Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kindness, Compassion, Integrity - Shine On!

Like many parents, I spend a good portion of my parenting efforts guiding our children to be kind and compassionate to others. I want them to think before they speak and act and consider, before it's too late to take them back, the impact their words or acts may have on others. I also want them to understand that none of us is perfect and despite best efforts, we all make mistakes; even, sadly, sometimes in the way we treat others. The way people deal with their mistakes often says more about them than the mistakes they make in the first place.

Attention in my industry over the last week has been focused on what may go down in children's book publishing history as the National Book Awards Debacle of 2011. Early last week, the National Book Foundation (NBF) notified a select group of authors that they are finalists for the coveted National Book Award. By mid-week, the list of finalists was announced publicly. After the public announcement was made, the NBF people realized that they'd made a mistake. They had notified author Lauren Myracle that her book Shine was a finalist in the Young People's Literature category when they had meant to include Franny Billingsley’s book, Chime. Bear in mind that this is not a post about reading ability or reading comprehension or proofreading or even the ridiculousness of a particular mistake in the first place. After congratulating Lauren and then discovering an error, the NBF chose not to swallow their error but instead to let the author and the public know they had made an error. Necessary disclosure? I think not. They bittersweetly let Lauren know that they had made a mistake but that they had decided to keep both her book and Chime as finalists, on the merits. Had the story ended there, it might have been a little bumpy but it would have been a happy one. Not so. The error and the proposed solution were debated publicly over the next few days. By the end of the week, the NBF  had the nerve to ask Lauren Myracle to withdraw from National Book Award consideration in order to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges' decision. Oy! Integrity?! It used to be one of my favorite words! So Lauren Myracle withdrew from 2011 National Book Award consideration. She did so gracefully and brilliantly. Her book Shine centers on the wrenching aftermath of a hate crime against a gay teen,  and following her withdrawal, the NBF announced that “At her suggestion we will be pleased to make a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation in her name.” The Matthew Shepard Foundation is a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people. Bravo Lauren Myracle!

I want my children to understand all the elements of this story that were wrong and hurtful. I want them to be aware of the vital point that the NBF seemed to have forgotten - at the center of this controversy is and was a person; in this case, a woman who by all accounts is a treasure and is an indisputably cherished author of books for our young people. I want them to appreciate how one person can make a mistake that can steamroll out of control but that they had choices and opportunities and could have handled things differently. And I want them to admire the grace and humility with which a person can choose to deal with the mistakes and bad acts of another.

It probably doesn't take a genius to figure out what book needs to accompany today's post. It just so happens to be Teen Read Week so what better time to pick up a copy of Shine by Lauren Myracle. And while you're at it, pick up a copy of Chime by Franny Billingsley too!

Playlist for today's post
1. Let the sun SHINE, Hair
2. Nobody's Perfect, Hannah Montana
3. Miracles, Pet Shop Boys

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