LM_NET: Library Media Networking

Previous by DateNext by Date Date Index
Previous by ThreadNext by Thread Thread Index
LM_NET Archive

FYI, forwarding the mail from Ms. Fenner re: Yolanda's Genius challenge.
From: "Carol Fenner Williams" <fenwms@iserv.net>
To: Barbara McElfish <3mcelfish@integrityol.com>
Subject: Re: Yolanda's Genius
Date: Sun, Jun 13, 1999, 9:47 AM

Dear Ms. McElfish - (is it a Scot name?)
I'm glad the challenge was dealt with so handily.  Yes, I would love to see
the responses from your colleagues on the net.
 I found out about the challenge from my publishers - the assistant editor,
Karen Riskin, at Simon & Schuster who sounded terribly woebegone and
regretful about it.  I told her Yolonda could handle anything and not to
worry and that if Yolonda's Genius were never challenged I'd worry that I'd
written a tepid book.  I am fortunate to have Margaret McEdlerry as an
editor.  Only rarely is she influenced by the hounds of stricture.  I can
count the times on half a foot that I have had to defend any important part
of my work to her.  And she is always responsive to reason.
 Yolonda's Genius keeps good company with a number of other challenged
books, some of which I, myself, don't like.  Maya Angelou's I know Why the
Caged Bird Sings, Judy Blume's Forever, Lois Lowry's The Giver, Phyllis
Reynolds Naylor's All But Alice, Katherine Paterson's The Bridge to
Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins, Mildred Taylor's The Friendship, and
Paul Zindel's Loch.  Even some of R.L. Stine's Nancy Drewish horror stories
have earned a place on the ALA's list of the most challenged books of 1998,
something Yolonda has yet to achieve.
 I was planning on responding to specific complaints if you had any, but
since everything has been resolved, I am emailing you below an excerpt from
a letter I sent to a teacher who was short of rude in her disapproval of
Yolonda's Genius.  She included a letter from one of her students which was
very rude indeed.   The excerpt follows:

You objected to pages 34 through 37.
 My stories come to me in a series of visions.  One of the visions I had
during the writing of Yolonda's Genius was of Yolonda looking up genius in
the public library.  I saw her clear as day - her big body before the
dictionary stand which supported a book of imperious size, her plump fingers
turning the thin, gold-edged pages.  To verify the experience, I had to try
it myself - look up genius..  And I came across the other words Yolonda
would find en route to the word she was looking for.  Genitalia.  Genitor.
I didn't invent them as a prelude to finding genius.  They were there in the
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, causing me to
investigate the reaction of a girl like Yolonda.  These are words which
would catch the intelligent, inquisitive eye of any bright, quick, vital
girl.  Yolonda loves dictionaries - loves all books   This is an important
part of her character.  Ye Gods, woman, would you have the compilers of
dictionaries leave out scientific words like genitalia to placate your
misplaced sense of decency?  . . . . . . You certainly missed a grand
opportunity to point out to your students that genitalia and sex organ are
scientific words used by the medical profession - that they are not funny
words or sexy words or dirty words or cuss words.  People should be able to
use them without blushing or smirking or guilt.  They are good useful words.
 Page 35:  You are probably  referring to Yolonda reading sexy adult books
until her own breathing embarrasses her.  I'm sorry if this offended you
(and therefore at least one of your students), but I think this is part of
the normal kid experience. This line could have been left out without
affecting the story.  A lot of true things could have been left out - Aunt
Tiny (she offended a lot of dieters), Grant Park (many people are put off by
un-patrolled dangers of big city public parks), the unsympathetic reading
teacher (teachers who resemble Miss Gilluly resent her role as 'bad guy'),
Vic Watts's stutter, the white "druggie" girl with the washboard music.  It
would have resulted in less texture and flesh in the story - less honesty of
observation.  Yolonda reading the sexy parts of adult books is a true kind
of thing.  I did not find it offensive; my highly responsible,
internationally respected editor wasn't offended.  The copy-editor wasn't
offended, nor were the thousands upon thousands of readers who love the
book, nor was the Newbery committee.  I'm afraid, despite your community
insulation, you are in the minority with this view.  I did not write in this
part after the book received a Newbery Honor.
 Now as to the rest of page 35 and pages 36 and 37, I am mystified as to
what you find objectionable.  Absolutely mystified.  These pages are
valuable to the story.  They lead the reader, as well as Yolonda, to the
discovery of  Andrew's gifts.  John Hersey's comment that "true genius
rearranges old things in a way never seen before" is essential to the
comprehension of what a genius does and is - both for Yolonda and the
reader.  It is part of the backbone of the book.
 Yolonda, who is smarter and better informed than most of her teachers,
might also rankle a lot of educators.  To your credit, her true smartness
and boldness did not upset you.  Yolonda, herself, is a kind of genius and
you seemed perfectly content to acknowledge that there are some children
with this intelligence and confidence.
 Your comment: "Today's children are faced with things everyday on ads,
television, and in movies."  What "things" are you talking about?  Do you
mean violence and sex overkill - the exaggerated graphic explicitness of
both violence and sex?  I certainly agree.  I am not only disapproving of
it; it bores me to death.  When it is misplaced, displaced and out of
context, when it is done merely to titillate and not for the sake of
clarity, violence and graphic sex are essentially boring.  I always turn off
the set.  And I see absolutely no resemblance to these "things" of yours in
my pages 34 - 37.  Too bad you wouldn't "dignify it with repetition".  Then
I might have a clue to what is actually bothering you - and you, in the
process, might have a clue, too.
 I do not write passages to excite prurience in children.  I try to write
honest, thought provoking adventures.  I will not back off from reality to
present readers with a candy world full of dull kids who behave themselves
according to a rigidly acceptable pattern (any kid that does is on the low
rung of survival).  Neither will I emasculate my text by catering to those
whose acumen is corrupted by fear or shame, or stunted through lack of real
life experience.  Therefore, I think, perhaps, my books are not for you.  I
suggest, in the future, you steer clear of them.  It will save us both a lot
of grief.

Ms. McElfish, I don't know if this will be helpful in any future challenges.
I am disgusted with attempts to censor books in schools and libraries.  That
is the job of a parent - to guide their children through a maze of
When I was a child, there were certain books forbidden in our house.  Comic
books was one type and Nancy Drew was the other.  My father considered them
both trash - and indeed they both are - in depth of content, in imagination
and in most all cases, in the writing.  I don't think my father was right in
forbidding them however.    We smuggled them in - or read them at friends'
houses.  My aunt Phyllis Fenner, a great and well known librarian and
authority on children's books, disagreed with my father.  Nothing is wrong
with trash if one is also provided with good literature, too, as a
gratifying part of their life.  Children will eventually make the choices
their parents have trained them to make, unless they discover through
overwhelming evidence, that their parents are wrong.  People who must remove
books from the shelves of children's libraries are essentially afraid that
their 'case' isn't strong enough to withstand the onslaught of information
from the rest of the world.
My, how  I do go on.  I hope some parts of my harangue will prove useful to
you.  You may have to wait until summer to read this email.  Sending you my
best wishes in the love of good books, I remain Carol Fenner

>From: "Barbara McElfish" <3mcelfish@integrityol.com>
>To: fenwms@iserv.net
>Subject: Yolanda's Genius
>Date: Mon, Jun 7, 1999, 11:48 PM

> Dear Ms. Fenner,
> What a delight to hear from you, personally! Even though the challenge has
> and the recommendation was to leave Yolanda's Genius on the shelves, I would
> still would be interested in your email. We all need to know how to handle
> challenges, and I agree that the best way is to read the book cover to cover.
> We've had a rather challenging ending for our school year, but I plan to read
> Yolanda's Genius this summer to get the full impact of the story. I did read
> Randall's Wall aloud to my daughter after reading a rave review on our LM_NET.
> I want you to know that I got several responses from my colleagues on the net
> ...all in favor...I could send you some of those if you are interested. I was
> the "fact finder", but not part of the challenge.
> How did you hear about this? Are you a part of our listserv?
> Looking forward to your response,
> Barbara (and yes, you may use my name!)

    All postings to LM_NET are protected under copyright law.
To quit LM_NET (or set-reset NOMAIL or DIGEST), send email to:
 listserv@listserv.syr.edu         In the message write EITHER:
 3) SET LM_NET MAIL  * Please allow for confirmation from Listserv
 For LM_NET Help & Archives see:  http://ericir.syr.edu/lm_net/

LM_NET Archive Home