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It’s Time to Have a Serious Talk about Compliance

This is going to be a difficult post, friends. It’s time to have a serious talk about girls and compliance.

Let’s be clear right up front. On one level, this is about a dear friend’s book and how a review of that book got it wrong.

Conflict of interest, I know. But I’m determined to speak up because:

  • the review isn’t simply wrong about this particular book – it espouses a wrong-headed view of how girls in kidlit “should” behave;
  • the review misses a subtle, but significant message in the story’s resolution – that people have the right to appear on the outside the way they feel on the inside.

princess_frogsThe book in question in Veronica Bartles’ THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, which I blogged about earlier this week [that post is here].

Veronica is in one of my critique groups, so I had the chance to see this book develop from initial draft to its final form as a picture book.

I am going to focus on this book and one review in particular. I’d like to look at how language used in the review shows that there are still harmful cultural expectations about the way girls are portrayed in children’s books. I am not, in this post, going to take on the fact that pushing girls to be compliant has huge implications about female sexuality, women in the workplace and in government, and gender equality. Ready?

Several weeks ago, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS was reviewed by a major publishing industry magazine.

Let’s take my first point: The review isn’t simply wrong about this particular book – it espouses a wrong-headed view of how girls in kidlit “should” behave.

After describing the plot and praising the author’s Frog Prince retelling as a “fun idea,” the anonymous reviewer goes on to say, “the heroine’s imperiousness comes off as spoiled and snooty, as opposed to empowered.”

I sat with these words for a few hours. “Imperious” and “spoiled” jumped out at me. When I was growing up, “spoiled” was one of my family’s code words for “you are not being compliant.” My parents used both this word and “selfish.” It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized, I’m not an abnormally selfish person. This was coding for “you’re not doing what we want you to do, the way we want you to do it.”

Authors, we’ve got a lot of reprogramming to do around the issue of girls and compliance. Books like THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS are a great step forward.

In this story, Cassandra is young princess who says what she wants [a frog], stays clear about it [the book’s refrain, “princes aren’t pets”], deals with a resulting problem [every frog she kisses turns into a prince], and solves it herself, achieving her goal.

This was my reaction, which I shared on Facebook.

I’m sitting with a review of a friend’s PB. The main character is a girl who is clear and steadfast about what she wants (in the book). She is called a spoiled brat (in the review). Any women out there ever get told you should be flexible or adaptable instead of sticking to what you want? Mmm hmm. Me too.

Women responded with the many ways they were chided for not being compliant. These included:

  • I’ve been told “stop being so petty,” re: insisting on fair treatment.
  • I’ve been told, “Your standards are too high.”
  • “DON’T COME ON SO STRONG.” “UGH WOMEN NEVER SAY WHAT THEY MEAN.”
  • “You attract more flies with honey than vinegar.” Thanks Mom… not really looking for flies…
  • “Brat” and “whiny” are code words for female. Sadly. I once saw a review of “Speak”–a novel about a teenage girl who goes mute after being raped–that called the protagonist whiny. Think about that–she was raped and she’s MUTE, but she’s still called whiny.
  • “You have too many ideas about the world… You’ll never get a husband if you always talk about them” (my ideas, thoughts, vision, opinions).

To the last comment, I responded, “The character in this book is also more focused on her own ideas (in this case, it’s a kid, so having fun) than on being partnered with a male.”

[BTW: Thanks to the male kidlit authors who posted support on that Facebook thread.]

In THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, frog after frog turns into a prince. Each one proposes a quick wedding, but Princess Cassandra isn’t ready to give into those societal expectations. Without throwing a tantrum or threatening anyone, she sticks to what she wants: a pet to play with and be her friend.

Yet the reviewer goes on to say that the story, “may leave readers wondering why a prince can’t be the best friend she wants to badly.”

This leads me to my second point: The review misses a subtle, but significant message in the story’s resolution – that people have the right to appear on the outside the way they feel on the inside.

SPOILER AHEAD – please skip if you don’t want to know how THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS ends.

Cassandra comes upon “a bedraggled little prince sniffling in the garden.” The little prince tells Cassandra he doesn’t want to be a prince. He liked being a frog. When Cassandra kisses the top of his head, he turns back into a frog and the two live happily ever after.

For me, this is one of the most powerful moments in the book. We have a character who feels one way on the inside (frog) and is miserable in his body (boy). Cassandra accepts him as who he says he is. Only then can their true friendship begin.

It is irresponsible for reviewers to perpetuate outdated cultural norms, including the implicit expectation that girls and women, boys and frogs, are only valuable when they are compliant. By implying that the main character should settle for a prince instead of the frog she wants, the reviewer missed how powerful the book’s resolution is. The final frog prince doesn’t want to change his identity in order to be part of Cassandra’s life. He wants to choose who he is and (like the princess) have a say about what makes him happy.

I’d like to thank Veronica Bartles for giving a shout out to all those kids who feel like frogs, and LIKE feeling like frogs. Cassandra may be a princess, but she prefers the company of people who are authentically themselves, instead of complying (there’s that word again) with society’s expectations.

Let’s celebrate non-compliant girls (boys, princes, and frogs) from children’s literature. Let us know your favorite characters in the comments.

 

Pitch Wars MG Mentor Wishlist: Laura & Tricia

LET’S HEAR IT FOR MIDDLE GRADE SPIRIT!

Welcome to Team TLC, future Pitch Warriors. Coaches Laura Shovan and Tricia Clasen here.

Spartans

ROLL CALL:

I’m Laura Shovan. I am an editor. And a debut author. So check me out.

I’ve been training hard for PitchWars, Team. I’ve been on both sides of the editor’s desk and will use my knowledge to help you make your MG manuscript worthy of the perfect cheer. My past experience includes: freelancing for such publications as the Baltimore Sun, five years on the editorial staff of a nationally recognized literary journal, including three as its editor in chief, and editing two poetry anthologies. My twin passions are writing and education. I’ve been a visiting poet-in-the-schools since 2002, so my rhymes are fine. (Can I get a high kick?)

In 2013, my PitchWars mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza helped me polish my middle grade verse novel to a shine. I signed with agent Stephen Barbara after the winter 2014 agent round. Within three weeks of signing with Stephen, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY sold to Wendy Lamb Books. You can read my Pitch Wars success story here.

When I’m not writing books or giving feedback to my critique partners I am a: poetry advocate, avid reader, mom to two teens and two dogs. I knit socks, and will occasionally break into Stephen Sondheim lyrics, ‘cause that’s how this girl spells R-O-W-D-I-E.

ROLL CALL:

I’m Tricia Clasen. I debut this fall.  I’ll help you pitch. So check me out!

Hi team! (Does toe touch–and probably pulls a muscle).  I am so filled with the PitchWars Middle Grade spirit, and I cannot wait to help you get pitch perfect. (Does backflip–and likely falls on head.)

I’m a professor of communication and an avid lover of stories. The majority of my editing experience falls in the non-fiction realm.  I thoroughly enjoy working with critique groups and serving as a beta reader for fiction, though. On Team TLC, you get the benefit of Laura’s detailed editing eye and my passion for making stories flow, for ensuring disbelief remains suspended.

In terms of PitchWars, I’ve been a sideline cheerleader for a long time. (Claps hands and yells “whoo!”)  Shortly after my first attempting at landing a mentor, I signed with my agent, Jen Linnan.  My debut novel, THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT will be published in October by Sky Pony Press.

In addition to reading and writing, I spend most of my time shuttling my two girls to dance class and planning vacations. (Hoists Laura up on my shoulders while she waves her hands and cheers.)

TeamTLC

So check us out!

WHAT GETS US WAVING OUR POM PONS?

CHARACTER DRIVEN MIDDLE GRADE

Contemporary MG is our wheelhouse. We are looking for projects that have a strong emotional arc. If elements such as plot and setting serve as the backbone for your main character’s growth, you’re trying out for the right squad. Team TLC is all about literary middle grade and protagonists who journey from childhood into adolescence.

Much as we love historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, those submissions will be DQd. Team TLC is ONLY open to contemporary novels. We welcome humor and magical realism, but the heart of a story is first in our hearts. Is your PitchWars project written in verse? Coach Laura is an award-winning poet and verse-novelist. At Team TLC, we don’t need megaphones to be heard. We value the power of a quiet book.

A NOTE ABOUT DIVERSITY

#WNDB is more than a hashtag. It is reality for the schools and students Laura visits. Tricia’s primary teaching and research relate to gender and cultural issues. No matter which genre you write, middle grade readers are hungry for books that mirror their lives (DARIUS AND TWIG, Walter Dean Myers; GEORGE, Alex Gino), but also for books that help them understand a broad range of human experiences (WONDER, R.J. Palacio; THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS, Erin Entrada Kelly). We will champion the heck out of submissions that include ethnic, socio-economic, and neuro-diversity as part of the deep fabric of the story.

TEAM TLC’S MIDDLE GRADE HALL OF FAME

cheerCoach Laura’s First-Place Reads trophies go to:

Recent Winners
SKELLIG, by David Almond
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM, by Christopher Paul Curtis
LOVE THAT DOG, by Sharon Creech
HOWARD WALLACE, PI, by Casey Lyall
SAFFY’S ANGEL, by Hilary McKay

Childhood Champions
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll
GINGER PYE, by Eleanor Estes

(Notice a British theme? Laura’s mom is from England. She *loves* British kidlit.)

Coach Tricia’s First-Place Reads trophies go to:

Recent Winners:
THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, by Lauren Shovan (had to be said)
OUT OF MY MIND, by Sharon Draper
WONDER, by RJ Palacio

Childhood Champions:
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE Series
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, by L.M. Montgomery
THE OUTSIDERS, by S.E. Hinton
ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, by Mildred D. Taylor

(Notice a theme of realistic characters who overcome struggles?)

Here’s a great example of a character with an emotional arc, scavenger hunters:

COMMITTING TO OUR TEAM

If you choose us, expect to work on two rounds of feedback. The first round will focus on the big picture (your overall dance routine) and will likely involve some global  changes. The second round will include intensive line edits (fine tuning your moves) on your book. This is a team effort. If you’re looking for a mentor to help you clean up an almost-there manuscript, someone else will be a better coach for you.

There’s so much middle grade goodness to choose from. If Team TLC isn’t for you, check out the many wonderful MG Pitch Wars mentors at the end of this post.

Got questions? Feel free to leave a comment. We also hang out on Twitter: @laurashovan and @trirae. Good luck, Pitch Warriors!

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2016 Found Object Poem Project: Day 6

It’s Day 6 of our month-long daily writing project.

This year’s theme is FOUND OBJECTS. For those of you who are new to the project, please read my introductory post. You’ll find more information and all of the Week 1 FOUND OBJECTS at this post.

2013-07-16 09.33.36 (1)FOUND: Antique Dolls

I found today’s object in my home town, Ellicott City, Maryland. Just down the road from where I live is the center and oldest part of town. Old Ellicott City was the first terminus of the B&O Railroad, a pre-Revolutionary mill town. Today, it is a quaint stretch of old buildings and townhouses with antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants.

I’ve always loved this photograph. Something about the reflection in the cracked window glass makes these dolls feel like more than old toys for sale. Let’s see what everyone came up with.

I wonder whether Jennifer Lewis, who used to live near me, guessed that I took this picture in Old Ellicott City, where trains still rumble through town today.

They’ve Seen Much

By Jennifer Lewis

They saw the train tip in sky,

Offering one last lullaby,

 

They saw the child make a face,

Breath’s condensation, fingers trace,

 

Rock and grass picnic tables,

Twig and stick equine stables,

 

Tea party attire, sipping air,

Guest list inviting Ted E. Bear,

 

Crackling glass, cracking skin,

Wondering if the story ends,

 

Universal melancholy,

When we see, one’s lost dolly,

 

They’ve seen better days this is true,

But homemade memories imbue,

 

The storybooks, the belly’s laughter,

A child’s love for ever after.

 

I wanted to get away from humanizing the dolls and recognize that they are, especially without their usual trappings of clothing and packaging, objects. But one of these ladies had something else in mind. (Heidi — this is a sort of “No” poem.)

 

Window: Antique Shop

by Laura Shovan

 

Without their dresses,

rompers, ribbons,

lace, without

their boxes, gift wrap,

tissue, pink bows,

the dolls stand

disjointed, quiet.

They face the street,

hear no birds,

people, rumbling train,

see no cars pass.

They do not

watch the growing crack

in the glass pane,

nor the one

who seems to raise her

plastic fist to

strike again.

 

In contrast to my poem, Linda Baie added fabrics into her response. Since we are working on sensory details this year, I love this addition to the dolls.

 

Dolly Cry

 

I need a friend:
Pick me, pick me

for garden walks,
dressed up for tea.

I’ll need the softest
organza dress
I’d love a hat,
best to impress.

You’ll play with me
be all I want
a loving child,
a confidante.

We’ll stroll and sniff
those blooms en masse
I spy outside
my window glass.

Pick me, pick me.
Let us conspire.
I’m lonely here,
you’re my desire.

Linda Baie ©All Rights Reserved

Do you find Linda’s final line creepy or inviting?

The last line of Jessica Bigi’s doll poem feels very wistful to  me. I love the wordplay here.

Store Window Dolls
By Jessica Bigi

Umbrella bonnets
Locks looping curlers
Blinking eyelash eyes
Walking talking crying
Umbrella dresses
Store Window Dolls
Hoping for hugs

Diane Mayr uses the last few lines of her poem to reveal the setting.

Parking Lot in New Hampshire on a Sunny February Day
By Diane Mayr

Unbuckle your seatbelt
incline your seat backwards
close your eyes, relax.

Feel the deeply penetrating
radiant heat of the sun.

Relish the seclusion. No
sand in your underwear when
your beach is glass and steel.

From the first lines of Molly Hogan’s poem, you’ll know whether she’s in the “creepy” or “nostalgic” camp when it comes to these dolls.

Breaking News
By Molly Hogan

Mass Escape from
St. Claud’s Center
for Delinquent Dolls
Just this morning
a passing photographer
captured this pivotal scene
of the notorious Brown-Haired Doll
with her famous fringed blue eyes,
gang leader, miscreant,
dimpled arm raised,
baby-blue-shoed foot
kicking out,
targeting the glass barrier,
already fractured,
and demure-looking accomplices
lurking in assumed postures
with their flat and soulless
marble gazes intent.
Look-outs.
All poised on the verge of escape.

I’m impressed with how each poet today uses language to set the tone of his or her poem, communicating different ways of feeling about our found object. This one is from Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core.

Haunted by ghosts
of little girls
who loved them once,
dolls, long forgotten
stare, eyes blank,
through cracked
plate glass.

“Have you seen Emma or Ida or Grace?”
their soulless eyes plead
with people rushing by.

They long for the warmth
of tender hugs
that would break this spell
and mend their broken hearts.

By Catherine Flynn

I’m so pleased to see my friend (and fellow Pisces) Heidi Mordhorst joining us today! You’ll see the image at the left that shows Heidi’s playfulness with form. It’s amazing what spacing can do in a poem. When you compare the two version of “A Doll Trap” side by side, the one on the left is full of movement.

 

heidiA Doll Trap

 

secured behind glass

half-dressed

or less

doubly exposed

glazed

they gaze out

lean reaching toward

freedom

one does more than yearn

raises her

chubby arm

to crack that glass again

again

dolly hai-ya

she will be

free

will walk among

walls and rock

follow plastic paths

to new clothes

new scenes

 

Heidi Mordhorst 2016, all rights reserved

 

Speaking of form, I’m glad to see I’m not the only person trying out prose poetry this month. Margaret Simon sent in this response.

 

The Doll Collection

by Margaret Simon

 

A collection of dolls makes me nostalgic for those days when my girls were young, each one with a favorite baby doll with a name like Danielle or Harriet, carried everywhere, to the grocery store, pushed around in the rolling cart shopping like Mommy, or to the church nursery equipped with a bulging diaper bag, and I cry at the thought that today these well-loved, adorned dolls are alone in a plastic bin inside the upstairs closet waiting for a new child to love her, hug her until the stuffing breaks.  Maybe I hear them crying, too.

***

Another new face — though she has been a regular in past years — is poet Patricia VanAmburg. Great use of a title working against the poem here, which creates so much tension.

 

Lullaby

By Patricia VanAmburg

 

Dolly told Baby she wanted to scream
Baby said, Dolly, don ’t taunt—
You know that we are held in a dream—
and all we can do is haunt.

 

Dolly said, Baby, you’re kind of creepy
Sometimes you make my skin crawl—
I hope that you will soon feel sleepy—
But Baby started to bawl.

***

Last in today is Mary Lee Hahn.

Abandoned

As a child,
my dolls were my closest friends.

When I left for college,
I tried to pack them in a trunk,
but had to release them before they suffocated.

They’ve lived my entire adult life
(up until now)
on the closet shelf
in my childhood bedroom.

Soon,
they will be auctioned away
to strangers.
I will hear them calling to me
for the rest of my life.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

http://www.maryleehahn.com/2016/02/found-object-poem-dolls.html

Mary Lee’s poem reminds me of my mother’s dolls from the 1940s and 50s. Several of them are wrapped up, sitting in the bottom of a bureau, waiting for a trip to the doll hospital for some TLC.

Late arrivals! There are two more poems to share. Clearly, the dolls drew our attention. Matt Forrest Esenwine is playing around with inner and outer spaces in this poem.

“Day of the Dolls”

Soulless eyes
see through your lies;
hollow hearts ne’er beat.
Prison walls
shatter, fall –
they’re loose upon the street!

– © 2016, Matt Forrest Esenwine

I encourage everyone to visit Carol Varsalona’s blog Beyond Literacy Link, where she breaks down her writing process for her Day 6 response poem. Her post has some great insights into how we go from inspiration or prompt, through initial draft, to developing poem.

Remembering When
Sweet friends and confidantes,
your friendly faces
remind me of doll days
when my mother and I
lovingly designed
your tea time clothes.
Now, you sit on dusty shelves
stripped of your dignity,
mere remembrances of
another era, a time gone by
when little girls adored you.
Who will call you their own?
©Carol Varsalona, 2016 
***

TODDLERS DILEMMA

Mashing hands into their faded reflection,
straining to stand before plopping down
on their bottoms, toddlers shriek in sadness
as older kids swing, leap, and spin on jungle
gyms in the school yard.

(c) Charles Waters 2016

***

I like the way that asking “What if” in a poem can take us in a new direction. Donna Smith does that with her poem today.

Dolls Left Behind

Do you ever wonder
where they went –
those dolls left behind
the day you left childhood?
You closed that door one day
and went on
to Trixie Belden,
to The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree,
to horses,
and boys.
The dolls stayed behind
for a while, waiting –
not reading books,
not riding horses,
not growing up
and one day they disappeared.
Where is
Kathy, the walking doll,
who couldn’t really walk;
Thumbelina, who moved like a real baby –
that is,
if a baby had a big pink knob on its back;
Miss Ballerina, no longer a dancer
due to an ankle injury playing football?
– thank you, dear brother –
Where did they go
when I wasn’t looking
in their direction
any more?
As nomads, did they
move on to other little girls
who would remember
to feed them
and love them
and later
forget them?
Do you ever wonder
where they live now?

©2016, Donna JT Smith, all rights reserved

***

Jone Rush MacCulloch sent a poem, but be sure to check out the post on her blog as well.

Dolls

in the window
of the crone’s house
blank eyes
staring
into my soul
silent cries
for help

I photograph
them
wonder
about their stories
who played with them
why abandoned
will they find
new homes.

© 2016 Jone Rush MacCulloch all rights reserved

20140416_120403

DAY 7 FOUND OBJECT PROMPT

See you tomorrow for Day 7 and the Week 2 prompts.

Interested in what we’ve written so far? Here are links to this week’s poems:

Monday, February 1
FOUND OBJECT: 100 year-old mailing box
Poems by: Diane Mayr, Molly Hogan, Mary Lee Hahn, Linda Baie, Jessica Bigi, Margaret Simon, Laura Shovan, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Catherine Flynn, Jone Rush MacCulloch, Brenda Harsham.

Tuesday, February 2
FOUND OBJECT: Fancy peppers and produce
Poems by: Mary Lee Hahn, Jessica Bigi, Diane Mayr, Molly Hogan, Laura Shovan, Linda Baie, Matt Forrest Esenwine, Margaret Simon, Jennifer Lewis.

Wednesday, February 3
FOUND OBJECT: Moth eggs
Poems by: Jessica Bigi, Margaret Simon, Diane Mayr, Mary Lee Hahn, Molly Hogan, Linda Baie, Jone Rush MacCulloch, Laura Shovan, Catherine Flynn.

Thursday, February 4
FOUND OBJECT: Table fan
Poems by: Jessica Bigi, Diane Mayr, Margaret Simon, Laura Shovan, Molly Hogan, Mary Lee Hahn, Linda Baie, Carol Varsalona, Catherine Flynn.

Friday, February 5 at Guest Blog, Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
FOUND OBJECT: Tomato Moon
Poems by: Matt Forrest Esenwine, Jessica Bigi, Diane Mayr, Molly Hogan, Margaret Simon, Carol Varsalona, Laura Shovan, Mary Lee Hahn.

2016 Found Object Poem Project: Day 5

Tomato Moon

Contributor Matt Forrest Esenwine calls this found object “Tomato Moon.”

Hello, Found Object Poets. I am taking a break from blogging today.

FOUND: Tomato Moon

Don’t throw any rotten tomatoes my way! We’re still writing and sharing for Poetry Friday.

You will find the Day 5 Found Object Poem Project post at Matt Forrest Esenwine’s blog, Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Thanks, Matt!

And please stop by Tricia’s blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, for all of the Poetry Friday posts this week.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow for Day 6. Be sure to leave your Day 6 responses at this post.

2013-07-16 09.33.36 (1)

DAY 6 FOUND OBJECT PROMPT