Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Last in the American League

The Yankees are at the bottom of their division. In fact, right now they have the worst record in baseball. We could even call them the cellar-dwelling Phillies Yankees, but we're not that sadistic.

Of course, the Phillies lost today. But the A's, my West Coast team, won -- and I'm off to see their home opener on Monday.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The Censored Fairy Tale

From the Publishers Weekly daily newsletter:

King & King, a 2002 picture book in which a prince rejects a series of princesses and marries another handsome prince, has aroused an angry challenge in Wilmington, N.C., and brought a mixture of scorn and kudos upon the book's publisher, Tricycle Press.

After first-grader Olivia Hartsell brought the book home on March 1, her parents Michael and Tonya Hartsell complained to administrators at Rachel Freeman Elementary School. The Hartsells objected to the book's acknowledgement of homosexuality and also of divorce ("When I was your age, I'd been married twice already," the prince's mother tells him, in encouraging him to find a mate). The Hartsells have since threatened to enroll their daughter in a different school and refused to return the book to the Freeman school library, for fear some other child might check it out. The book's due date is March 30.

Further, the Hartsells contacted the national media and received coverage through AP, CNN and ABC. Tricycle Press publisher Nicole Geiger arrived at work yesterday to find a deluge of messages. "There's a lot of vitriol in this country right now, and hate mail is very much outnumbering the letters of support," Geiger says. "But I wouldn't say we've been directly threatened, and many wonderful organizations have come to our defense."

Tricycle has received support from the Lambda Literary Foundation, along with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "The book is there as information for kids who are curious about the subject," says ABFFE president Chris Finan. "It's First Amendment-protected, and they can't go pulling books out of the school library just because some parents are offended by the material."

Beverly Becker, associate director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, concurs, saying, "Libraries are there to serve the entire community. It's important that they have books that address the issues of the day. The very reason this book is getting so much interest is that it addresses an issue that's important right now. To me that argues as to why it belongs in the library--it's in the public debate, and kids are part of that wider world too."

King & King's Dutch authors, Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, originally wrote the book in 2000, and Geiger acquired the title after seeing it at the Bologna Book Fair. The authors have been in touch with Geiger, and have issued a brief statement on the current controversy: "King & King was just a spontaneous idea, a funny and happy story. We wanted to make a modern fairy tale. Apparently the world still needs a book like this. Our first reaction: we laughed. It's too bizarre to be true. Second reaction: It's sad that this discussion is still needed."

De Haan and Nijland's sequel to King & King, titled King & King & Family, describes the couple's honeymoon and their adoption of a daughter. While the official publication date is May, Geiger says the book currently is shipping. After its initial modest print run of 6,000, King & King has gone back to press and will be available again soon.

At present, the Hartsells have yet to file a formal complaint with the school, so the book challenge is pending. According to Freeman Elementary School policy, "If the challenged material has been checked out from the school by the complainant, the material must be returned to the school before the appeal will be considered." Linda Riesz, media support specialist for Hanover County schools, says, "We've known about the concern since March 1, but the parents have yet to file an objection, and they won't return the book--it's the only copy." Barbara Hawley, librarian and media coordinator at Freeman,
cannot address the issue unless the family follows this procedure. "Our stand is, that at this point in time, we have received an unofficial complaint," Hawley says. "The process does not begin until they file the paperwork. That's why we're not commenting yet on the book." She notes that this is the first challenge to a book at Freeman Elementary since she started working there in 1993.

Riesz and Hawley, who argue their support of intellectual freedom and librarians' ethics, point out the diversity of their community and the potential need for a book like King & King. "This is a large library," Riesz explains. "We have 20,000 volumes, seven languages spoken here." Hawley adds, "In our library, we have books about abuse, about divorce, about visiting parents in prison, on living with neighborhood violence, and we have books with this topic [homosexuality], and the reality is we have students living in all these situations. Our demographics are very diverse."--Nathalie op de Beeck

Thanks to Debbie Notkin for the information.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Morning Thought

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
-- Rumi, tr. Coleman Barks

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Yes, There Is Justice in the World

He'll never again park next to a fire hydrant.