Recently, I received an email about my book Super Tool Lula: The Bully-fighting Super Hero. The email was from a mom who had ordered the book for her children--a girl and a boy. Here's how her email began:
As a psychotherapist and a professor of both sexuality and gender studies, I am a proud member of the girl-empowerment community. I am also finishing up a book for fathers of daughters.
I am a loyal follower of your blog and a fan of your lively PFZ facebook page. I was so excited to recently share my copy of Super Tool Lula with both my 8 year old son, Scotty and my 5 year old daughter, Reilly.
We loved the book! It's positive messages of inclusion and the fun ways they were delivered kept everyone's attention. As an educator and a helping professional, I especially appreciated the afterword from Lori Day which provided concrete data along with strategies that readers can employ in their own homes, schools and communities. Bravo!
Nothing makes me happier or more satisfied than knowing that my book has had a positive influence on children and parents. When I created and wrote the character of Lula, my initial intent was to offer a different kind of female character--one whose interests and personality were based on my own daughter. I believed that all kids could benefit from reading about a girl with a tool belt who helps her dad build. I also wanted to incorporate an anti-bullying aspect, especially because kids who are gender rebels, or gender non-conforming, are often at greater risk of being picked on. And the decision to make Lula into a super hero who transforms bullies seemed like a good way to provide girls with a super hero all their own.
This mom reinforced the positive aspects of the book--she got it and so did her kids. However, there was one thing that concerned her and she went on:
It is with great respect that I write to you in hopes that you will see my single concern. I recognize that this may simply be a perspective you had not thought of, so I wanted to share mine with you. As we were reading, my heart sank and my eyes darted to my son's expression when on page 19, Dusty's repetitious stutter was described as 'annoying at first'.
Although Scotty has never been picked on or bullied about his speech, I fear that that will change all too soon (another reason for my STL purchase!) He has, however experienced others impatience, and yes, annoyance that he simply can not get his words out at times. I know this pains him, and as his mother, seeing that is just excruciating.
I hope that in future printings (fingers crossed for you!), you'll reconsider that one sentence which truly seems the antithesis of Super Tool Lula's message. I don't presume to know you, but through your writing and your advocacy, I know you did not mean to call people who stutterer annoying. I know in my heart that this was not intentional.
My son thought it was very cool that Dusty's stutter came in handy to a super-hero. Scotty is an extraordinarily bright and confident young boy who sees his stuttering as just another thing that makes him unique and wonderful. He goes to speech therapy not to 'fix' anything, but to help him find his voice, his way.... because just like Lula, he's not trying to be anyone else but him.
Here is the part from my book she is referring to:
Dusty the Drill had a stutter and tended to repeat what he said a lot. This was a little annoying at first, but then Lula figured it would come in handy when it was time for Dusty to drill!
At first, it made me happy to know that there was a character in my book who her son could relate to. I had painstakenly developed each tool with some trait that would be a reflection of the tool's function (for instance, "Harry the Hammer" is really loud and punches his words). But, in my vision, each tool's eccentricity would become a positive when coming to the aid of Super Tool Lula. Hence, Dusty the Drill's stutter was integral to affecting change.
In any case, she was absolutely correct in understanding that, in this instance, I never intended for any reader to feel badly nor had I anticipated this particular situation. I knew what I had to do and I wrote her back immediately:
Of course, I completely see how that one sentence might affect your son or anyone who has a stutter...I will absolutely see about deleting that part of the sentence so it reads, “Lula figured it would come in handy when it was time for Dusty to drill!” Easy enough. I myself went to speech class when I was a little girl to have take care of a lisp!
I did have a speech impediment in the form of a lisp when I was little. In second grade, I was taken out of class to see a speech therapist who asked me to say the word "six" which I very clearly repeated as "thixth." Needless to say, I saw her for weeks until the lisp had dithappeared! So, I could relate to Scotty's sensitivity after reading those few words.
When I told her that I had emailed my publisher and deleted the words, "This was a little annoying at first," she said:
Scotty didn't know that I wrote to you last night, but I explained everything to him this morning and allowed him read your response. His eyes welled up as he smiled and said "I think that's really good."
You helped with a biggie in our house..."Be the change you wish to see in the world." It was a tangible example and an extraordinary teachable moment over cheerios...If something is weighing on your heart, stand up for yourself and others and do your best to change it. One small voice CAN make a big difference!
My heart burst with joy after reading this. How often is it that we actually have the opportunity to know that we have had an effect on someone in such a profound way?
I followed up by sending a personalized copy of the new, edited version of Super Tool Lula: The Bully-fighting Super Hero to Scotty with a note that conveyed my appreciation for his unique perspective. I told him that his voice was an important tool in making positive change and that he should always remember that. The subject line in her final email after he had received the revised copy was,"He was soooo happy, Michele!" And she attached a picture of a smiling Scotty holding the book. All I wish is that he could have seen the smile on my face too.