Round-Up: Harper Lee, Children’s Book Controversy, and #1000BlackGirlBooks Update

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From the loss of the beloved author Harper Lee to an author’s response to Scholastic’s withdrawal of his book, here’s what’s new this week in literature:  

  • Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, died last Friday at the age of 89. To Kill a Mockingbird was Lee’s first novel and was published in 1960. Since then, the novel has won numerous awards and will remain a literary classic for years to come. Last year, the novel’s sequel (considered an early draft to Mockingbird by some) was published under the title Go Set a Watchman and faced some criticism over the portrayal of Atticus Finch’s character. The Guardian said in its obituary of Lee, “That Atticus Finch appears as a segregationist and a hypocrite in Go Set a Watchman challenged many readers’ preference for a simpler and more virtuous America. Lee understood that virtue is not simple.”
  • Marley Dias is the eleven-year-old behind the #1000BlackGirlBooks movement, a book drive that aims to bring diverse literature to young readers. She recently surpassed her goal, collecting almost 1,300 books that feature black female protagonists. Dias donated 1,000 of those books to a school in rural St. Mary, Jamaica.
  • Last month, Scholastic announced that it would no longer distribute the children’s book A Birthday Cake for George Washington due to controversy over the book’s illustrations. The book was criticized for depicting the main character, Hercules, as too cheerful for someone who was enslaved. This week, the book’s author, Ramin Ganeshram, wrote a piece for The Guardian explaining his side of the story. He admitted that he too took issue with the book’s illustrations, saying, “While I objected to the ‘over-joviality’ of the enslaved characters as well as to the marketing copy when I finally saw it weeks prior to publication, I had no contractual right to change any of it.” Ganeshram also insisted that he performed a significant amount of research, and “in writing the book [his] aim was always to represent [Hercules] as he saw himself: dignified, commanding, and proud.”