Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Huzzah! Complaining Works!

I just caught this at Library Journal. It seems that the constant blogs, Tweets, and other forms of reader protest have paid off! In this case, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has decided to change the covers of The Mysterious Benedict Society to better reflect the characters within. Morale of the story: we are heard. If there is something you don't like, complain. Your voice does get heard. In the meantime, for those with older covers, I suggest breaking out the crayons. That's what I plan to do.

Here is the article in full:

Little, Brown in Sticky Situation Over 'Whitewashed' Book Covers

By Rocco Staino -- School Library Journal, 1/26/2010

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is changing the covers on Trenton Lee Stewart’s "Mysterious Benedict Society" series, following complaints that the character Sticky Washington, described as having light brown skin, appears on all three covers as white.

“We are adjusting the covers of all three titles immediately as they reprint in order to offer a more faithful rendering as soon as possible,” Melanie Chang, Little, Brown’s executive director of publicity and communications, told School Library Journal.

The novels—The Mysterious Benedict Society (2007), The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perilous Journey (2008), and The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Prisoner’s Dilemma (2009)—are about four gifted children who come together to solve a series of challenging and creative tasks.

Librarian bloggers and those on Twitter have long discussed the misrepresentation of Sticky Washington in the books’ illustrations.

More recently, the irreverent Maine book blogger Leila Roy, of bookshelves of doom, rekindled the discussion with a post.

“Poor Sticky has been bleached on these book covers since 2007—clearly readers have not made it clear to Little, Brown that this is a problem,” she wrote.

Roy told SLJ that she remembered noticing the discrepancy when she read the second book, but “assumed that it was a mistake or a strange oversight.”

The move comes on the heels of Bloomsbury USA agreeing to change the cover of Jaclyn Dolamore's debut young adult novel Magic Under Glass (Bloomsbury, 2010), which features the cover photo of a Caucasian woman when the novel describes her as “dark and foreign.”

Bloomsbury was faced with a similar controversy last summer when it was forced to change the cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar (Bloomsbury, 2009), which used a photograph of a white model to show the protagonist, described as an “African-American tomboy.”

Unlike the Bloomsbury covers, the "Mysterious Benedict Society" controversy had been simmering for years. SLJ blogger Betsy Bird, a children's librarian with the New York Public Library’s Children's Center, was one of the first to spot the discrepancy in a December 11, 2007 review of the first book in the series.

“Sticky has dark skin in the book,” she writes. “Now look on the cover. It took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t seeing Sticky there. I was, but they’ve bleached him out. In short, they made Sticky white.”

At the time, says Bird, there was little response to her post and the illustrated covers on books two and three continued to show a white Sticky.

A few days ago, elementary school librarian Travis Jonker, who blogs at 100 Scope Notes, wrote: “No, it wasn’t enough to make him white, they made him albino with rosy cheeks. Seeing as how this has happened three times, I’m wondering why it has barely made a ripple.”

All three books—the first of which was illustrated by Carson Ellis and the second and third of which were illustrated by Diana Sudyka—describe Sticky as having “light brown skin.” He appears in inside illustrations with darker skin but as fair-skinned on all three covers.

“'The Mysterious Benedict Society' is a project I worked on over a year ago,” Sudyka told SLJ. “I don't recall any distinction being made between Sticky’s skin tone in cover art and interior illustrations.” Sudyka added that art directors are the ones who make the call on how final images look, not the illustrator.

“The recent feedback regarding the accuracy of Sticky Washington’s likeness on the covers of "The Mysterious Benedict Society" series is both appreciated and understood,” says Little, Brown’s Chang. “The character’s skin color is accurately reflected in the interior, black-and-white illustrations in all the books. While Sticky’s complexion is different relative to the other characters on the covers, the difference is subtle and therefore the jacket illustrations do indeed seem misleading.”

Tweets on the subject are calling the covers “whitewashed” and “puzzling.”

Chang went on to say, “In our over-80-year history, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has published a multitude of acclaimed multicultural titles for children, and certainly no deception was intended in how this character’s skin color is represented. We are in the process of addressing the inaccuracies and look forward to offering readers a more faithful rendering of this character in our popular series in the near future.”

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