Judy Blume edited an anthology of writing by censored authors called PLACES I NEVER MEANT TO BE. It’s a great collection that I read years ago and hadn’t thought about in a while. But its title came crashing back to me today when I got an email from a school librarian disinviting me to her school tomorrow. This was one of my school visits for THE SEVENTH WISH book tour. It had been scheduled five months ago and was now cancelled on less then 24 hours notice.
The reason? One of my book’s themes is the impact drug addiction has on families.
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone at the school, since the email I sent way back in January, offering the author visit began like this:
THE SEVENTH WISH is a book that uses magic to explore something many families are afraid to talk about with kids – addiction. I was floored a few years ago when a neighborhood friend told me that her beautiful, smart, joyful daughter was hooked on heroin. She got help and survived, and she is thriving now, but I still struggle to understand how it happened. And when I struggle, when something really scares me, I write.
THE SEVENTH WISH begins on the day Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s cold winter lake, hoping the perch she reels in will help pay for a fancy Irish dancing solo dress. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day offers her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down. Charlie catches the fish again and again, but each time, her wishes go hilariously wrong. Just when things are finally starting to turn around, a family crisis with her older sister forces Charlie to accept the fact that some of the toughest challenges in life can’t be fixed by wishing.
So I was shocked when I got an email this afternoon, disinviting me to the school I was supposed to be visiting tomorrow morning. The fourth and fifth graders have all been told I was coming. They’ve read the early chapters of THE SEVENTH WISH together in their classes. Book order forms went home to families, letting them know about the author visit.
But now, that visit isn’t going to happen. I was told today that the principal felt the book and my presentation about the writing process behind it would generate many questions that they would not be able to adequately answer and discuss. I called and asked the school to reconsider because I desperately didn’t want to disappoint all those kids. I explained how the topic was handled in a sensitive, age appropriate way. I told them about reviews like these:
From Kirkus (Starred review)
“As Charlie processes the changes in her life, her perspective shifts. Friends of all ages, old and new, support her. And she finds outlets in ice fishing and Irish dance. Most affecting, Charlie begins to understand the serenity prayer. Hopeful, empathetic, and unusually enlightening.”
From Publishers Weekly
“As she did in All the Answers, Messner lightens a heavy theme with a bit of magic (this time the talking fish rather than a talking pencil) while humanizing a growing epidemic and helping readers understand that even “good people make awful mistakes.”
From School Library Journal
“A charming fantasy story with threads of several deep themes that could serve as the basis for thoughtful discussion.”
From 5th grade teacher Melissa Guerrette:
“Sometimes I get the chance to read books ahead of their publication date. Once in a while, I read something that I know with my whole heart will be important for kids…too important to wait to share. This year that book was The Seventh Wish. All of our fifth graders read this together. By next week, all our sixth graders will have, too. The bravery and honesty of Kate Messner’s writing has stretched our hearts to let in Charlie and Abby and resulted in more understanding and empathy about the realities of addiction.”
None of it mattered. The school decided they hadn’t had time to prepare kids for the visit, despite the fact that it was confirmed back in January and a letter about the book’s content had gone home to families.
So I won’t be allowed to talk with those kids tomorrow. We won’t get to brainstorm new fairy tale retellings together. They won’t get to see my writer’s notebook or my messy rough drafts, or marked-up revision pages. They won’t hear Charlie’s hopeful story, even though I know there would be kids in the room who could use that hope. There are kids like that in every class I visit. Stories about families like theirs let them know they’re not alone.
I understand that school administrators are afraid to talk about tough issues sometimes. Authors are, too. But we’re not protecting kids when we keep them from stories that shine a light in the darker corners of their lives. We’re just leaving them alone in the dark.
So families… If your school is the one where my visit was cancelled, I’m sorry. Please know that I wanted to come so much. The school was going to order copies of the book so it would be available in the library after my visit, but I don’t know if that’s still going to happen. I’m going to drop by the public library in South Burlington tomorrow, though, to donate a copy. If you want to read it, it will be there for you. I’m so sorry I can’t be.
Updated 6/13: On Saturday, I received an email from South Burlington’s Chamberlin School principal Holly Rouelle, who told me that a decision has been made to carry THE SEVENTH WISH in her school library. She also sent home a note letting parents know about an upcoming event at the public library on June 28th. In addition, I’ve offered to reschedule this free author-visit presentation in the fall and hope Chamberlin will take me up on that offer, once school is back in session and they’ve had a chance to prepare the students.