Elizabeth Rusch is a member of iNK and an esteemed nonfiction author. It was just announced in School Library Journal that her upcoming book Mario and a Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet. to be published in April, will be pulped and re-illustrated. Why? Because it was illustrated by David Díaz, who was accused in 2017 by illustrator Ishta Mercurio of making an unwanted advance on her at a Society of Childrens’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference where Díaz was on the Board of Directors. The incident occurred back in 2012 but, as a young, unpublished illustrator she wasn’t about to make waves. There were, however, contemporaneous witnesses to the affront.
The reign of impunity for men behaving badly has been a dirty secret for a very long time. But children’s books is a female-dominated profession. Maybe we thought we were immune—that men who wrote and illustrated for children couldn’t be guilty of such misconduct. To its credit School Library Journal has been diligently reporting the bad news about losing the talents of these deeply flawed men, which creates unfortunate collateral damage.
The postponement and re-illustration of Liz’s book adds at least a year to its publication date on a timely issue about yet another threat to our planet. She will lose that year’s sales in repayment for her advance on further earnings. In addition, Liz has been working on the book for 10 years. It was a Junior Library Guild selection so it had some promise. And she was especially proud and delighted that the book was going to be published in both English and Spanish, with the potential to reach a wide audience with an important and inspiring story about a living Mexican-American scientist. Its publisher, Charlesbridge, will take a financial hit for destroying the finished books ready to be distributed in its warehouse. But they are doing the right thing. Liz’s public reaction to this:
“I’m sad and angry that this situation has delayed a book about a critical topic and an important figure,” she said. “But I absolutely stand by any woman who has been hurt, and by Charlesbridge’s commitment to a fresh start for the book.”
Anne Ursu’s original survey on anonymous reporting of men behaving badly in the children’s book world is hopeful that this will bring much needed change:
“When male authors are more likely to be lionized, it impacts the kinds of books, characters, and stories that end up in the hands of readers, says Ursu, whose next book features a girl who is trying to find power in a society that doesn’t want to listen to her.
“Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize the people we’re really trying to protect and support are our readers, the kids and teens,” Ursu says. “We want to make sure there’s a lot of gender and racial diversity.” I can assure you that iNK will not forget this member's pain and suffering. We will greet the updated version of Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet with the fanfare and acclaim it deserves.
*Award-winning author of more than 90 nonfiction books for children, mostly in science. *Former Contributor to the Huffington Post *Founder/President of iNK Think Tank, Inc. *Passionate advocate for the joy of learning for every child and teacher.