First, a brief overview of what happened to my "Second Perspective" post at the All the Wonders website (more on who they are, later):
- On Wednesday (March 22, 2017), I reviewed The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winters.
- On Thursday morning (March 23, 2017), my review was added (with my permission) to the All the Wonders page about that book, as "A Second Perspective."
- On Thursday evening (March 23, 2017), my review was gone.
Now, the details.
On March 22, I wrote my review of The Secret Project, loaded it to AICL, and posted a link to the review on Facebook and Twitter. Then I looked on Twitter to see if others had reviewed it. If someone I know has reviewed a book I've also reviewed, I'll generally ask them to take a look at my review. Donalyn Miller and Jillian Heise added links to my review to their reviews on Goodreads.
I saw that The Secret Project was featured at All the Wonders. I read their interview with Jonah Winters (the author), and agree with what he said about propaganda. I felt then (and still do) that some changes to the book would make it outstanding. I wanted to listen to the podcast and read the interview with the illustrator, but had other things to do at that moment. Because I know All the Wonders is widely read by teachers and librarians, I asked them if they could add my review so that they could use information I share when they teach or read the book.
They said yes. On Thursday morning, my review was on their site as "A Second Perspective." I went back to my review and added a link to their site (and a screen cap of their introduction to my review). They wrote:
Here at All the Wonders, we strive to represent diversity and inclusion in the books we share. Debbie Reese, co-founder of American Indians in Children's Literature drew our attention to a recent review of The Secret Project she wrote where she discusses concerns over how Native Americans were represented in the story and illustrations. Specifically, the depiction of the Los Alamos Ranch School as isolated from other inhabitants to the region -- which it was not -- and the use of the phrase "nobody knows they are there" in reference to the scientists working on the bomb, which marginalizes the presence of the Native people living there.
The story told in The Secret Project through words and illustrations is powerful, but in order to understand and appreciate more fully the context in which the even happened, it is important for readers to be aware of the Native people in and of the surrounding area.Then, I went back to All the Wonders to read the interview with the illustrator, but it was gone. A little bit later, the interview with the author was gone, too. Why were they gone?
On Thursday night, I had an email from Matthew saying they had made a difficult decision to remove my review.
That night on Twitter, Sam Bloom of Reading While White, asked Matthew what happened to it. Here's a screen cap of his question:
Matthew replied, saying that they value "reading and being challenged by that review, but ultimately decided as a team to support the conversation in other ways". Here's a screen cap of his reply:
Early Friday morning, I replied to Matthew to acknowledge what they had done and let him know that I was about to get in my car for a day-long road trip and didn't have time to write back at length about the decision.
Just before I got in my car, I saw that the author and illustrator interviews were back on the All the Wonders page.
As I write this post, it is Saturday morning. I'm reading through what happened yesterday on Twitter.
Kathleen Horning of the Cooperative Children's Book Center asked Matthew for an example of "other ways." He replied, saying "Such as in a conversation on an open forum such as Twitter where all stakeholders can participate in real time." And, here's the screen capture of that:
In an email sent to me yesterday, Matthew suggested I contribute a post for All the Wonders, that consists of books I recommend. He also referenced a Twitter conversation. I haven't replied to him yet. I'm conflicted. If I say yes to his invitation, I'll be able to bring visibility to Native writers.
I'm not angry at Matthew, and I hope this blog post doesn't cause him to withdraw his invitation.
Here's what I think, and some back story...
In posting my review at their site, All the Wonders found themselves mired in the politics of children's literature. Did Jonah Winters demand that his interview be removed? Did Jeanette Winters demand that her interview be removed? Did their publisher make demands of the team at All the Wonders? Did they make threats?! I know--that sounds dramatic--but there's back story to all this that prompts me to use the word "threat."
The Secret Project is published by Simon and Schuster. As one of the Big Five, it is a powerful entity. Back on March 5, 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled The 'Rock Star' Librarians Who Choose What Your Kids Read. That article is how I learned about All the Wonders and Matthew Winner. He's featured in it as one of the three men characterized as rock stars (the three strongly objected to being the focus of the article and to being characterized that way. Women had also been interviewed but were not included).
The article generated a lot of discussion. Allie Jane Bruce of Reading While White did a terrific post about it. She asked some pointed questions. Are these three librarians being used by publishers as a way to get free advertising for their books? Were/are they (inadvertently) functioning as marketers for publishers? Please read the comments to the post. Among them is one from Matthew Winner. He disagreed with her remarks about advertising and marketing. He also said that he wants to increase the diversity of the podcasts at All the Wonders. In my comment to Allie's post, I recommended he add Native writers. He and I started talking, via email, about possibilities and I think one will be there, fairly soon.
I also asked him, in an email, if he might add critical content to some of the pages they do at All the Wonders. He didn't say yes or no, but I believed (and still believe) that he and his team are very interested in being more diverse with what they're doing on their site. So... last week when I saw that All the Wonders had a new page up on The Secret Project, I decided to ask them to add a link to my review and was thrilled that they did. Then, as you know, they removed it.
So, what happened to "A Second Perspective" at All the Wonders?
Did Simon and Schuster put pressure on the All the Wonders team to remove my review? If Simon and Schuster gives All the Wonders books, did they threaten to withhold future books? If Simon and Schuster controls access to its authors and illustrators, did they threaten to withhold access to their authors and illustrators? Did they say "get rid of Debbie's review, or else"?
I don't know if the All the Wonders team was pressured to remove my review, and I'm not going to ask Matthew that question.
It seems to me that the team at All the Wonders was put into a difficult position. They want to offer critical content of books along with podcasts and interviews, but their effort to do so with my review didn't succeed.
I've got lot of questions. Do publishers wield that much power over sites like All the Wonders? If so, that's not good, at all, for anyone. If not, then.... what happened to my review? Right now, several people are wondering what happened.
Update (3/30/17) -- A Response from Matthew Winner
A few days after loading this post, I went back to School Library Journal to read "Rock Star Librarians" Article Hits Sour Note. Written by Addie Matteson and Matthew Winner, it addressed a major concern with the article in the Wall Street Journal that featured three male librarians. This paragraph stood out to me:
The fact that diverse voices weren’t heard, valued, or represented in the WSJ article made us look more closely at the people we look to as leaders, the authors and role models we invite to our schools, the books we choose to read, review, and purchase. We need to do more, and we need to be better. If we want our students to see themselves on our bookshelves and in our programming, we need to actively work toward that goal. How can we expect the world (or the Wall Street Journal) to see school libraries as places where diversity is honored and celebrated if we are not working to make them that way?
Winner's decision to use my review of The Secret Project was evidence of his wish to "do more" and "be better." But, with those words as context, his decision to delete it made the decision to use it in the first place even worse.
I shared that excerpt on Twitter yesterday morning (3/29/17), again asking why my review was taken down. Kate Messner, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Justine Larbaleister retweeted it and asked the question, too.
At 8:14 PM, Winner replied to Kate Messner and Laurie Halse Anderson, saying he would respond. Here's a screencap of his tweet to Laurie:
At 8:41 Winner submitted a response, using the blog's comment form. I saw it in this morning's email and am pasting it here:
Hi everyone. I want to apologize publicly here to anyone who was offended by our decision to include Debbie’s review of The Secret Project in our feature at All Wonders and then retract it later that day.
We feature one book each month in addition to our regular content, and the selected book is one that our team believes stands above the rest. We think of our features as an award from our team, and we honor the chosen book by compiling various forms of content that celebrate it. We even describe the feature to the artists involved as "a week-long celebration of your book." These words, we believe, enter us into a verbal agreement that we will shine a positive light on their work, and it is based upon this agreement that the publisher grants us permission to license their images, words, and behind-the-scenes content. I made a misstep, then, by surprising Jonah and Jeanette Winter and their publisher, Simon & Schuster, with a critique, and introducing an element of debate into the feature. After careful reconsideration of these factors, we decided to pull the post.
I know now that this series of events confused and offended a number of individuals. I am sorry for that. We (myself along with the team) had the best intentions, which was to offer a “second perspective” post from Debbie, who saw something that we did not see in our reads through the book. We consider critically all of the books that we include on our site, and we welcome discussions about how they are serving readers, but our features in particular are not designed for that purpose. They are designed to give children multiple entry points into what we believe to be special books.
Once we came to the decision to pull Debbie’s post, we immediately communicated to her via email that we would be removing her post for these reasons and gave her an open invitation to address American Indian representation in children’s books on our site or in the form of a Twitter chat. Though we are still waiting for an official response from Debbie, it is our sincere hope that she will choose to work with us in the future to raise awareness about misrepresentations of American Indians in children’s literature.
Our goal at All the Wonders is not to silence, but to raise the voices of authors, artists, bloggers, and critics in service of readers. I regret the way these events have unfolded, but I consider this an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and a renewal of our mission to build positive relationships with all of our colleagues.
Matthew C. WinnerAll The Wonders co-founder
Matthew did, as he wrote above, email me to say they were removing my post. Specifically, he wrote:
[We] dd not feel that the piece added to the focus of the feature and that the conversation it beckons would be better served in other contexts throughout the site. We felt that the topic begs for discussion, and that is not something that the feature is suited for or capable of.That line was particularly ambiguous (to me). He went on to say that they wanted me to write about Native writers and be a guest on a Twitter chat they host.
That invitation is fine, but it is a far cry from what a Second Perspective on books can do for teachers and librarians. When they added my review as A Second Perspective, I thought of all the other books they had featured and that could use A Second Perspective. One, for example, is Laura Jimenez's perspective on Telgemeier's Ghosts. Frankly, I was excited at the possibilities.
Do I want to contribute a post about Native writers to All the Wonders? I'm not sure.
I still think that their decision not to proceed with A Second Perspective is a mistake. A week-long celebration of a book is a mistake if there are concerns about that book's representations of marginalized people.
Winner and the team at All the Wonders were right when they said this, to introduce my review as A Second Perspective at their site:
The story told in The Secret Project through words and illustrations is powerful, but in order to understand and appreciate more fully the context in which the even happened, it is important for readers to be aware of the Native people in and of the surrounding area.Saying that, they recognized Pueblo children as readers. Indeed, they recognized all children who live in that area who know more about the history and cultures of the area than Jonah and Jeanette Winters told them in The Secret Project.
As Winner's response says, their decision to add A Second Perspective surprised Jonah and Jeanette Winters, and Simon and Schuster, too, because of his verbal agreement to shine a positive light on their work. That, I believe, explains why their interviews disappeared from the site when A Second Perspective was published. Once that second perspective was removed, their interviews went back up.
Those two people and their publisher set the terms under which Matthew Winner and the team at All the Wonders will speak about their books.
That's not surprising, but Winner is a librarian by training and profession. From that position as a librarian, he is providing a huge service to teachers and librarians who read All the Wonders.
But is it a service to his profession? I think it is a service to publishers. With that as a fact, his words in the SLJ article ring hollow. Doing better doesn't mean just talking up the good. Books get better when we talk about the problems in them, too.
Update, March 31, 2017
Yesterday, Kate Messner asked Matthew Winner for a clarification:
To clarify...were you asked by S&S to remove the original images/words/content after you'd added Debbie's Second Perspective?He replied saying:
S&S expressed their regret, but we as @_AllTheWonders maintain full autonomy over what we create and what we share on our site.and
S&S was very specific about saying they would not pressure us to take down the post.