When I was in fourth grade, I got to participate in our local Young Authors Conference. As the name suggests, it was a coming-together of young authors from various schools in southwestern Michigan. Honestly, though, I don't remember much about what happened at the conference. In fact, as I type this, I'm now questioning if it was actually third grade. Well, that's not important. What I do remember is the "book" I wrote and a conversation I had with my teacher.
The book, entitled TWO BY TWO, was around ten pages long, written and illustrated by me, with about five sentences per page. It was made of 8.5 x 11 paper folded in half and wrapped in a catchy cover made of wallpaper. Here's the plot. It was about a cardinal and another bird that I referred to as a mackinaw, when I actually meant macaw. Except, what I actually drew was more like a cockatiel. (It's worth noting I have this book somewhere in storage, and if I was a diligent blogger, I'd find it and scan it...but I'm also a blogger with limited time). Anyway, these were girl birds, and they were pals. Throughout the course of the book, each of them builds a nest and lays eggs. Then, in the shocking ending, the eggs hatch into baby birds.
You're probably wondering where the title comes from. After all, doesn't two by two = four? Well, while I was painstakingly working on my rough draft, my teacher came by and started this conversation:
TEACHER: Your girl birds are having baby birds.
TEACHER: What are you missing?
TEACHER: What do girl birds need to make baby birds?
TEACHER: Boy birds.
And so, I had my first editorial experience.
My teacher had me write in a boy cardinal and a boy "mackinaw," whose gender I identified by making them wear ties. In the book, the boy birds meet the girl birds, and--this is a direct quote--"they mated." Now, why a 9-year-old would choose that ineloquent wording baffles me, though I think it was encouraged by my teacher. More baffling, if we're dealing with anthropomorphic birds here, why not just say "they got married"? Wouldn't that be more kid friendly?
I've thought a lot about this over the years, and I find I'm less concerned about the mating wording than I am about why it had to be put in. Why was my teacher so fixated on making sure I correctly detailed the rules of nature? I mean, it was a kid's book with tie-wearing birds. And if she was such a stickler for detail, why didn't she fact-check my erroneous bird species, hmm? As the news these days buzzes with social issues and women's right, a new thought has come to me.
Was she worried my book was promoting single motherhood? Or that my birds were lesbians?
It was the 1980s--not entirely backwards but certainly not as progressive as today. Was my early literature being censored with family values? Maybe I'm reading too much into it. All I know is that no hussy birds came out of that classroom that day--but that I now make my living writing about succubi.