Friday, June 08, 2012

Don't Accept Sexism or Today in Don't Piss Off Twitter:

I really, really didn't think much about yesterday's post about the blatant sexism in Scholastic's Survive Anything books. I opened my committee box from Scholastic, and there they were. I couldn't not look at them, and I couldn't help but notice how it played into gender stereotypes in a shockingly obvious and stupidly offensive way. So I dusted off this blog and wrote a fairly minimalist entry, trusting that in typing out the table of contents the books would speak for themselves. They did.

I didn't expect it to spread through Twitter like WILDFIRE. I figured a few of my friends would find it as obnoxious as I, but I didn't expect the great Ryan North (incidentally, my husband's IDOL, no joke) to pick it up (with a fat cut & paste no less) and run with it all over the place. I spent the day talking to 700 middle school students about books, reading, and the library, so what happened next is really all your story. You spread the issue thousands upon thousands of times on Twitter. You linked to it on Facebook, on Tumblr, and Reddit. It was picked up by BuzzFeed and Jezebel (Jezebel, in a failed example of journalism, didn't credit me, but whatevs).

And Scholastic? They heard you. In a terse post, they announced that no further copies will be made available." Whatever that means. No additional printings would be my guess.

Which puts me in sort of a strange mind. On one hand, VICTORY! We have stood up for our children and refused gender boxes! On the other, there wasn't really anything wrong with most (definitely not all - some of the girl language was downright patronizing) of the content, just that it assigned specific gender roles in a nonsensical out-dated, way. Objections would not have been had if Boys Only! and Girls Only! hadn't appeared on the cover. Make them gender neutral, and it's possible I would have talked these up to the couple thousand students I see this time of year. So, now that these books are no more, my little librarian mind is confused: Did I just instigate some sort of progressive-minded censorship? Regardless, let's hope that Scholastic will keep this in mind the next time they think creating gendered books is spiffy keen.

For some lols, check out the apology North wanted to get from Scholastic.

John Green is Mostly Wrong

At BEA Children's Book and Author Breakfast:

"There's a lot of talk about enhanced e-books," Green said. "What we do best does not need or benefit from what we call enhancement. We are good at giving people rich and immersive experiences. I believe story trumps everything." After a round of applause, he continued, "To be fair, it's like being in a room full of elephants, talking to elephants about how great elephants are." -via Shelf Awareness

And that's what happens when you speak in a vacuum. You say things that have a pesky tendency to be impossible absolutes. Story does trump everything. It trumps mediocre writing, and it's why Stephanie Meyer and Rick Riordan are wealthy. But words are not the only way to tell a story.

I have to confess here that I have a somewhat vested interest in this topic. Not financial or anything, but I'm going to be speaking at YALSA's 2012 YA Literature Symposium about transmedia,* an element of which lately, is often manifesting as "enhanced e-books." I've been thinking about them for a long time. Green might exist in a world full of really good, eager readers, who don't desire anything more than the world they create in their mind. However, to say that story can not benefit from additional media shortchanges the potential of an art form. You might not care for watercolor, but it doesn't make it intrinsically of less value artistically than oil paint. Nor does it make that painting as a whole of less value, or the story that it tells less rich. It's just a different media. Stories don't need a printing press.

John Green may not feel that his novels will benefit from any "enhancements." I feel that Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt and the Leviathan series by Westerfeld benefited from illustrations. I feel that the audio version of The Invention of Hugo Cabret benefited from sound effects. I feel that Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral benefited from the embedded youtube clips in the e-book version, rather than just the link text in the print format. I believe that John Green should spend some time with Patrick Carmen.

Imagine reading an ebook where the author triggers specifically chosen or created music based on the page you're on. Imagine if Don Calame's Call the Shots (out in Sept) included video clips of the horror movie the characters are making. What if Erebos let you join in on one of the MMORP quests? If Ready Player One showed clips of the movie references, or played the songs, or let you play one of the video games? Is it needed? Nah. But I won't claim that it wouldn't benefit.

Nor would I claim that the integration of such enhancements doesn't appeal to those who look at a page full of text and walk away. Based on his books, I doubt that Green has much contact with truly reluctant readers, so maybe he doesn't see how transmedia (telling a story across formats) might appeal to those readers. It can break up text. It can help bridge comprehension barriers. It can provide an online forum full of resources for additional engagement (something Green knows a bit about).

Green's "what we do best" refers to writing, and writing alone. Enhanced ebooks won't succeed if the story isn't good enough. But neither will theater. Or art. Or music. Or video games. Or anything else that creates a "rich and immersive experience." Saying, believing, otherwise just tells me you aren't as creative as you maybe think you are.

But then, writing the same characters in four unrelated books maybe already told me that.**

What many authors do best certainly is writing, and that's why illustrators are hired. That's why collaboration exists - to create outside of a vacuum. Enhanced e-books and transmedia simply mean that collaboration can now include more people committed to that story. What authors are really good at is having a vision; making up a world where possibilities are endless. Why, John Green, limit yourself merely to words?

*When a Book is More Than Paper: Transmedia Trends in YA Literature
**Ok, that was mean. Pot shots are cheap. But, outside of the personal aspersion, a completely valid critique of his work. I suspect that JG can handle it.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Sexist Much?

Boys Only: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
  1. How to Survive a shark attack
  2. How to Survive in a Forest
  3. How to Survive Frostbite
  4. How to Survive a Plane Crash
  5. How to Survive in the Desert
  6. How to Survive a Polar Bear Attack
  7. How to Survive a Flash Flood
  8. How to Survive a Broken Leg
  9. How to Survive an Earthquake
  10. How to Survive a Forest Fire
  11. How to Survive in a Whiteout
  12. How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
  13. How to Survive a Snakebite
  14. How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails
  15. How to Survive a Croc Attack
  16. How to Survive a Lightning Strike
  17. How to Survive a T-Rex
  18. How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
  19. How to Survive a Sinking Ship
  20. How to Survive a Vampire Attack
  21. How to Survive an Avalanche
  22. How to Survive a Tornado
  23. How to Survive Quicksand
  24. How to Survive a Fall
  25. How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
  26. How to Survive in Space
It's full of practical information in comic format. Don't try to cut a snakebite and suck out the venom, even though you see it on TV. Use warm, not hot, water for frostbite. Here's how to make a solar still to gather water in the desert. Surrounded by forrest fire? Dig a ditch and curl up in it facedown. Cover yourself with a wet blanket. Etc.
Girls Only: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
  1. How to survive a BFF Fight
  2. How to Survive Soccer Tryouts
  3. How to Survive a Breakout
  4. How to Show You're Sorry
  5. (and chapter 3 is where we no longer care about "survival")
  6. How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
  7. How to Take the Perfect School Photo
  8. How to Survive Brothers
  9. Scary Survival Dos and Don'ts
  10. ("don't throw things or yell at your ghost. it may react badly.")
  11. How to Handle Becoming Rich
  12. How to Keep Stuff Secret
  13. How to Survive Tests
  14. How to Survive Shyness
  15. How to Handle Sudden Stardom
  16. More Stardom Survival Tips
  17. How to Survive a Camping Trip
  18. ("fresh air is excellent for the skin")
  19. How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
  20. How to Teach Your Cat to Sit
  21. (are you #$&^%*@ kidding me?)
  22. How to Turn a No Into a Yes
  23. Top Tips for Speechmaking
  24. How to Survive Embarrassment
  25. How to Be a Mind Reader
  26. How to Survive a Crush
  27. Seaside Survival
  28. (don't wear heels. tie your hair back. sunglasses add glamour.)
  29. How to Soothe Sunburn
  30. How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
  31. Surviving a Zombie Attack
  32. How to Spot a Frenemy
  33. Brilliant Boredom Busters
  34. How to Survive Truth or Dare
  35. How to Beat Bullies
  36. How to be an Amazing Babysitter
If any of you are planning to go back in time, note that this girl would have preferred (and still does) the boy version of survival. I just don't think "How to Handle Sudden Stardom" quite counts.

UPDATE: So that happened.