Subscribe to The Horn Book

>She likes us! She really likes us! (She, on the other hand . . .)

>(I guess we will see if that reference is as lost as Joan Rivers’ joke about Elizabeth Taylor and the microwave.) Jules has a nice review of A Family of Readers over at 7-Imp.

In other blog news there was a Twitter-tempest last night over a blogger’s review of Laurel Snyder’s completely amiable middle-grade novel Penny Dreadful. Book blogger Noël De Vries was loving the book until she came to a reference to lesbian moms which implied they were “normal.” De Vries wrote “The only problem is, being a lesbian is not normal. It’s not something that “just happens” to people, like being poor or brave. In fact, when you look through Biblical glasses, homosexuality is, well, an abomination.”

Ohhhh-kay. I suppose if you are looking at at homosexuality from a Biblical perspective (albeit a very particular fundamentalist one), De Vries’ assertion makes its own kind of sense, but she then veers into a decidedly irrational corollary: “Characters like Willa and Jenny [the moms] with their happy little family, show elementary-age readers that Christian beliefs are hateful and silly. Add these characters to the full-blown assault of politically-correct propaganda that is molding America’s children.” So if an author depicts characters whose behavior you label abhorrent, then he or she is making you out as the hateful one? Note to Noēl: not everything is about you, dear.

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. Sarah Laurenson says:


    Thanks for this one. That's a perfect answer.

    I found this op-ed on CNN an interesting response to the abomination argument.

  2. KT Horning says:

    >The blogger in question is a 17-year-old girl who is "working on her second novel." Maybe she should go outside an play more often, and meet some of the neighbor kids.

  3. >Oooh, well done. Well said.

    Lindsey Lane

  4. >I wonder what a child like this thinks when she reads books about Nazi Germany. (Read her later comments about Jews and Muslims.)

    As others have said, so glad books like this are around for children like her to read. So glad her parents aren't controlling her reading. There are other parents who are.

  5. E.M. Kokie says:

    >Roger, I appreciated your comments on the 17-year-old's blog – and I think I had sort of the same reaction. (I kept hearing Dar William's song "Teen for God" in my head, and wondered if this young woman will feel the same way in 2 or 3 years).

    But, I have to admit, the post felt very bait-like to me – as in, let's see if they'll take the bait. And I worry we give her a bigger platform by linking to her posts.

    Seems to me the best way to handle it is for people who don't agree to stop reading her blog, and to let her know that's why, and for authors she contacts for interviews to likewise explain they don't feel comfortable being associated with such a blog.

    I'm starting to think that how we deal with things like this and fringe voices asking for bannings, etc., actually encourages it – our reaction gives them a bigger stage than they can achieve on their own. So, maybe we should start handling it like streakers at sporting events – consequences, yes, but not attention, not posts and links that drive up the web traffic and create a sensation or martyr out of them.

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >I dunno, E.M.–some kind of shunning campaign seems to buy into her worldview in a way that I don't. I also think she could have constructed a sparky kind of post had she taken on the topic of authors inserting what sometimes seem to be gratuitous ads for their pet causes (or favorite books; this happens frequently) in ways that I think pull the reader away from the story. I read the Snyder a while ago and don't remember if I felt this way or not, but sometimes it seems like a character is eating tofu not because that's what the character would do but because that's what the author would have us do. I think De Vries may have started with this thought but built it into an argument she couldn't sustain.

  7. >I agree with EMK. Let people know they will be heard, and they'll pick up their voices. I'm sure this girl will her blog hits as vindication of something.

    However, if it brings attention to Laurel's lovely book, she's done good work.

  8. E.M. Kokie says:

    >I'd agree that *if* her post had been about the inclusion of a same sex couple (or tofu, or animal rescue, or Wuthering Heights, or whatever) felt forced, or out of character – and had *not* included the vitriolic abomination arguments – then it might have been a totally different issue. But I'm finding it hard to believe the discussion wouldn't have quickly become how can reality ever feel "forced."

    But I think in this instance you give her far too much credit with wondering if she started from a place of "this feels forced/propogandish" for this character, this book. The reaction as described in her post seemed pretty elemental and morally-motivated – and her position left no room for a same sex couple being appropriate in any way in a book for that target age range. There's no way to go from that position to discussing whether it felt forced in this specific book, as opposed to another.

    And I have to say, I'm not sure there should be any kind of "shunning" – I'm just suggesting that for those who feel outraged-to-action, that action shouldn't shine a spotlight, as the spotlight may actually motivate others to similar vitriol.

  9. >I like your thoughts about the poor girl just painting herself into a corner, Roger, because it means she isn't as horrible as she sounds in her review and its ensuing comments. But it's hard to come to that conclusion. Most of her diatribe is that such positive portrayals of gays/Muslims/whatever exist at all, brainwashing children into thinking that bigotry is hateful and silly. That such efforts are furthermore ham-fisted is a digression.

  10. Lindsey C says:

    >I'm just disappointed because my bible didn't come with a special pair of glasses. 🙁
    Maybe I bought the wrong one?

  11. >Lindsey, you have to get the special 3D pop-up edition.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >Or the one illustrated by R. Crumb

  13. Anonymous says:

    >I put on my special Bible glasses to read the kid's blog and I found her post actually said: "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child." Proverbs 22:15

  14. >Man, I'm naive. When did the All Clear sound for coming out of the Bigot Closet?

    I've been wondering about this not only because of the recent spotlight on bullying, but because I'm a cashier at a college cafeteria, and over the past few days I've heard young men make anti-Semitic remarks. They were surprised when I said that I was offended. They're perfectly comfortable being openly bigoted.

    Politicians and others in public have shifted from, "Well, I love the sinner but hate the sin" to "Oh yes, lesbians and gays are sick and immoral and I want them all to convert, or die and burn in Hell," so do young people now believe that it's safe, perhaps even desireable, to not hide hatred? That hatred itself is in fashion?

    As a writer, I find myself tempted to self-censor. It's a weak temptation, but the fact that it's there at all disturbs me.

    I haven't gone to the girl's blog to read what she's written, because it's Friday, tomorrow I'm going on a very nice road trip, and I don't want my mood any more bummed that it already is.

  15. Anonymous says:

    >For those of you who don't want to visit the blog in question, here are some samples of her bigotry:

    As Snyder writes on her blog, "if more books represented diversity this way, simply, without it being a big issue all the time, more kids would understand that it isn‘t always a big issue. I’d like to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people about how varied human experience is, and about how all of it, all of it, is normal." (emphasis mine)

    The only problem is, being a lesbian is not normal. It's not something that "just happens" to people, like being poor or brave. In fact, when you look through Biblical glasses, homosexuality is, well, an abomination.

    Characters like Willa and Jenny, however, with their happy little family, show elementary-age readers that Christian beliefs are hateful and silly. Add these characters to the full-blown assault of politically-correct propaganda that is molding America's children.

    And defending her position in one of her responses to her readers, she goes on to say:

    In children’s literature of the past five years, there have not been a large number of nonchalant references to Muslim or Jewish families, just as nonchalant references to homosexuality have only recently begun to crop up, in novels like Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor and Keeper by Kathi Appelt. The concern in my response is for the growing trend of repeated, positive exposure to these groups in children’s books, and yes, sweetly-portrayed Muslim families would garner the same response from me because such work would also train children to dismiss Christian objections to Islam as silly and hateful. Both homosexuals and Muslims are publicly visible groups, as you said, who openly deny the Christian God and his word by the way they live. Jewish families, at least, acknowledge the God of the Bible for who he is.

    And a few posts earlier, she had a similar problem with Kathy Appelt's new novel which she loved until it turned all gay on her:

    I wanted to adore Keeper, wanted so badly to thrust the small blue book into the arms of waiting patrons. This would have been a year-end favorite, if not for a lovely old man, gentle and caring, “not her real grandfather, but … might as well have been,” who was once an adventurous boy sailing the seven seas. And who was once the lover of another boy. Their lost love is painted regretfully, as a beautiful, beautiful memory, glimmering with moonlight and roses and the intoxicating smell of night-blooming cyrus. Like Anne Shirley’s liniment-flavored cake, this sub-plot soured Appelt’s wonderful story.

    Now look. I am not against gay characters. They exist in real life, they have a place in fiction. But when the reading level is 5.0, and the tale ends with two old men, sitting side by side in the warmth of the sun, holding hands, “like they did so long ago…” I can’t adore the story. No matter how perfect an ending, I just can’t do it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    >You know what? When I read sentences like, "Their lost love is painted regretfully, as a beautiful, beautiful memory, glimmering with moonlight and roses and the intoxicating smell of night-blooming cyrus. Like Anne Shirley’s liniment-flavored cake, this sub-plot soured Appelt’s wonderful story" or hear her talk about 5.0 reading levels or wanting "so badly to thrust the small blue book into the arms of waiting patrons, " I doubt very much that this blogger is actually seventeen years old….


  17. Anonymous says:

    >Ack! I could have sworn I read that she was only seventeen. But further research reveals she's not a teenager, she's a library. Sorry for posting incorrect info here. As Emily Litella used to say, "Never mind."


  18. Anonymous says:

    >I bet she wears biblical glasses when looking at dinosaur books too.

  19. KT Horning says:

    >Her bio says "I'm a girl, pecking out my second novel…" and the photo is of a teenage girl. The bits quoted above sound like a smart, well-read teen who writes fan fiction.

    But if this is the blog of a librarian, eww.

  20. Library Mermaid says:

    >I was raised by people like that – trust me, it was interesting – and all I can think is to tell a story I am quite fond of…a young man died and went up to Heaven where an angel led him through the pearly gates – he was amazed by what he saw – lions and lambs dozing together, people of all ages and races and faiths sitting and walking and talking and laughing in the beautiful fields of golden flowers – it was such a loving peaceful scene and it made him so happy. He was curious about the tall wall however that ran along one side of the field and asked his angel companion what it was for. "Oh, we want everyone to be happy in Heaven," said the angel, "that wall is for the over the top Christians so they won't see anyone since they are only happy if they think they are the only ones who got in".
    (I had to change up the joke a little bit – add the over the top – since there are many Christians who do not harbor such beliefs).

  21. >KT, I've looked through her blog and best as I can figure, she works in a library and has neither MLS nor a college degree.

    The blogger has the right to her opinions. I have the right to disagree. The more she says about her POV (such as her feelings on Muslims and Jews) the more I know whether or not her blog is something I want to read. Honestly, if I had a family in front of me and they were speaking like this blogger does? I'd use her blog to recommend books to them.

    What bothers me is not so much that she doesn't like the inclusion of the same sex couple, or that it's not "normal", etc. Frankly, neither of those views are new or shocking to read.

    What does bother me is that she writes as if she is writing for all Christians, and then the twisty logic she uses to make herself (and her fellow believers) the victims. PENNY DREADFUL is now, somehow, about saying Christians are wrong.

    And *that* scares me. The insistence that someone disagreeing with her is by itself a threat and an assault.

    Well, that and someone who has been so clearly molded to view things Only One Way getting scared that others may do the same…but in way that isn't hers.

  22. >Roger, when I started reading the De Vries post I thought she was going there, also: that the family was a gratuitous insertion. Which I think is an interesting argument. But it's not what De Vries did at all. You (and I!) give her too much credit.

    In rereading it (more than I should, as I try to understand her POV) she was not setting up the insertion argument and then veering to Biblical offense. She was setting up not an argument that "Snyder inserted a lesbian family" but that "Snyder inserted a lesbian family as something normal", and the quotes are to point towards Snyder deliberately making that family "normal" when, of course, "being a lesbian is not normal."

  23. >Hi, everyone~

    I've stayed away from posting here or on Never Jam Today. I didn't want to get too tangled up in the thread. Needed time to think. But I've now responded on my own blog, and I included a response to the "gratuitous" issue. In case anyone is interested.

    Thanks for all your thoughts. Though of course it really isn't "my" issue, or Penny Dreadful's. It belongs to all of us, this conversation.


  24. Jennifer (An Abundance of Books) says:

    >She's not stated her age, her book is simply set in the 17th century. I'm assuming she's older than 17 as she states she is a part time librarian (I find that interesting) and part time music teacher.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind