perhaps because they hadn’t encountered it. It may not have shown up for long in bookstores, and perhaps wasn’t bought by many libraries. That’s a guess…but, otherwise, wouldn’t it still be in print?

    I don’t know how “10,000 Dresses” is selling, but I wonder. Perhaps if there WERE some fuss about it, sales now would be higher? Certainly the huge fuss twenty years ago over Leslea Newman’s groundbreaking “Heather Has Two Mommies” didn’t hurt the book’s sales. The book became a classic.

    Perhaps controversy is desirable. Sort of: “Attack at will, but please just spell the title right”.

    Maybe Seven Stories Press should hire a PR agency to run a fake right-wing attack campaign on “10,000 Dresses” to get sales rolling.

  15. >In 1987 I nearly got suspended by the Vice Principal (I was in grade 7) for reading Beginner’s Love by Norma Klein. I love telling that story to teenagers now.

    I nearly got suspended.

    For reading.

    And hilariously, about 13 years later as a baby editor reading unsoliciteds I got to knock back a novel written by the Vice Principal (then retired) about some very nice gels on horses who were clearly sexually repressed.

    Revenge through reading. Tastes like strawberries.

  16. >p.s. I am really not as unkind as I sound. I am often quite nice.

  17. >My picture book MERMADIS ON PARADE has men in miniskirts and bras, women in moustaches. My message is not to hit anyone over the head but to show real life. One thing about getting dressed up in costumes is that gender bending becomes normal. The GLBT community is aware of my book. Murray Hill said she would hawk it at her Bingo nights. She bought it for her five year old nephew. There may be Bingo coming up in Dumbo Brooklyn at Superfine next month. The Superfine crew march in my book. Check my blog, I will announce it.

  18. Andy Laties says:

    >Melanie, have you gotten any flak for the MERMAIDS book? The Mermaid Parade certainly seems like a highly unusual phenom in America: an “Adult-Oriented” event at which kids are welcome. (Did you try putting bare breasts into the parade pictures and then get these censored out by your editor? This seems like another taboo…. This happened to Barry Moser, in a picture book he was doing for National Geographic.)

    I wonder if the planned demolition of much of Coney Island’s amusement area (they’re putting up condominiums) means that some year soon the City will attack the morals at the mermaid parade and impose some regulation on costumes (or scantiness thereof).

    Last year I marched in the mermaid parade with King Nepture’s entourage (King Neptune was Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping). My partner Rebecca Migdal went as the Queen Of The Sea, but I was dressed as a condominium building (that is, I was marching inside a decorated cardboard box). As we condos paraded, mermaids made swooping attacks and threw fishnets over us, dragging us to the ground. It was so hot inside my condo-box I almost passed out. But what a blast! Questioning Authority SHOULD be fun.

    Anyway, I think it’s great that your book made it into print (surely against the odds!) and I hope it’s getting good distribution.

  19. Anonymous says:

    >Justine Larbalastier mentioned on her blog that she knew several people whose books had been controversial and that it hadn’t helped sales. They are all, I think, YA books. Maybe controversy sells pictures books better.

  20. >Hi Andy,

    I know Rebecca from the Children’s Book Illustrators Group back in the day when I was it’s president. I’ve even been to your home. Did we meet?

    I painted MERMAIDS ON PARADE as a carnival and not burlesque. I’ve had no flak from the boobs POV because there are none to be found. Kept it clean. I went for child-like vision because I think young people already have enough grown up stuff shoved on them so kept it simple, bright colors and shiny. I am not a lover of dark books or themes for elementary students. My book is about joy and delight.

    Check out my blog from my name link to see the community I hang out with. Coney Island culture is all over NYC and affects it’s artists. I know so many people who are invovled with Save Coney. However, I’ve decided to not get too invovled with the politics going on right now over there. It’s an neverending war. But I am always updating myself with all the Coney news and rooting for the carnies.

    Your costumes sound boss. I march with the Superfine Dinettes. We are troupe of women artists of various talents in the arts and performing arts,
    I am the only author-illustrator. These dinettes are not the stay in the kitchen types.

  21. Andy Laties says:

    >Hee-hee. Rebecca says Hi. Come visit in Amherst — I run the shop at Eric Carle Museum.

    Hey I thought of a great, transgressive but totally obvious bestselling baby book that has never been written and will never be published (at least in USA). The title is: “Nipples, Nipples, Nipples!” I envision the full Fox/Oxenbury multicultural treatment (Genichifo Yagyu’s title “Breasts” published in US by Kane-Miller unfortunately doesn’t really do this job.)

    Roger’s blog is a hothouse for trouble.

  22. Andy Laties says:

    >In the category of sit-up-and-take-notice transgressive body-part depiction, I think Sendak’s “In The Night Kitchen” is the sole place in American Children’s Literature for male anatomical explicitness.

    That was published in 1970. The world did not end. The subject’s depiction remains de-facto unacceptable.

  23. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yesterday, the little girl downstairs asked me “Are you older than my parents?”


    “Are you old enough to be dead soon?”

  24. >That’s so adorably humbling, ain’t it? Kids are great for ego and attitude adjustments.

    A seven year old said my art was just ok, he liked Renoir better. Tee hee.

  25. Anonymous says:

    >Roger, you could have given her nightmares with a vacant grin and the response: “I’m dead now.”

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