Sep 30, 2009

Upcoming Events

I'll add to this list as dates/events come in but here are some upcoming events...

Book & Arts Fair
Jewish Community Center of Houston
November 4, 2009

SAR Academy
New York, NY
November 9, 2009

Northwest Ohio Jewish Book Fair
Toledo, Ohio
November 22, 2009

Groton Public Library
Groton, MA
January 14, 2010

Sep 15, 2009

Dealing with feedback

Usually I get wonderful emails from teachers, librarians and readers themselves letting me know how much they enjoyed my book. There's nothing better as an author! Sometimes they ask questions about writing the book or how I decided to write a certain scene, plot point or event.

Rarely, but sometimes, I get negative feedback. This is an email from a librarian (kept anonymous) who objected to a few of the (very subtle!) passages about Thomas's burgeoning sexuality. I've also included my reply. I was pleased that she actually liked the rest of the book!!!

Hello Ms. Whitney,
I hope you are well.

I borrowed your book from our local library to preview it for purchase for my school library, as I am the librarian for a Jewish school grades k-8. After having read historical accounts on the MS St. Louis when I was a child, I was especially intrigued to read an account written for a younger audience. As has become my practice, I read every fiction book I consider for our library before purchasing it. This is done for several reasons - I want to ensure that the books I buy have literary merit, a meaningful story-line, and to check if it is appropriate for our audience. This is necessary because librarians have to answer to administrators, teachers and parents.

I really liked the book, as a whole. I liked how you set up Thomas as a victim of the Holocaust, his family background sounded realistic, the people on the ship were believable. I especially liked the interesting relationship between Manfred and Thomas. You had many fine story-lines going on, but here is my problem with the book- the reading level is clearly not a Young Adult, even though Thomas is 15 years old. It is more for a 4th to 5th grade level. If so, why did you find it necessary to include many "mature themed" passages? How would I explain/defend to my principals and /or to a parent, because they will ask, about some of theses passages? For example, on page 27 : "He stared at her a moment too long, looking from her face to her chest and then back up to her face again. She dipped her chin and averted her eyes. " on page p.67 when Frau Rosen was set up for a trick, she falls, and ..."her dress flew up. Thomas couldn't help but stare, letting his eyes wander from her varnished red toenails to her upper thigh." or on page 88, " Somehow she ended up almost entirely in his arms...he had his hands on her waist and he was close enough to kiss her. He felt all his blood rushing to a part of his body he generally tried not to think about."

Does there really need to be sexual tension in a book written on such a young level? Couldn't you tell a good story without passages such as these? It does not add to the story, it actually cheapens it. Scenes like these merely serve as distractions, when you don't need them- you have enough material to make this a very interesting book. Over the past 10 years of working as a school librarian, I have had many children come up to me and ask why authors need to write certain crude words or include sketchy scenes. It actually makes many children very uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if a librarian works for a public, private or parochial school, we have to answer to those who trust us to make responsible decisions when it comes to buying books school libraries. So although , I truly liked your story, as I am sure that my administrators and parents would agree, I will not be including it in our collection. I just ask that you be more sensitive in any future books.

Dear Ms. BLANK,

Thanks for taking the time to offer your comments about my book. I'm glad you liked the overall story and I'm also sorry you found several passages to be inappropriate.

Given that Thomas was 15, I felt I should try to accurately account for the feelings and emotions of a burgeoning young adult. That said, I tried to keep them subtle, knowing that younger kids would likely read the book.

While perhaps precocious 4th and 5th graders may read it, it is targeted more at the middle and high school levels. In their reviews School Library Journal and Booklist cited 6th-8th and 7th-10th respectively for reading levels. I myself feel 6th grade is the youngest it should generally be read by.

Still, I understand and appreciate your predicament about not including my book in your collection. Thanks again for your feedback.


Sep 3, 2009

Random Acts of Publicity Week

Just heard about this and it's a great idea!!