*A little under a month ago, I posted on Facebook about a book that my daughter brought home from her school library. Here’s the conclusion to that whole situation! (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending!)
Right before Halloween (the same week that a woman decided THIS was acceptable and also right around when the Maria Kang Excuse photo came out), my daughter came home from school with a book for us to read. We got part way through the story before we stopped reading. Here is the letter I wrote to her school:
My daughter, K. Schmidt, attends your school. We have had lovely experiences so far at your school and feel very positively about the messages that are being communicated to our children.
Today she came home with a library book entitled, “Hazel’s Healthy Halloween” by Kathryn Meyrick. We were excited to read it as we assumed it would not be all about candy – perhaps some fruits and vegetables as well. We were wrong!
In this book, a witch named Hazel is deemed too fat to fit in a dress for the party she wants to attend. She is sent to “Health Farm” for 6 days. The whole time she is there she completes ridiculous amounts of exercise and each day eats absolutely nothing. After six days of anorexia and extreme exercise, she’s told, “You’ve won. You’re thin!” She arrives at the party and is greeted and told she’s never looked so lovely before. Then she is told,
“Hazel, you look serene,
Fit to be a fairy queen.
This could be the start
of a fine romance.
May I have the pleasure
of this dance?”
At this point, there is a small footnote that “if this is the end you’ve been waiting for, close the book and read no more.”
It goes on to say that she didn’t go to this trouble to please a man but for the buffet. She proceeds to binge, rip her dress because she’s all fat again and calls it a happy ending.
My husband only read to the line about losing weight before he closed up the book and handed it to me. I read it on my own getting more and more appalled as I read.
There are so many messages in here that are wrong that I don’t even know where to begin. I can’t talk about all of my issues here, but I will address the ones that are the largest.
First of all, anorexia and binge eating are both extremely unhealthy practices. Everything about this book is unhealthy. The messages that we are trying to teach are not about dieting, they are not about trying to achieve a specific shape at all. They are about making healthy food choices most of the time. We’re teaching our children to walk or ride rather than drive. We’re teaching them to build activity into their day in a way that they find fun. We’re teaching them to make choices to make them feel good in their bodies.
Secondly, Hazel is not lovely or worthy of attention when she is big but is lovely and fit to be a queen that is in a romantic relationship when she is thin. What a horrible message to give to small children. What a horrible message to give to anyone. The value of one’s character and the choices they make should determine whether or not they are lovely. A person’s appearance and/or size do not have an impact on their value. The fact that someone is human is what gives them worth.
Our children are growing up in a culture that has a very narrow definition of beauty. People are shamed for not fitting into this very narrow “ideal”. I want my children to know that they are worth loving no matter what they look like. We are trying to build healthy self-esteem and healthy self-images. We are trying to teach them not to judge people based on their appearance. Books that send messages like the ones contained in this story are undermining everything that we are working towards.
Hopefully this book can be addressed, as I do not believe it lines up with the morals that I see the school striving towards.
The next day, I returned the letter and the book to the school librarian. I was told that she didn’t have the power to pull the book but to contact the Board Office as there is a Digital Literacy Support Teacher who oversees 28 of the Elementary school libraries in our board. I found the number (after quite the search on the HORRIBLE board website) and called to lodge my complaint.
The woman that I spoke to was wonderful. She was kind and understanding. She told me about the process of getting a book removed but reassured me that I wouldn’t have to do anything further as long as she agreed with me when she read the book (as she would pull it herself – and actually has the ability to remove it from all of the libraries she oversees). We actually had a pretty great conversation about body image and healthy ways to talk about this topic with children.
Yesterday I heard back from her. She had lost my number in the shuffle (and I was glad to hear the school wouldn’t just hand out personal information) so she had actually gone through quite a process to find my number to let me know that the book was removed from circulation. She seemed as horrified by the content of the book as I was and said it was clearly missed in a cull about 10 years ago.
The other thing she told me was how grateful she was that I had called her and that I had written the letter. She said this made her job a lot easier as everything was all written up. I appreciate so much how she treated me respectfully and made me feel that my opinion was valued. Further, she thanked me (multiple times) for being so nice and easy to get along with through the process (I bet you can imagine some of the horrible conversations she’s had with irate parents!)
As one of the things I’m now working on is dealing with conflict in a non-terrifying way (in other words, I HATE conflict!!) this whole experience left me feeling very encouraged that this is the woman choosing the literature that thousands of kids will see through their school libraries. It also encouraged me to be able to speak up again if the need arises.
Another encouraging thing for me has been hearing from friends who checked out their school library to make sure it was pulled from there as well. I know it has been removed from at least one other school and that it was previously removed from another.
As much as I wish this whole situation wouldn’t have had to happen, I love that it worked out so well. Now to work on the messages that the book sends and helping people be more body accepting…and I’ll leave you with my daughter’s thoughts on it all:
“But mom, it was written by an ADULT! Why didn’t she understand that already?!?”