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Re: verso

SLJ has posted a picture I’ve been hankering to see: the full double-page-spread containing the infamous up-skirting image in The Ultimate Book of Space. It isn’t a great scan of the spread but it makes clear that the picture making the rounds on Twitter was incomplete: what was a pic of some robotic thing lifting the back of a skirt belong to a little black girl becomes a more complicated scenario involving another black girl apparently operating the remote control that controls the robot. It still might not be your idea of a joke, but it’s a different joke. I wish I had a copy of the book to see what happens when you turn the page.

While I’m not suggesting that questioning the appropriateness  of the image or the publisher’s provision of a cover-up patch are censorship (although a library applying that patch does recall to me Mickey’s underpants), I am reminded that public libraries generally require that anyone requesting a book be removed or restricted from the collection read the entire book before filing the complaint. (Just as we require of book reviewers.) Every picture, every page, in a book is in a context of every other picture and page in that book. Can we fairly evaluate a book on the basis of a single picture or word?

I understand that some would say yes, nothing can mitigate that first image of the little girl. But we don’t like it when the presence of the word fuck gets The Hate U Give removed from libraries, and we should be very careful of employing, when it suits our purpose, a tactic we otherwise deplore. Because that is only going to bite us in the ass.

 

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.

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  1. Therese Bigelow says:

    Thanks Roger for opening up the discussion.

  2. Can we request that you read the entire criticism before you blog about how incomplete it was?

    As Sarah Hamburg pointed out on your FB, you can see here that Debbie Reese included the entire spread and context in her twitter thread. https://twitter.com/debreese/status/949599468277596161 (I am leaving this here so that others reading your blog might have it for reference.)

  3. Olivier Latyk says:

    M. Roger Sutton is right. Allie Jane Bruce: I am sorry but I think your answer is incomplete.
    We agree Mrs. Debbie Reese posted the full double-page-spread 6th January 18.
    But the discussion started 27th December on Amazon.com -an unknown reader posted the cropped picture. Then, for ten days on Facebook+Twitter, people have made unpleasant comments, based on the cropped illustration, not the full spread. Among them, I guess very few had a copy of the book.

  4. Therese Bigelow says:

    Jumbled thoughts. I decided to read the Amazon listing, the product information and the reviews posted there. Was totally surprised that the book was publishd in this country in October 2016 and given a good review by SLJ and verified Amazon purchasers until the December 27th 2018 review. My jumbled thoughts are how the times we live in influence our thinking about something. Two years ago no one reacted to the two page spread in a ngative way. Two years later we have a “MeToo” Movement which I support and a national commentary about this book. I also checked to see how Kirkus reviewed it to see if they commentd on the illustration. There less than favorable review was about content with no mention of any offending illustration.

  5. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Yes, Therese–whenever we watch a book find itself overtaken by the present moment. I think of what Margaret Mahy wrote about the book staying the same while the reader and the world change around it. That doesn’t at all invalidate the present moment, so the question for librarians is whether they will remove the book from the collection, apply the patch provided by the publisher, or leave things as they are. The technology section of a children’s collection is usually the most frequently and ruthlessly weeded, and this book (sorry, Olivier!) might find itself dated due to events or discoveries not yet known.

    It’s true that Debbie and others did provide scans of the spread and broaden the discussion but that only happened, as Olivier notes, after about ten days of social media condemnation based on the single image.

  6. The sticker application by librarians is problematic for me. Withdrawing it from the collection based on the library’s selection policy is not. I noticed there are now a whole string of negative comments on the Amazon website by people who probably have not seen the book either.

  7. The parent who posted a criticism of the illustration included a photo of the both pages on January 5th. Mr. Latyk participated in that comment thread, so he knows this. I would link to that post and commentary here, but it’s on someone’s personal page, and more than that — it isn’t the point. My objection to Roger’s post isn’t what day who said what; it’s the familiar, tired rhetorical strategy of depicting criticisms from marginalized people as being fundamentally ill informed.

    Why start this post with a statement of relief that Roger could *finally* get the full picture from SLJ, when women (yes, women of color and Native women) had already discussed that full image and context? (And argued that the second page in no way changed their readings of what’s happening in the illustration?) Because, the narrative here, as in most “you have to read the whole book” arguments levied against people who have, in fact, read the whole book: what’s really being discussed is the supposedly limited point of view of women who see such images as objectionable. What if, instead, it is readers who saw nothing wrong with a picture book depicting someone (I don’t care who) lifting a young girl’s skirt without consent who are missing something? What if it is they who don’t have all the pieces of the picture? And what if women raising objections are, in fact, not only well informed, but fully aware of the ease with which their perspectives are dismissed as limited.

    As to the question of the current moment: if women’s objections to sexual harassment and discussions of consent seem new, this might be another indication you’ve been missing whole pages of the book. Women have been objecting to illustrations like that for as long as I’ve been alive. If it took this moment for others to hear them, or notice something wrong, that’s only because people have been actively leaving their perspectives out of the picture.

  8. I agree that lifting a girl’s skirt is reprehensible. I wouldn’t want my children to do that and I would chastise them if they did. But that doesn’t mean that such behavior shouldn’t appear in a children’s book. It doesn’t look like the author is advocating for lifting a girl’s skirt: he is merely presenting the action and leaving it to the reader to interpret. I don’t see anything wrong with the author’s choice and it’s difficult to understand why people are so upset about it. Would they want to go back to 19th century moralistic tales, in which the robot, or rather the other little girl who controls the robot, would be horribly punished for her action? Or are they asking for children’ books to never contain possibly controversial elements? And these are not meant as provocative questions. I’m just wondering what will become of children’s literature if we keep going down this path.

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