La Bloga’s Saturday columnist Rudy Ch. Garcia reviewed Boy Zorro and the Bully (El Niño Zorro y el Peleón). Published in English and Spanish, Rudy calls it “a Latino book” on how to handle bullying, finding Boy Zorro on the whole worthwhile. Click here to read the review and Comments from Rudy's July 26 column.
The publisher and author wrote back, objecting to calling Boy Zorro "a Latino book, arguing that "using Spanish merely makes the topic accessible to more readers". Author, Kat A. expresses restrained anger when she avers,
Rudy. Rudy. Rudy. You practically missed the book altogether. Starting with the misclassification of it as “A Latino Book”. This is a book about “Bullying”. You made it a book about Latinos and then used the book as a platform to go off into different tangents about race, skin color, lack of female representation…are you helping or hurting those who actually do something
The publisher, Katherine Del Monte, focuses on the positive messages the book conveys, only once tangentially acknowledging Garcia’s critique that illustrations paint everyone except one kid and the principal pink.
Mr. Ramos, the principal, does the right thing, stays strong, and all outcomes are favorable – no matter their skin color or race.
The author and publisher’s responses reflect one of those hard facts of writing: once the writer has sent the piece “out there,” it belongs to the reader. And the critic.
Sadly, "criticism" has come to mean its lowest common denominator, fault-finding and punishment, so people hate criticism. Maybe it's part of the national character, to take critique as a personal affront.
To be criticized is good. In its most exalted form, criticism compares a concept of perfection to the work at hand and declares how the piece at hand measures up to perfection. Most literary criticism reflects versions of the latter. It shouldn't sting. Indeed, it's an honor to be compared to perfection.
A reader or critic comes to a title with her or his own expectations for the book and reads it through the lens of expectation, plus one’s capacity for the writer’s style and invention. In writing the critique, the critic will say what he or she likes, what he or she doesn’t like, and offer qualitative observations related to the work.
In Rudy's critique, he likes Boy Zorro for its critically important message. His enthusiasm is tempered by ways the book could do a better job for its readers.
Whatever the assessment—love it, hate it, wish it was something else—it belongs to the critic and reflects that critic's sensibility. A work “means” what the reader says it means, regardless of the author’s or publisher’s intent. We do, of course, share a language, so most of the time, we "get" one another. But now and again a Boy Zorro comes around, where critique and intent rub each other the wrong way.
Favorable or not, taking into account a critic's observations--Rudy's expectation that illustrated children's books reflect a child's world by featuring diversity in gender and skin colors--won't diminish established intentions but certainly enhances the likelihood a future book will attract wider readership and more favorable critical responses.