A blog post I never thought I’d be writing on book release day…

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 WishTHE 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.

72 Replies on “A blog post I never thought I’d be writing on book release day…

  1. Unbelievable!!! This is the most insulting thing to happen to a great writer!!!

  2. Oh, my, I didn’t think this kind of thing would happen in this day and age. I don’t know how I would handle the topic of addiction with students, but I’m sure you have thought long and hard about it. And there are kids that need to hear what you have to say. For so many reasons. And for the very fact that they are banning your visit means that important subjects are probably not being talked about. And what better place than in the safety of their own school? This really saddens me.

  3. I’m so terribly sorry to hear this. We, as children’s authors depend on those school visits to survive. I haven’t read the book, of course, but it seems to be a truly needed book. You would think they would appreciate the topic.

  4. Someone shared this on Facebook, and I’m so glad. I have a friend who is an addiction counselor and I’m going to tell him about your book.

  5. Wow, what a sad choice the school administrators have made. I’m sorry for all the students and you, too.

    1. schools aren’t afraid of books — not real school — PEOPLE in schools are afraid, and they tend to be people in charge who prefer that kids remain “innocent” and live in fear and ignorance. politicians and pundits have been pedaling fear for the last 15 years and this is the natural result of such thinking, that the places where EDUCATION should taking place are becoming places of CONTROL. /rant.

  6. I’ll be purchasing copies of this one for my high school classroom library, and there will be students who need to read it and talk about it.

  7. This used to happen to me routinely. It finally ended when I added a clause to my contract that specifies that I get half my fee if the school visit is cancelled for any reason other than an act of God. Perhaps something similar might help. If you want to see the contract I use, email me.

  8. Which location scheduled for tomorrow canceled? Inquiring minds want to sent a Vermont Public Records Law request to the right people.

  9. I’m so sorry this happened. Drug addiction is epidemic and young people need a vehicle for dialogue, for someone to talk about it so they don’t feel so alone when and if it happens to someone they know. Congratulations on your book birthday. I am very much looking forward to reading The Seventh Wish.

  10. This is absolutely heartbreaking to hear. No one every really knows who needs a certain book. I think it is a crime that adults made this decision and, most surely, robbed some children an opportunity to connect with a story on a deep level. It is so kind of you to donate a book to the public library there. I always try to be optimistically hopeful in life. So, I will pray that the child(ren) who most need this book will find it there. I know that one of your books served as the most needed book for one of my daughters. For that, I will be forever grateful and always a huge fan. Keep writing from your heart!

  11. I hope that your gracious words will be seen by teachers and parents of South Burlington and any other adult that is afraid to address difficult subjects with children.

  12. Heartbreaking and sad. You’re always welcome in the Berkshires! Congratulations on the book release. We are excited to read it!

  13. Unbelievable. Your book is a voice that needs to be heard. I am sure you handled the topic with sensitivity. Apparently, the librarian did not handle that situation well.

  14. So sad that those kiddos are going to miss out on an amazing author coming to talk about books and writing. This book is SO important to the conversations that need to be happening right now. Thank you for writing it. One day that administration will realize what an opportunity they missed. Keep on keepin’ on, Kate!

  15. As a teacher, I can tell you what probably happened. Not that this isn’t HORRIBLE, because it is. However, the principal probably didn’t read your book and have those opinions. A parent probably did. And not just any parent….one of those uptight, in your face, my kid can’t watch a G rated movie parent. Trust me, they exist. And that parent through a fit. And because the principal couldn’t throw that parent under the bus, this was their excuse. More than likely, that is what happened. I know it doesn’t make it better. But at least some annoyance can go to that parent?

  16. This is tragic! I am looking forward to meeting you next week (Thursday, 6/16) at the Politics & Prose bookstore @7:00 p.m.!

  17. Adults are way to afraid that kids can’t handle “tough” topics. The truth is that often kids understand them better than the adults in their lives.

  18. I am so sorry to hear this. Books allow us to talk about difficult topics. Books allow us to see inside lives that we might not otherwise understand. Our children need these opportunities.

  19. Dear Kate:

    Have faith that the fear of the few adults who used their own bias to “uninvite” you have done the absolute opposite of what they planned. I believe that the child that needs this story will find it, somewhere, somehow, and will be soothed, will feel less alone, will have hope grow in their little heart. Have faith that educators that love these children will find a way to put your story in their hands, that they will listen to these babies’ stories, and tell them all about Charlie and Abby, and how people around them are watching over them, and wishing them well, just like you did with your neighbor’s daughter. I have only met you briefly, have heard you speak twice, and would with an open heart and closed eyes have you speak to the children at my school; you are a caring, soothing, wonderful human being, a gifted author, and your characters are sure to become best friends with many children who know a good person when they meet one.

    I have faith that the write story, be it yours, or another’s will reach the child who needs it, and they will feel hope, they will be empowered, they will find solace, in your words.

    May your heart heal quickly from this undeserving event.



  20. I so understand, Kate. My story of a Jewish girl praying an assimilated US 1950s prayer while struggling to heal ther broken family in the mid-20th-century USA was grabbed by the editors of a wide-circulation US literary magazine–and then dropped when “the higher-ups” decided it inimical to what they considered Jewish identity (the story has since been published and republished elsewhere). Censorship is harmful, wrong, cruel, and I am sorry you are having to deal with this.

  21. Kate, I’m so sorry to hear this news. I’m sad for the kids and for you. Somehow we turned into a nation that thinks educating kids equates w/ endangering them and keeping them uninformed protects them.

  22. Dear Kate,
    I pre ordered your book a while ago; it comes in the mail today. I was going to share it with the older students at my school. Books allow us to connect through the written word. I will share it before school ends Thanks for sharing. Please feel free to drop by anytime – you will be welcome!

  23. I’m so sorry to hear this. As a bookseller I was excited to see this title arrive today. I often recommend your other titles for the crucial issues they address through absorbing stories. Word of mouth can spread the word.

  24. Your book just made it to the top of my August book talk list. The bookstore I work in does a book talk for area educators and media specialists twice a year, each covering new books from the last six months. Whenever I come across a book like yours I make sure it’s on the list even if we don’t get to it. This is one book I will make sure to bring to their attention. P.S. It was already one my list to read for the August talk. Hope all goes well with the rest of your school visits and continued success in all your future endeavors.

  25. Whether we want to face these issues or not, our children are facing them every day (and at a very young age). Avoiding these topics because they are sensitive issues doesn’t shelter our children from them, it just prevents them from having the knowledge and education that will protect them. We need to have these conversations with them and books are a wonderful way to promote that conversation.

    I just received TREE OF WONDER and am buying this book today because this is exactly the kind of literature that we need in the world. Thank you for writing it!

  26. It was wise of you to write this post. Thank you for your writing and for your willingness to speak about difficult topics. We need writers like you, writers with the heart and bravery to tease light out of darkness. xx

  27. Kate, in this day and age who would have thought an action like this would have been taken. Sensitive issues need to be discussed openly so all can benefit from guided discussions. Thank you for this post that reveals the disconnect. The children are the ones who lose out. I look forward to seeing you at ILA16.

  28. This is such a shame for the kids, but thank you for posting this. Hopefully it’ll get spread out through parents and they’ll make sure that books about tough subjects and authors who are inspiring students are never kept away from their children.

  29. What a loss for the kids. Hopefully they are not kept away from the big ideas day in and day out, all year long. A teacher-hero of mine once said “The job of education is not to make ideas safe for students, but to make students safe for ideas” (Skip Nicholson). I believe books do much of the heavy lifting in this endeavor. Thanks for your important work, and don’t change a thing!

  30. Books are a great opener for talking about tough topics with young people. If we don’t, how will they learn to cope? So sorry about this. The kids are missing out on so much in not hearing from you and working with you on their writing, but also in attending a school that sweeps tough topics under the run.

  31. It’s true that the school would need to prepare to talk about the issues your book raises, but astonishing that they couldn’t get it together in time. And that they’re not addressing those issues anyway!

  32. Kate, I’m so sorry this happened to you, and to those kids. It sounds like you covered a tough topic in a really sensitive manner, which makes this even more ludicrous. It definitely doesn’t give me hope that I’ll ever be invited to talk about my much darker/heavier book in schools. I hope the kids who need to read the story still get it in their hands, and I hope this doesn’t happen anywhere else on your tour!

  33. I read your book and found it charming and sensitive. I particularly liked that the subject of addiction was seen from the perspective of a younger family member. Children can be so confused about so many things; a story like this could make a lot of difference for a reader. Shame on that principal.

  34. I am one of the lucky parents, my son is 20 months clean. I find one of the most overlooked populations of this horrific epidemic is siblings. Than you for your very important book.

  35. My heart aches for all the kids who\’ll lose out because of this last-minute decision — especially for those kids who truly need this book in their lives, and who could have been powerfully impacted by making a connection with you, the writer who is speaking to and for them. Not sure how these administrators have decided that doing a little bit to address this tough topic is worse than doing nothing at all…

  36. Very sorry to hear this. Your book deals with an increasingly important and relevant topic, one that many children personally experience. It’s very unfortunate that the school handled the situation in the manner in which they did.

  37. H.E.A.L. cayuga county on FB……there is an epidemic and strong support here. Parents would want you! Not sure where schools stand. You are doing a great thing….sorry for the kids’ loss of meeting you.

  38. This! “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.” Going to buy your book & share.

  39. This just amazes me-or does it? Schools have done this before. Remember Speak? I want to thank you for writing this book, it’s a growing epidemic and hopefully there are great parents out there that will encourage their kids to read The Seventh Wish.

  40. I visit many schools and talk to students about what matters most to them and what breaks their heart about it. I’ve found that children as young as 1st and 2nd grade have significant concerns about drug abuse and other societal ills. By 5th grade, they have lots of questions and are badly in need of empowerment and coping skills. This principal has just ensured their questions will go unanswered – or will be answered in a dry, clueless way by someone reading from a DEA pamphlet – and they will not be empowered with coping strategies delivered in terms they can easily assimilate. This head-in-the-sand approach has no place in education.

  41. Oh my goodness, you could have been doing the school a service, answering some of those questions! So, so sad. I certainly look forward to reading your book – and will urge my sons to do so too as I think books offer such a safe environemnt for these issues and their consequences to be explored.

  42. Wow. I’m shocked. Seems like the school really didn’t do their homework and now the kids miss out and you’ve been treated rudely. I’m so sorry that happened. 🙁

  43. This is frustrating on so many levels. The first is that obviously the school hadn’t done proper research in approving the visit in the first place, if the topic of your book was a sudden revelation to them. I’m sorry that you’re dealing with a suddenly cancelled visit because the school wasn’t prepared and on top of the things. The second issue is, of course, the question of whether we should hide certain materials from children. There’s probably a large and complex discussion to be had there, but I think it is worth noting that some of the children they’re trying to hide your book from are probably actually dealing with this issue–and the school does them a disservice by choosing to ignore tough issues instead of addressing them. (Also, it hasn’t occurred to the school you could just talk generically about the writing process or something, and none of these tough issues might even come up?) So much to unpack here.

  44. Disheartening, wrong-headed, dissembling administration, but hardly surprising. Just keep writing and speaking.

    1. In today’s world, students need health education and information literacy skills. They also need books that they can relate to, even when books are based on the tough topics in their lives. Keep writing and speaking!

  45. At my school district all outside speakers must have a principal sign off on a form submitted by the teacher or librarian at least ten school days before visiting. You should perhaps consider adding this as a contractual speaking condition if the district doesn’t already have their own policy. Avoids nightmares for all. Exposes close-minded principals too.

    1. I don’t think this is a closed-minded principal at all, actually. I’ve been communicating with her this week, and she has apologized for the sudden cancellation and decided that the school will, in fact, carry the book in the library. While this looked a lot like censorship early in the week, it’s not turning out that way, and I’m glad.