In the weeks since the #MeToo reckoning hit children’s books, assailants and offenders have been named, and many of their accusers have come forward, naming themselves as well. We’ve read of trauma, humiliation, careers cut short before they started. But we haven’t heard much about the books.
Will The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian cease to provide much-needed windows and mirrors for America’s children? Will Last Stop on Market Street lose its place in the canon as an authentic, Own Voices expression of the quotidian beauty that surrounds an urban child of color? Will Thirteen Reasons Why and The Maze Runner no longer find their ways to teen readers? The answer may be different from one book to another, and it may also be influenced by whether or not its creator is unequivocally exonerated. But it’s one that will only be answered with time.
The question I am most interested in right now, however, is, what about those books not yet published that cannot possibly be considered in the marketplace without the specter of sexual exploitation and assault hovering above them? Most immediately, I wondered about Mario and the Hole in the Sky, a picture-book biography about a remarkable Mexican-American chemist, Mario Molina, who discovered the hole in the ozone layer. The text is by Elizabeth Rusch; the illustrations are by David Diaz—multiply named as a serial abuser of his power as a mentor in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
As my colleague KT Horning has said many times, quoting poet Alexis De Veaux, “Buying a book is a political act.” She is referring to affirmatively choosing diverse books, but her statement applies just as well here, as in this moment, it’s impossible to consider this book simply as a potential addition to a shelf of picture-book biographies. Buying Mario puts money in Diaz’s bank account; not buying it deprives Rusch, a woman, of her potential earnings.
Happily, we do not need to make that Hobson’s choice, as Charlesbridge, its publisher, announced in a Feb. 22 email to review media that it is delaying publication of Mario and the Hole in the Sky pending re-illustration. This cannot have been a decision made lightly, but I am so very glad they made it. When Mario does come out, it will stand or fall on its own merits.
But what about the next one?
Vicky Smith is children’s editor.