Jean Craighead George’s novel, Julie of the Wolves, has been on my mind since the federal court for the Southern District of New York decided in HarperCollins Publishers v. Open Road Integrated Media that a 1971 contract gave HarperCollins the e-book publishing rights to George’s novel, after George had contracted with Open Road to publish the e-book in 2011. Around 1,600 e-books were sold through Open Road, but now, most likely thanks to the dubious district court opinion, the e-book version is currently unavailable (as of April 10, 2014):
On April 7, 2014, I was lucky enough to buy the e-book before the option disappeared from Amazon. As I explained in The HarperCollins Lawsuit: Keeping Authors Aboard as Traditional Publishing Sinks, I disagree with the district court’s analysis of the 1971 George–HarperCollins contract because the terms of the contract (1) gave HarperCollins the right to publish the novel in book form (as defined in 1971); and (2) reserved to George all other publishing rights. Plus, even if the 1971 contract included e-books (back when there was no such thing as even a household computer), HarperCollins breached the contract by insisting on a meager 25% royalty instead the 50% royalty referenced in the very same sentence of the 1971 contract they claim gives them the e-book rights.
Right now, according to a March 28, 2014 letter (PDF) to the court from HarperCollins’ lawyers, the parties are attempting to negotiate a settlement. We’ll see what happens. Let’s hope that this litigation won’t withhold the e-book version of Julie of the Wolves from the public for long.
In 1973, Julie of the Wolves received the Newbery Medal, which the Association for Library Service to Children awards annually to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of reading this novel for the first time. It’s a fascinating story about an Yupik girl in Alaska who is caught between the “old ways” of her people and the “new ways” of the outside world.* In English, she is “Julie,” while in Yupik, she is “Miyax.”
I’m two decades older than this novel’s intended audience, 8-12 year-olds, but I’m always on the lookout for novels to add to my children’s bookshelves. While I’m happy to introduce my six-year-old twins to advanced reading material (such as Anne of Green Gables), and I’m especially interested in novels featuring ethnically diverse protagonists like Julie/Miyax, I’ll probably wait until my daughters are closer to the publisher-recommended age before I give them a copy of Julie of the Wolves.(Hopefully, the e-book will be available again by then!)
The well-written novel contains short descriptive sentences that younger readers can easily understand, but it also includes mature themes. At only thirteen, in order to escape her aunt’s house, Julie marries Daniel, a boy with intellectual disabilities. She adjusts to life in Daniel’s home (acting more like Daniel’s sister than as his wife), until he attempts to rape her. Julie runs away from home, into the Alaskan wilderness, where she must rely on her Yupik skills and the kindness of wolves to survive.
The attempted rape scene is not particularly graphic, but it is inherently upsetting, and I can see how it could shock a young reader who is not aware of these issues:
“You!” [Daniel] shouted. [Julie] looked up in surprise.
“You. You’re my wife.”
“Daniel, what’s wrong?”
“They’re laughing at me. That’s what’s wrong. They say, ‘Ha, ha. Dumb Daniel. He’s got a wife and he can’t mater her. Ha.”
He pulled her to her feet and pressed his lips against her mouth. She pulled away.
“We don’t have to,” she cried.
“They’re laughin’,” he repeated, and tore her dress from her shoulder. She clutched it and pulled away. Daniel grew angry. He tripped her and follower her to the floor. His lips curled back and his tongue touched her mouth. Crushing her with his body, he twisted her down onto the floor. He was as frightened as she.
The room spun, and grew blurry. Daniel cursed, kicked violently, and lay still. Suddenly he got to his feet and ran out of the house. ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow I can, I can, can, can, ha ha,” he bleated piteously.
Reacting to these lines, some people have questioned whether this novel is appropriate for children who even fall into the publisher’s recommended age: 8-12 years-old. As one Amazon reviewer said (click on the image to make it larger):
This novel has been controversial enough to prompt efforts to remove Julie of the Wolves from library shelves, making it one of the top 100 challenged books in the 1990s and in the 2000s.
Incredibly, George (who passed away in 2012) felt that her critics simply misunderstood the scene. A few years ago, she explained, “I don’t know why “Julie of the Wolves” was banned, but the critics seem to be fussing about Daniel’s pushing his wife, Julie, to the floor and tearing her dress. They call it ‘rape’ because they didn’t read it correctly.” Marital rape wasn’t a crime in the United States at the time George wrote this novel, but there is no question that the scene still exposes readers to the topics of sexual and domestic violence.
While I may agree with the critics who say that this novel raises the issue of sexual and domestic violence, I do not advocate removing it from public libraries and schools. I’ve never been a proponent of book banning, which I discussed most recently in Please Stop Parenting My Children, even though some of the books my children have chosen from the library have surprised me — such as when a book I thought was about butterflies turned out to be about the Nazi occupation of France. (See How Do You Talk To A Child About The Holocaust?).
In this case, a book like Julie of the Wolves can help broach a subject that is challenging to talk about with children, but one that must be discussed and not simply in the context of a fictional child marriage in a remote Alaskan town. We’ve already begun this conversation in our household, and someday, Julie of the Wolves may be part of it. Hiding books like this from children will not make the issue of sexual and domestic violence disappear. Keeping our children in the dark about this important topic can only perpetuate and exacerbate what is already a dire situation in our society.
*The 1972 novel refers to “Eskimos.” Today, there is a question about whether the appropriate term is “Eskimo,” “Inuit,” or some other word. Many people believe that the term “Eskimo” is derogatory, while others believe that the term “Inuit” is under-inclusive because it does not include Yupik people. The protagonist of Julie of the Wolves is Yupik. [Edited to add: I'm not suggesting the novel be "cleansed" of the term "Eskimo." I'm just explaining why I didn't use it in my post]