We’re almost four months into 2014!
What are some of your favorite books of 2014 so far?
And what are some of the books you’re looking forward to?
Here’s the scenario:
Something has happened. A library (public or school) is destroyed or damaged, by fire, flood, wind, locust.
“I know,” says a well-meaning person. “Let’s have a book drive!”
And the books are gathered and sent to the library, so the kids have something. And the people who sent the books — whether they are ones that they owned and donated, or bought at the local bookstore just for the drive — are happy at their contribution.
I’m here to share why the well-meaning book drive is a bad idea.
What I suggest, instead, is taking those good intentions, contacting someone at the library, and asking them what they need and working with them to meet that need. Here’s one prediction: yes, there is a need. But the need is better met by doing something fund raising (having a book sale with all those donations) and sending the library money. Or, they may create a wish list with a vendor so that people can select particular items that are needed.
Generosity is a wonderful, appreciated thing. But in the event of a disasters, what matters is not what someone wants to send, but what the community wants and needs. Community and library involvement in that planned charity must be considered from step one. Ideally, charity is for the benefit of the recipient, not for the giver. What does the library want? How will they manage the donations?
If a library and it’s community is in a time of crisis, the last thing they need is a ton of books left at their doorstep.
Why? Here’s my list of what the library will need to do with your donations. All these things involve money and staff time, money and time that is now being taken away from other things. Also, planning for such things, which cycles back to staff time.
Storage. If the building is destroyed, there is no place for those books to go. Storage has to be obtained, which costs money. Especially when how something is stored matters. For books, for example, temperature and humidity matter to prevent mold.
Sorting. The donations have to be sorted, which takes time. Even if this is delegated to volunteers, those volunteers need some initial guidance. What to sort for? If the book is outdated. If the book is in bad condition. If the book is appropriate for the intended library. (The number of clearly adult titles that wind up in donations to a school library, for instance. Stephen King may indeed be right for that middle school; Fifty Shades, not so much.) Sorting matters, because why store something you’re not going to be able to use?
Disposal. Those books in poor condition, or that aren’t a fit for the library, have to go somewhere.
Processing. Let’s keep in mind, at this point, that if the library is gone, it means all the materials used to process books are also gone. Unless some type of cloud storage was being used, that includes any OPAC records and databases.
Here is what has to be done for each donated book that will be added to the library collection. Whether paperback or hardcover, a book jacket for the protection of the book — so it last longer — needs to be added. The book needs to be stamped with the name of the library. Spine labels need to be added, which actually requires cataloging. So the book now has to be cataloged, and if the old records are lost, that is original cataloging for each book instead of just adjusting the number of copies owned. And, a barcode has to be added.
Here’s a library secret: many libraries purchase books with all this already done. The book is ordered already processed, it’s taken out of the box, barcode scanned; the catalog records are uploaded to the OPAC. It’s usually not that big a cost, and a huge savings in time and materials for the librarian.
Collection Development. Restoring and recreating a library isn’t an easy process. Fiction, non-fiction, reference, all have to be considered. The right mix includes things that are popular, things that are literary, various genres, entertainment and information. It’s about all the people who will be using the collection, and must reflect the community (both the local community and the broader world.) There are ways to make it easier, especially starting from scratch. What may make it harder? Working around donations which may be heavily slanted towards new popular titles, with many duplicates of some books and none of others.
I am NOT saying that, when one hears about a library that has lost it’s collection, to do nothing.
I am saying: reach out to the library and LISTEN. They will know what the library needs, rather than what you want to give. They will also know what is needed short-term versus long-term; and what insurance will (and won’t) cover.
So, here’s my questions for you!
Have I left any steps out of what happens with unsolicited donated books?
What suggestions do you have for people who want to help?
Entertainment Weekly is one of my favorite magazines, so I was very excited to see this in the April 11, 2014 edition:
Kid Lit’s Primary Color: White by Nina Terrero, illustration by David Schwen.
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a Skype visit with a class and the conversation turned to diversity and children’s literature and what can be done; and one thing that we touched on was how often the conversations we have are with each other, and that can be a problem. That articles and attention need to be in places with a broader reach. So, when I saw this article in EW I was quite excited!
But how is the article?
Pretty darn good.
– an interview with a parent, talking of the personal challenge of finding books for her children.
– statistics, showing how few feature main characters who aren’t white.
– interviews with various people from publishing houses.
– interviews with authors.
– the ongoing efforts to have books that reflect the demographics of our country.
It’s a two page article, which is pretty darn good coverage.
My only complaint is what isn’t included — and that is titles.
Here is a terrific article being read by many people who are being introduced to the lack of diversity in children’s and teen books for the first time. Some EW readers will be nodding in agreement, others will be realizing it for the first time.
I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic when I think, many of those readers will be wanting to know titles. Yes, there aren’t enough books being published, but one of the “reasons” quoted in the article is a belief that books with nonwhite characters don’t sell.
There is also, I believe, difficulty in finding the books that are being published. The parent in the article says “Flat Stanley could be Asian or Latino” and part of me wanted to answer, “but there is Alvin Ho and Delphine Gaither.”
I firmly believe in pushing for more books, but also in talking about the books that are already there. And the EW article doesn’t do that — it doesn’t include a book list of recent titles for parents, to give them a starting point when they go into their local bookstores.
To continue my optimism: one of the reasons I like EW is that it always includes books. And it also frequently includes YA books. While there is no list with the article, I’m hoping that going forward EW will be including more books with nonwhite characters in its reviews.
And now, the various essays about Harriet the Spy included in the 50th Anniversary Edition!
These essays are much more for the adult reader, but that is OK. Again, I’m not recapping the essay, just jotting down my reactions.
Read Harriet as an adult, and notes how the kids in here are real because they have secrets and are curious. “Real” makes me also think of how Harriet is real in that she’s, well, not “nice”. She’s not the perfect little girl.
Notes how kids today are doing what Harriet did, just on the Internet. The lesson that words can hurt is valuable. But words can also heals. And damn, we all need an Ole Golly. And if this isn’t a reminder that kids are doing what kids have always done, the tech changes but the kids don’t!
Oh! He knew/lived in this neighborhood! Notes Harriet is “what a young woman could become.” I’d note: could become something other than what everyone expects.
Patricia Reilly Giff
Reading it to a 4th grade of remedial students — and how much it mattered to them to hear about a strong female character who is tough and honest. “Honest” — and I’m thinking how important this is to kids, to know they can be honest with themselves, and now I’m wondering about what happens when a kid isn’t honest. And how Harriet’s problems escalated when she didn’t have a place to be honest.
Harriet made keeping a journal fun. She says “I’m amazed that I connected with Harriet at all” and I want to shout ME TOO. As Look says, “as a third grader, I saw none of our differences.” “All I saw then was a girl with a notebook.”
And I’d add, because Harriet has many people who love her who aren’t now writers even if they did carry a notebook around and spy for a while after reading it — it wasn’t just seeing that girl with a notebook. It was seeing a girl whose thoughts and emotions were real and unvarnished and honest.
Ah, someone who never read it until now! More aware of her than knowing!
“Harriet was honest, which is not the same as mean.” As a kid, I’d agree with him. And with it being part of a journal not intended to be shared, I’d agree. But. But. But. After? Harriet DOES cross over to mean. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s understandable. And, well, it is mean, to trip someone or cut their hair off or hide a frog in their desk.
And — well, I think it diminishes Harriet, a bit, to not acknowledge that meanness.
Leonard S. Marcus
Let me just enjoy the historical story of Harriet getting published and wishing there was more.
And pointing out that kids aren’t always likeable and can be brats and that’s OK. (Dare I say — that’s honest.) Harriet isn’t a “hero” and that’s the point. “The truth can be more comforting than fantasy.” And the truth of who Harriet is… yes. That matters more than notebooks.Pat Scles
Role models! Feminists! Harriet knowing what she wants and going for it. She “gives girls permission to feel sad and lonely.” And, I’d add, to feel angry. Or mean. Or violent. Or betrayed. Or any of those other messy emotions that Harriet feels.
And that while Harriet learns lessons: she remains herself.
A look at what it means to review! And not to assume that what you dislike is what others will dislike. Given the reviews of Harriet that harp on role models, etc., some wise stuff here.
Looks at the difference between memory of childhood reading and actuality. “a book about loneliness.” YES. I didn’t see that then. I do now. And I see how that loneliness drives so many things, even before Ole Golly leaves.
And journals and honesty. A place to be honest.
Oh, the first to have had a Ole Golly! And Harriet giving us dreams of boldness!
It’s not included here, but I’d like to add one of my favorite essays about a child’s book:
On Spies and Purple Socks and Such by Kathleen T. Horning, The Horn Book, Jan/Feb 2005 — I love this because it teaches me the different ways a book can have meaning, the different comforts it can give. And the different ways a text can be read. And, honestly, as someone who read this in the 70s, (a golden age, now, of kids just dressing in clothes that were for kids) I didn’t get that Harriet’s dressing as she did meant something. I didn’t know. I picked up on her mother not wanting her to wear ripped jeans, but I didn’t realize that the act of wearing jeans and sneakers was in itself significant. Horning’s essay helped me not just see how it mattered for Harriet, but is a reminder to me to always think about the context of a book for the time it was written. What would the reader of the time know that we don’t? What would they recognize that we don’t?
Of course, there are more important things in Horning’s essay. If you haven’t read it yet, I’m a bit jealous of you reading if for the first time.
And now… the final chapters of Harriet the Spy!
Back in her spy route! Which, shows both Harriet back on her route but also gives the reader some resolution.
(also just in general, I kind of like how often Harriet is home from school, home sick — that her parents let her. that she reacts physically, if not intentionally emotionally.)
Harrison and his one cat: as a kid, I read this and thought, how sweet, he has a cat, and I believed that it was his happy ending: one cat. one man. But, now as an adult — I think it’s one cat NOW but let’s check back in with him in a few months, it’ll by kitty heaven once again.
And finally Harriet wants to go to school!
The club — now that they no longer against Harriet, now that the initial anger at Harriet has passed — is beginning to fall apart. Their own differences are coming to light.
A letter from Ole Golly! Why did I remember this as an actual visit?!? And I love that Ole Golly says a writer does more than take notes. They write stories.
I also love how Ole Golly gives her advice as if she has no idea what has happened, when she totally has — and totally has written because Harriet’s parents asked her to write — and again, this goes over Harriet’s head. And Ole Golly gives terrific advice: Apologize. Lie.
And this is part of growing up: “little lies that make people feel better are not bad.” Because also turn this around: Harriet wants those little lies, from others, even if she doesn’t realize it. Yet. But how she reacted when they were all being “honest” to her after the notebook incident? Yeah. Little lies.
“Remember that writing is to put love in the world, not to use against your friends.”
WOW. WOW, Ole Golly — because she also acts a deeper question, here. How much of what she was writing, even in privacy, was against them? For whatever reasons? Or is Ole Golly just talking about post-discovery notes?
“But to yourself, always be true.” yes. yes. yes. Wear the mask you have to, for the world, to make people feel better, to put love out in the world, to not use as weapons — but still, always, know yourself and be true.
And here is Ole Golly illustrating the truth of all this: “I’m not missing you.”
(OK, in looking for things that may confuse today’s reader –the typewriter.)
And Harriet is now editor of her page for the school paper, and this is where the non-helicoptering parenting shows its strength. In that they recognized the problem as Harriet needing an outlet for her writing. And now figure that out. They give Harriet the space and room to grow, to work it out herself, rather than hovering and controlling.
Oh! Class voting and this goes through, but is it a thaw to Harriet? A bit of a desire to see what she’ll write? Votes for Beth Ellen? Or against Marion and Rachel?
(And I just realized that Harriet got away with all her listed revenge things. Which is great because in real life? Things go unpunished.)
Harriet is smart enough to write about other people!
It’s always different when the target is other people!
…. and I just realized Harriet is a troll.
And now the Welsch parents are talking about their friends, and I look at Harriet, and for all her uniqueness, man, was she just doing a version of what her mother does? Mrs. Welsch talks about her friends, Harriet writes it down?
Also, I’m amused that the Welsch family friends are the parents of Harriet’s friends.
And after writing some positive things, Harriet REPEATS THE THINGS HER PARENTS SAID. Ha ha ha ha. At least it’s not about the kids, right? (And is Carrie’s mom, married to the doctor, fooling around with Laura’s dad?!? So Mad Men of them!)
Since Harriet writes about her own dad — I guess it lessens people being mad at her.
The Spy Catcher club collapses, with a little push from Harriet.
And… “I have a nice life.” And — isn’t this what we all want? And hasn’t Harriet gone through a lot to not just get to this point, but recognize that about her life? To recognize it’s true, even without Ole Golly?
A retraction! So smart! And most importantly: she did it herself. This was Harriet’s choice — yes, Ole Golly told her to apologize and lie; but Harriet figured out the way to do that, to communicate that, to her classmates in a way they’d listen. Harriet did that: ensuring she’d continue the nice life she wanted, with the friends she wants, and, well, without the enemies.
And loving again the skipping school to avoid embarrassment. And that her parents allow that. Because, to me, that is kind parenting.
“the world was beautiful, would always be, would always sing, could hold no disappointments” and I just love this — love —
And there is that, her world, and Sport and Janie, and — “I can get some real work done.”
And Harriet has grown, grown more into herself, but not changed. She is true to herself.
And now, reading Book Two of Harriet the Spy!
Book Two, AKA Life Without Ole Golly.
Harriet’s father is named Harry, which explains her own name, but isn’t it weird that it’s also the name of Janie’s dad?
Harriet is the onion! With improvised dances! What kind of school is this?
More caustic thoughts about people. And some great descriptions! Miss Berry “looked as though she had just come up out of a subway and didn’t know east from west.”
Spying, wanting to share with Ole Golly, and can’t.
And here, the only thing I really have an issue with for this book: the Italian family is too over the top, too much of a stereotype. Even knowing it’s Harriet’s limited, prejudiced viewpoint, it’s a bit much.
Withers lost his cats! He’s alone!
I’ll give Harriet this. She at least is trying to be an onion.
Oh, the family has a nameless maid to go with the nameless cook.
Love the family bonding and laughing over being an onion! Would this have been possible if Ole golly was there? But then Harriet leaves them, leaves the moment, to write it down. And it’s awkward.
And Harriet — she’s out of sorts, and can’t figure out why. Not realizing how to process Ole Golly’s loss, and not having her, and, well, also getting older.
Oh, Harriet. Talking about Mrs. Plumber: “Some people just don’t think things out.” Could be talking about herself.
HARRIET IS DISCOVERED. I thought this was later in the book! What a kick in the teeth after Ole Golly’s loss!
Wait, Nadine winks at Harriet. Did Nadine know Harriet was in there? Has Nadine known the whole time?
Well, how could Harriet have been walking around in that outfit for years and people not know?
And Harriet takes out grumpiness on others.
It’s time for tag and again, I thought this happened later in the book!
Harriet keeps getting knocked down — Ole Golly, discovered in her spy route, and now this.
And I missed that it’s Janie, her friend Janie, going through it and reading it.
“and suddenly Harriet M. Welsch was afraid. [Her classmates] just looked and looked, and their eyes were the meanest eyes she had ever seen.”
ARGH. Her private notebooks! Exposed! Made public.
And it’s all the worse that her private thoughts are, well, so honest. Which is hurtful to those they are about.
So Harriet gets a new notebook. And starts writing again, in front of them. She’s like a notebook addict.
The revenge of the classmates starts. And once again we see how ordinary Harriet actually is — how her spying hasn’t really taught her any human insights or additional awareness — because the poor thing doesn’t realize the notes she intercepts are MEANT to be read by her.
And everybody hates her. And she just wants her cake.
Oh, Harriet. One minute, you’re the best spy ever. The next, you don’t realize that your doctor is also your classmate’s father.
And now Harriet is spying on her friends. They’re building a clubhouse, united — and still, she doesn’t quite realize they are bonding against her. Talking about her.
And I forgot she wrote an anonymous note that would obviously be from her.
The ink spill! In 1964, they had bottles of ink?
I love that the teachers don’t realize what is going on. And the parents, they don’t either — even though the doctor knew a bit about it. Yet they are so uninvolved.
“The Spy Catcher Club.” Well, they’re honest.
So Harriet…. writes more. I feel both terrible for Harriet, yet at the same time, frustrated that she doesn’t see her role in what happened and is happening. It’s like it’s being done to her, for no good reason.
And now the notebook is interfering with school.
I’m not sure, but I think her observations about others may be getting worse? Meaner? More critical?
And wondering how all readers are, in a way, Harriets. Observing others in stories, judging.
Harriet is ignoring all school work, getting further and further into her own head, away from the world.
Harriet obviously has feelings about all this. Is hurt. But she really doesn’t seem to get her role in this; that she wrote hurtful things and people will react accordingly. But then, she is eleven. A child. Who is still the center of the universe, not quite convinced that others exist outside of how she wants them to exist for her.
So her mother takes the notebook, because she’s not doing her schoolwork, and while the child me hater her mother for this the adult me totally understands and thinks, hey, it’s just while she’s at school.
And now that Harriet doesn’t have a notebook as an outlet, her feelings and emotions have to go somewhere. I know that often Harriet is seen as a writer, but, well, here it seems as if it’s something else.
That Harriet is a bundle of emotions, including anger and fear and loneliness and want, and the notebook was her safe outlet. Without it, now, those feelings have to go somewhere, be acted on somehow.
So she trips Pinky and is HAPPY about it.
I love Harriet, for having these emotions and owning it and not being ashamed. Because just as her notebook was her outlet for intense emotions, reading this can be an outlet for those kids having those feelings.
And… wow. She causes a lot of chaos. And makes a list to do even more.
What is the matter with Harriet? It’s got to be more than Ole Golly being gone. That’s part of it…. but it’s also just, well, being human and growing up and not being perfect, but a messy mix of emotions.
And she escapes into sleep.
I guess the throwing the shoe meant her parents had to pay attention, because now she visits a doctor who is clearly a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Poor Harriet: she is reaching out, doesn’t know how, visits Janie and Sport. But she can’t just restart a friendship.
And next: Book Three!
And now, my Harriet the Spy reread!
Today, it’s Book One. I’m going through chapter by chapter, doing my reactions. So, yes, this will make little sense to anyone who hasn’t read Harriet.
Tomorrow will be Book Two; Wednesday, Book Three; Thursday, the Tributes; and Friday, my review.
Oh, there’s a map! And this was published in 1964? Two years before I was born? I read this in the 70s, and it seemed current then. I wonder how it’ll hold up?
I forgot about playing Town!!!
And Harriet has a house with a courtyard and a tree? And her father “works in television”? And Sport’s father is a writer. I love how Fitzhugh is revealing so much in these few paragraphs.
And wow, Harriet is bossy! “In this town, everybody goes to bed at nine-thirty.” Love the combo of Harriet in charge, Sport doesn’t have a chance, and Harriet truly believing she knows it all.
And also Harriet revealing some things about those around her. The writer based on Sport’s dad? Is in the bar.
And Ole Golly! Harriet’s nurse! And a cook! Who never gets a name! (A nameless servant/staff member/employee would never happen in a book today.)
Notebooks, her route: the Dei Santi family, Robinsons, Harrison Withers, Mrs. Plumber.
“I don’t think I’d like to live where any of these people live or do the things they do.” I just adore Harriet. Her attitude. And I’d also forgotten she has no middle name, she gives herself the “M” in “Harriet M. Welsch.”
The trip to Ole Golly’s mother, and I thought, for sure, this happened later on in the story. But what a way to show us Ole Golly and Harriet and Sport.
And school starts. “I want to know everything, everything, everything in the world, everything, everything. I will be a spy and know everything.” I love Harriet. Her confidence. Her thirst.
And of course the tomato sandwiches! And Harriet wanting her mother to remind her to drink the milk, because it made her feel comfortable.
OK, now we are at Harriet’s sixth grade class in a private school: Harriet, Janie, Sport, Pinky Whitehead (is he related to Mrs Whitehead, the Dean?), Beth Ellen, Rachel, Marion, Carrie, Laura, the Boy in the Purple Socks. That’s just ten. That’s small. Which means that Harriet’s and her two friends are a third of the class, roughly speaking: not so isolated, or not-popular, as I remember.
At this point, I keep imagining all the parents are out of Mad Men.
“Does his mother hate him? If I had him I’d hate him.” Harsh, Harriet.
And now, the spy clothes!
Harriet’s blue jeans, all ripped up, and her belt with her tools, and that dark blue sweatshirt —
Harriet has a RED sweatshirt, it’s on all the covers, and it’s why even now, when I put on a red hoodie, I think of Harriet.
Yet here it is:
And just to remind you, to the side, the RED sweatshirt that Harriet is wearing.
Now, I get why red would be used on the cover, to pop the color. But wow. I feel like I’ve lost a bit of childhood.
The spy route, which includes a bit of breaking and entering. Oh! Mrs. Plumber, who in my head was old? Is 40!!! Let that sink in a while, OK. Because a 40 year old divorced rich lady is way different than what I’d been picturing.
Egg creme: for years I thought this was made with a raw egg or worse, a cooked egg, and couldn’t understand why anyone would want one.
And the visit to Sport’s house reinforces to me, as an adult, that Sport’s father has a bit of a drinking problem. I just thought Sport’s dad, was, well, irresponsible or self-involved.
Harrison and all his cats. Still grosses me out.
The Robinsons also have a gun collection! And Harriet is so casual and cold in some of her observations: “then they might kill it.”
I love her level of self: where she both thinks she knows it all, but also that when she doesn’t expect or want attention she won’t get it. Like how she’s all over the neighborhood in this spy outfit, yet doesn’t think anyone notices. And expects to write all this stuff and that it’ll never be read.
Oh, and Janie’s family has a maid. I don’t think, middle class kid that I was, that I picked up on how these kids were from rich families.
Oh! And this, this, so shows a child’s view of the future, thinking of themselves as an adult yet at the same time so grounded in the experiences of childhood that cannot imagine adulthood: “but it would be at night and I wouldn’t be allowed out.”
Wait, is Janie’s father named Harry?
I love Harriet’s preemptive shouting tantrum. I love that she has a tantrum. At eleven.
Ole Golly’s relationship with Harriet versus her parents. And Mr. Waldenstein, the delivery man!
And Harriet, convinced she knows Ole Golly best!
If Harriet’s parents met on the boat to Europe, and Harriet is eleven in 1964, that would mean, what, late 40s? Early 50s? I wonder if readers today just think this is a cruise, rather than routine travel. And I like that they met by her father throwing up on her mother.
And the scene with Harriet and her mother is sweet.
Interesting: Ole Golly is having her boyfriend over for dinner. To meet Harriet, I guess? And they call each other Mr. and Miss? Even in 1964, that seems oddly formal. Wait, they’re going by George and Catherine now.
I like Mr. W’s backstory, but it seems a bit strange. He had a breakdown? And appears to have abandoned his child, but who knows how old the son is? I mean, his simplified life is sweet —
“Two living as one.” Oh, poor Harriet may be “the Spy” but she’s not good at reaching conclusions from what she spies on. She doesn’t get that Mr W and Ole Golly are talking marriage. Neither did I, the first time around.
And now they are off to the movies! With Harriet INSIDE the delivery box. And after they go to the drugstore and Harriet has two egg cremes.
I know what’s coming, but I was oblivious when I read this the first time. Didn’t realize just how late they were out, and, also, that Ole Golly had done this, gone out late with Harriet, with no note left. (This is one of the areas where 1964 matters, because no cell phone.) It seems irresponsible of Ole Golly, and maybe it shows how much she cares for Mr. W? On the flip side, Ole Golly has worked for the family since Harriet’s birth. Where is the trust?
Oh, right, she’s just the nurse. Class distinctions come slamming into place, by Mrs. Welsch’s treatment of Ole Golly.
But it is midnight and their child is missing.
And poor Ole Golly! Gets engaged, becomes a verbal punching bag, gets fired, and handles it all so well with a great speech to Mrs. Welsch with Ole Golly getting the upper hand. She’s not getting fired, she’s quitting, so there!
(Another kind of 1964 thing, with her quitting to get married, I mean, she can’t be a live-in and have her own life, but really, all or nothing for this job? But Harriet is in sixth grade.)
Also, raise your hand if you think something awful happened at the dinner part, which is why Mrs. Welsch threw such a fit.
And “the time has come, the walrus said,” always makes me think of Harriet and Ole Golly. Always.
And wowza, a quick marriage is planned! And visiting Canada? What about his cashier promotion, will that wait? But this explains why Ole Golly is quitting.
“Tears never bring anything back.”
We should all have an Ole Golly.
But can we take a moment? Ole? What the heck is that, even? A nickname from a baby Harriet?
And I had no idea Ole Golly was leaving so soon.
Tomorrow, Book Two!
About books with friendships between girls, and what those books are usually about, and when and how the friendship matters to the plot and the characters.
And what does it mean when I say, “I’d like to read a book about girl friendships.”
Which, I think, isn’t as obvious as it sounds. Because, well, readers’ advisory. Which some people think isn’t cool, or is simple, or is something that a computer can do if we just have the right program or data.
But, well, I don’t.
And here’s why — well, it’s a bit like when I wrote about romance, and how when I say “I want a book with romance” what I mean is “and at the end of the book, the characters still need to be together. No break up, no deaths.”
When I want to read about friendships, I want that to be the front-and-center story. I want it to matter. And, my default is to read about relationships that aren’t toxic or manipulative.
So, what are some examples to show you what I mean?
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. The entire story is about the friendship between Julie and Maddie: how they became friends, what that friendship meant to them, how that friendship helps them survive.
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen. Basically, a year in the life of two best friends. But not just any year: Scarlett’s boyfriend is dead and she’s pregnant; Halley is falling in love for the first time.
All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry. Two best friends share family, love, music — only hell and temptation could separate them.
Now, there are some books that have strong friendships in them, true; but the point of those books aren’t the friendship. It’s the romance, or saving the world, or solving a mystery.
So, what would you add to my list? And why?
Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to call this post. Or even to post.
Over this weekend, I read a bunch of posts about Sexual Abuse Allegations and the YouTube Community. YA Flash has a summary of events, if you want to read more. Also, these two articles from the YouTube Gazette, one on power relations and one on protection for young fans.
In summary, the allegations are about a YouTuber and his ex-girlfriend, as the YouTube article on power relations explains the allegations, and includes this: “[the relationship] started when she was just 15 and progressed to physical abuse shortly after she turned 16, under the legal age of consent in Missouri. The two met at Vidcon 2010 when she was 14 and he was 21.”
I wasn’t sure how to write about this, because I know nothing about YouTube culture or Vidcon.
But I know what I kept coming back to: she was 14. He was 21.
And then I read Carrie Mesrobian’s honest post, and brave, because she’s not afraid to speak up about the troubling things here: This is Very Upsetting. Carrie mentions a particular post that many are saying is a great conversation starter about consent that actually left me cold — and wondering what I missed, in that so many said it was great — but then I read her saying the same things bothered her.
Sex, consent, ages. As Carrie says, “When you tell me that ‘the girl was 15 and the guy was 22′ then I know all I need to know. He has acted wrongly. It doesn’t matter what she says or did or does. A 22-year-old guy who understands boundaries does not engage 15-year-old girls in anything sexual. Unfortunately, I think this world is probably full of 22-year-old guys who don’t understand boundaries or why this is wrong.”
I could write about so many parts of this: power dynamics, sexuality, emotional growth. Instead, I urge you to follow the links to read the stories of the teenage girls, in their own words, as they grew up and realized the manipulation and abuse that was happening.
Part of what’s sad is that at sixteen they didn’t know. Because sixteen.
Let me say one thing, clearly: the person at fault is that adult.
It takes a village, people.
They met at an event when she was 14 and he was 21. 14 can be high school, but it can also be eighth grade. 21 can be college graduate. 21 is drinking legally. 14 isn’t old enough to drive. No matter how smart, clever, or intelligent she was at 14, she was a teenage girl. Not a woman on equal footing, even without the fan/creator dynamics.
The second YouTube Gazette article points to policies, and lack of policies, and fan type conventions that invite and encourage teen participation and attendance. I confess, I looked up VidCon‘s website and didn’t easily find any Code of Conduct or Harassment Policy; I found the language the Gazette found, saying “If you are under 18 and your parents are okay with you going, then so are we.” I found an article about sexual harassment, talking positively about how attendees handled one incident, but I couldn’t find a policy at the website. (If you find it, let me know.)
Point a finger, you have fingers pointing back at yourself, right?
This isn’t about VidCon.
It’s about libraries.
Confession: I think teen programs should be teen only. And when I’ve said this, I get varying reactions. I get the nods of “of course” agreements.
But I also get a different reaction. I get the “but this 21 year old really loves x, and the adult programming department doesn’t do it, and I can’t believe you’re discriminating against these kids who would love this program.” (That is a fairly accurate quote, of me being told I’m prejudiced for not having that college kid in a program with giggling eighth graders.) (Also, I love when a 21 year old is called a “kid” yet a 14 year old is called a “young woman.” What does that tell you about society?)
And when I say I don’t think it’s right to have a place where a 14 year old and 21 year old will be together — I get the look. The look that says there is something wrong with ME for thinking that, or thinking that it is any way a problem.
Don’t I trust the teens to be around adults? Don’t I trust the adults?
I’m all for trust.
But it takes a village. And that fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen year old? They don’t know. We, the adults, do. They, their parents, they trust — they trust US, the adults running the program.
And we owe it to them, parents and teens, to keep those programming places safe for them. Not every predator is an old man in a trench coat; it may be the cool young guy in a T shirt.
And we owe it to them to step forward: to not think, oh, how cool that these two have something in common to talk about — but to step forward. Because while they have something in common, they have more things not in common. Because she is 14. And he is 21. And you’re an adult who can help them both.
So, I wonder:
What policies do you have at your libraries about programs?
How have you handled this type of thing in the past?
Are you with me?
Here’s the plan: I’m going to reread Harriet the Spy, in honor of her Fiftieth Anniversary. Then, I’ll share my chapter by chapter reactions to my reread.
If you want to join me, I plan on doing this starting Monday, March 24. And, of course, it can be either a reread — or a first time read!