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Listen to kidlitwomen*

Speak“We should be starting [to talk with kids about sexual harassment] before we think it’s going to happen rather than after.”  —Corey Ann Haydu, from the kidlitwomen* podcast, episode #25

I love the kidlitwomen* podcast, and this week’s episodes (#24 On Writing, Sexual Harassment and Being an Example and #25 Conversation with Corey Ann Haydu) are timely, gut-wrenching, and galvanizing. What do they have to do with family reading? For me, a lot.

Last week, one of my best friends and I were talking about our reactions to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We both remembered watching Anita Hill testify before that same committee (and some of the very same senators) twenty-seven years earlier and were feeling despondent that seemingly nothing has changed in almost three decades.

My friend said that she and her fifteen-year-old son had been following the news and that her son “didn’t get it. He doesn’t understand why someone would not say something after an assault.” I’m pretty sure a lot of other teenagers don’t get it either. Nor do many thirty-/forty-/fifty-/etc.-year-olds, as I’ve heard them confess during interviews and in articles over the last couple of weeks. And just this week, a certain seventy-two-year-old put the bully in his bully pulpit (again) by cruelly and crudely making fun of Dr. Ford’s testimony.

Back to my friend and her teenage son. Her comment about his inability to understand why women (and I’ll add other non-white/-male/-hetero/-cis people) “don’t say something” stayed with me. I began a mental list of books to suggest to him and immediately thought of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. Elissa’s booklist, What would RBG, Sonia Sotomayor, and Laurie Halse Anderson do?, took care of some of the rest, featuring, among other titles, the graphic novel adaptation of Speak and ABDO’s Being Female in America nonfiction series.

And then on Monday, I listened to children’s book author and illustrator Grace Lin read fellow novelist Corey Ann Haydu’s essay for Bookriot, “On Writing, Sexual Harassment, and Being an Example,” originally published in 2017. As I listened to Corey’s account of being harassed by sixth-grade boys — as an adult! — after an author visit, I knew my friend had to listen to the episode. I texted her a link without any commentary (except to say, “It’s only 10 minutes”).

Later that day, she texted back: “Wow. I’m crying. Michael [not his real name] and his friends used to make prank phone calls. Am I crazy to have him listen to this??”

I encouraged her to share it with him, and, as I learned in episode #25 (in which Grace and Corey discuss her essay and how to help kids “get it”) Corey says the same thing. Kids of all genders should listen to the podcast and/or read the article. Corey’s conclusion is a call to action: “We should be starting before we think it’s going to happen rather than after.”

Michael did listen, and my friend reported that he “still didn’t understand.” But I count this as a win. He listened. That’s the first step to understanding.
Kitty Flynn

Kitty Flynn is reviews editor for The Horn Book, Inc.

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