Julie of the Wolves: An E-Book My Children Won’t Read Until They’re Older

Kindle Julie of the Wolves (2)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):

Kindle purchase of Julie of the Wolves

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:

Is this a digital image_photograph_or video or Just Words

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):

Amazon Review

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 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]

**UPDATE 2015: E-book option is once again available.

25 thoughts on “Julie of the Wolves: An E-Book My Children Won’t Read Until They’re Older

  1. Pingback: Would You Want A Kids’ Book Endorsed By Bill Cosby? | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  2. Pingback: Internet Booksellers: How Do You Know If Material is “Harmful to Minors”? | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  3. Illia

    I was just thinking about this book and how I loved it as a child and then I come across this silly censorship. I first read the book when I was 8-9 years old; it was in my school library. I read this scene and understood it pretty well… and wasn’t particularly disturbed. It’s not graphic at all. It’s not a rape scene. Attempted, sure, but it’s not a rape scene. I believe my child mind thought he was just trying to kiss her, and he was a pretty gross individual so Julie didn’t want that. My thoughts were simply “Oh… she was in this nasty situation, so she left. That’s good.” And… now that I think about it, that’s probably a good lesson for even children to learn. Even when I was young I read a lot of books to learn about all sorts of things that people weren’t telling me… good things and bad things. And now half of the books I read as a child have been banned. Pity. I think I grew up pretty well.

    On another note, frankly, this book can only be for kids in that age range. The writing doesn’t work for anything else. Make it for young adults and they’ll surely roll their eyes because it’s written for kids. Adults can appreciate it despite the simple writing, but they’ll still be enjoying a children’s book. One vaguely-written, potentially-risky paragraph isn’t enough to promote the entire book to young adult lit.

    On one final note… I really dislike that society is so quick to censor a book with a blurry attempted rape scene, but a murder scene is just fine.

  4. Pingback: Julie of the Wolves | sand between the pages

  5. Pingback: HarperCollins’ Win Is a Big Loss (And Not Only For Readers) | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  6. Pingback: Parenting Without The “Gatekeepers”: Who’s Afraid of the Self-Published Children’s Book? | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  7. My comment is going to be a tad different compared to the others on this post. I first read Julie of the Wolves when I was 11 or 12. I do not remember if I had discussed that specific scene with my mother but I remember being scared after reading it. I knew what had happened and I knew that it was wrong. But everything that happens to Julie after that moment is why I would recommend this book to young girls (8-10 years old is too young).

    Julie fights back. She removes herself from an abusive situation. She learns to survive in one of the harshest climates in the world. She seeks out help, even if it is from a pack of wolves. And she learns about a different social structure. All of these points are wonderful lessons for young women. Especially from 11-14 years old, as life changes drastically for kids thanks to hormones.

    Julie of the Wolves was one of my favorite books growing up and I have read it, and the sequels, multiple times over the years. Julie of the Wolves teaches women to stand up for themselves and to leave an abusive situation. Yes the scene is tough but I am glad you plan to teach your girls about it. This book will remind them to be strong no matter the situation.

  8. Pingback: Correcting a Kindergarten Deficit (As Requested By An Almost-First Grader) | The Misfortune Of Knowing

    1. It really is a great book, but that scene is so jarring. I can see why George included it (and I also believe that children have to learn about these issues in a safe, educational atmosphere at some point), but I can also see why a parent of a 3rd grader wouldn’t want her child reading it. Thanks for the comment!

  9. I read it as a teenager and I was appalled and disturbed by the rape scene in the book. I think it’s beyond inappropriate for an adult to write a book directed at children with content like that. Though I abhor the idea of public censorship, I wouldn’t personally buy the book for anyone or recommend it. If I were a private bookseller, it would never see the inside of my shop.

    1. I think your reaction to the scene is a reasonable one. Generally, I think it’s okay to include these kinds of themes in novels directed at children because, sadly, many children are going to be exposed to these issues whether or not they have read these books (either by experiencing such violence themselves or by knowing someone who has). To me, the question is how the author has presented the issue. Is it gratuitous? Can it serve a pedagogical purpose? [I must say, though, that I was disappointed by George’s reaction to her critics; how could she fail to see the controversial nature of what she had written?]

      With “Julie of the Wolves,” whether it’s an appropriate book for a child is going to depend on the individual child. The Amazon reviewer’s objection was that the novel doesn’t have a warning on it for unsuspecting parents and teenagers. That might be something to consider (I tend to be against such warnings, but it might be time for me to re-evaluate my position on it: https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/consider-this-a-warning-on-books-and-blogs/).

      Thanks for the comment! I appreciate hearing from someone who has read this novel.

  10. Too many censors and too many laws. I think this country is regulating too much to the point were we don’t even need to think for ourselves and make judgements on what to do and when we do it. Maybe a bit racy for kids of that age, but I do agree it was a different time. I wonder if I had my own children if my opinion would change? Maybe it would because I would think of them first, but I still don’t think I would forbid them to read it.

    1. What surprises me is that George didn’t understand (even decades later) why her critics questioned that scene. I certainly wouldn’t censor the book, but I can understand why some parents might object to it. I wonder if “Julie of the Wolves” will be on the top 100 list of challenged books for 2010-2019. There are books with even more sexual content out there now, and I suspect that the novel’s popularity is also in decline (so it might not be on as many library shelves or school reading lists)–unless this HarperCollins v. Open Road lawsuit spreads the word about it! That’s the reason I read it.

  11. SF

    I hadn’t heard of this novel until I read the last post. I don’t think I’d be comfortable with my kid asking me questions about that scene at least without some kind of warning on the cover. Those are important conversations to have with kids, but an 8-year-old might not bring it up with their parent.

    1. Yeah, I can understand that. I hope that my kids will have an age appropriate understanding of these types of issues before they come across it in a novel. I also hope that my kids will feel comfortable talking about it with me. There’s a question about whether a book like “Julie of the Wolves” should have a content warning on the cover. I haven’t been in favor of ratings and warnings in the past (https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/consider-this-a-warning-on-books-and-blogs/), but maybe it’s time I re-evaluated my position. I’ll have to think about it more.

      1. SF

        A Trigger warning on material that isn’t graphic (you know, when it just mentions the subject or discusses it in general terms) doesn’t make sense to me (but what’s the harm in having them anyway?). A warning on the cover makes more sense for a novel with a scene like that for children. 8-10 yr olds are young.

  12. The ultra-conservative movement in this country is very controlling and want to make all decisions for the citizens. That includes which books your read. Parents who don’t make their own choices are abdicating responsibility for themselves and their children.

    On the issue of the name “Eskimo,” leave it alone. It should stand as it was written because it reflects a particular time in our history. If we are always modifying and updating, we run the risk of losing our history.

    1. I wish our federal courts were more inclined to stop these types of book challenges (the major US Supreme Court case is helpful, but it’s only a plurality and weak). School boards and administrators have to make decisions about what material is “age appropriate,” but that shouldn’t be a way of hiding content that they think is morally problematic.

      As for the term “Eskimo,” I wasn’t suggesting that the novel be updated (although I have taken a different stance on books like “Little Black Sambo”: https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/more-thoughts-on-the-censorship-spectrum-cleansing-racist-themes-from-childrens-books/). I was just explaining my use of “Yupik” instead of “Eskimo” in this post. I’ll update the post to make that clear. Thanks!

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s