February 20, 2015

An Open Letter to Caroline Bologna

We all know the cliche—you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. Even so, a writer over at the Huffington Post named Caroline Bologna did exactly that to The Big Book of Girl Stuff and Boy Stuff. (If you follow either of the two links here, you can read her article.)

I wrote my response to Ms. Bologna in the comment thread at the bottom of her Huffington Post piece. I also sent a message to her on Facebook. At this time, I have not heard back from her.

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Dear Caroline,

As the author of the books in question, I read your piece with interest.

It’s worth noting that the majority of authors (myself included) do not design book covers. Nor do we have final say over their appearance. These decisions are made inside the publisher’s marketing department. (For both Girl and Boy Stuff, a woman had the final say.)

However, it’s true that the questions posed on these covers do not perfectly capture the tone, contents, and messages of their respective books.

I should mention that I am a longtime middle-school teacher who loves working with kids. And what I want for ALL of my students and readers is for them to be empowered, educated, and entertained.

Regarding Girl Stuff, I asked 55 of my former female students (most of whom were in high school and college at the time) to help contribute to, edit and proofread every chapter in the book. The vast majority of my ideas for Girl Stuff came from interviews and correspondence with that brain trust—as well as from my five sisters.

As to the idea that science is somehow not addressed in Girl Stuff, if you had opened the book, you'd have seen it has a thirteen-page bibliography reflecting the broad overview of science, anthropology, psychology, etc., I researched to write it. Additionally, you may be interested in what the first edition's cover looks like under its dust jacket:

While this design element was included for fun, it reflects my deep and abiding sense of respect for the sciences...a respect that I made sure to invest into the book.

You begin your piece with “You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover…” Yet of course, that’s exactly what you have done here, Caroline. Without real knowledge of my books, you’ve found some “neat little boxes” for them of your own.

If you get a chance, check out a copy of these books from the library. You’ll find that BOTH have chapters on practical jokes—as well as gross stuff, humor, activities, sports, and other topics that have nothing to do with gender.


Bart King

ADDENDUM: Since your piece posted, a number of one-star "reviews" for Girl Stuff began appearing on Amazon. These parrot your statements about the book's cover, and creatively expand upon them.

Of course, never having read the book, these writers have no familiarity with its contents.

So now I have to amend the cliche: you shouldn't judge a book by its cover—and you're certainly not supposed to REVIEW that book based on an article about its cover!

ADDENDUM II: On February 25th, Caroline Bologna responded to this letter. Her message reads:

Dear Mr. King,

Thank you for reaching out. I've cc'd my editor Jessica Samakow. As we believe the text makes clear, the piece is a critique of the book covers alone and an analysis of the effect these sorts of images have on young children. We sincerely apologize that you felt the article implicated you in the book cover design, which was certainly not our intention and does not seem to have been the take-away for our readers. We stand by what we published and hope we can continue the open discussion about gender normative marketing to children it prompted.




Smidge said...

Bart King for the win! Outstanding rebuttal to shoddy "reporting."

Bart King said...