Book Chat Premiere: The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket, ill. Matthew Forsythe
On occasion I will do a presentation that encapsulates the history of children’s literature on social media. It’s fairly simple. You start with listservs, move on to blogs, work in the rise of Twitter, and then close with a variety of examples of children’s books (or YA, though that’s a different animal for the most part) that have come under fire. To the last point, my go-to titles are probably all familiar to you. A Birthday Cake for George Washington. A Fine Dessert. There Is a Tribe of Kids. The usual. I point out the issues, the responses, the back and forth debates, the whole enchilada.
Now the other day I was offered the chance to do a video premiere on this site. There were two choices. Either I could premiere Little, Brown’s The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s the Hard Way by Patrick McDonnell or I could do Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Mood and the Stick. The contest was over before it had even begun. Not because I don’t enjoy the McDonnell book. I love the energy in that piece. As 2017 alphabet books go, it’s in my Top 5 ranking. But I opted for the Snicket book because this is a clear cut example of a publisher, author, and illustrator responding to early criticism of a title in a quick, effective manner.
On April 28th, 2017, Edi Campbell, creator of the longstanding blog CrazyQuiltEdi released a concern on Twitter and wrote a blog post called I Am Not Your Bad Mood. The piece is thoughtful and brings up issues that had completely passed me by when I first saw the original cover of the book. In its earliest iteration, the bad mood was a black face with frizzy elements. And when Edi’s thoughts were originally posted I thought we’d see the usual dance. People object, the publisher doesn’t respond, people object, other people defend, people object, the author or illustrator gets defensive, people object and then what happens next is that it’s either pulled from publication or it isn’t. Only . . . it didn’t work that way this time. Instead, Little, Brown responded with this:
You cannot say that this is the swiftest that a major publisher has responded to public criticism, but it’s gotta be up there in terms of response times. Indeed, the F&Gs were pulled from distribution and later the Bad Mood was re-illustrated entirely. The story is the same, but the art now reflects a thoughtful response to early thoughtful criticism. So, when I present my talk on children’s books that have fallen under fire, I may end with this book as a testament to real change in the real world that doesn’t compromise the final product and may, in fact, enhance it.
And now . . . a chat with the illustrator, Matthew Forsythe. It won’t mention these elements, but I wanted to give some context to a book that, in the end, is far more beautiful because of the changes made.
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