March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Book To Be Re-Illustrated to Remove Díaz | Sexual Harassment in Children’s Publishing

The dominoes keep falling in the wake of public sexual harassment allegations in children’s publishing.

A book illustrated by Caldecott winner David Díaz is being pulled back from publication and re-illustrated  “in light of sexual-harassment accusations” against Díaz, according to a statement from Charlesbridge, publisher of the forthcoming Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet  by Elizabeth Rusch.

Due to be released on April 3, 2018, the book, a biography of scientist Mario Molina, “will be re-illustrated by another artist and published at a later date,” according to a statement. The publisher is hoping to have it done for Fall 2019, a spokesperson said.

“We were surprised and saddened by these allegations,” editorial director and associate publisher Yolanda Scott said in the email statement. “But we are as strongly committed as ever to author Elizabeth Rusch and to this story. Our hope is that the decision to re-illustrate will give the book every opportunity to find readers and make a difference.”

The move is the latest in the reckoning from a wave of public sexual harassment allegations that began with publication of author Anne Ursu’s anonymous survey on sexual harassment in the children’s book industry and has shaken the industry and impacted some of its biggest stars.

Anne Ursu

Since Ursu’s story on Medium and the overwhelming response, James Dashner, author of the Maze Runner books, also adapted into a film series, was dropped by his literary agent and publisher. Dashner apologized for his behavior on Twitter and wrote that he would seek “counseling and guidance.”

Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why, which was adapted for Netflix last year, was dropped by his literary agent. He denies the accusations made against him as the ramifications continue. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) told the Associated Press that Asher would no longer be admitted to its events as a result of the organization’s investigation into sexual harassment claims. He was also dropped as a keynote speaker for the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation conference in May, according to AP.

Fantasy writer Myke Cole apologized on his blog for making “unwelcome advances in professional settings” and promised to donate $500 to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which is administered by the National Women’s Law Center and set up to subsidize legal costs for people who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

And now, Charlesbridge postpones a book it calls “essential for our times.”

Mario and the Hole in the Sky is a picture-book biography of scientist Mario Molina, the Nobel Laureate who helped discover the hole in the ozone layer and is currently working to combat global climate change. Charlesbridge firmly believes that it is an essential book for our times.”

The publisher also released a statement from Rusch.

“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.”

Allegations againt Díaz became public after illustrator Ishta Mercurio accused him of fondling her hair and making sexual comments to her at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ conference.

Mercurio was making small talk during the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) annual conference when she says the man she was chatting with, a successful children’s book illustrator, reached over and touched her hair.

“He fondled a lock of my hair and leaned in to my ear and said, ‘You’re kinky, aren’t you?’” Mercurio told SLJ.

The exchange, which happened in 2012 at SCBWI’s winter conference in New York and was witnessed by a friend of Mercurio, left her feeling “horrified” and “disgusted,” she said.

Díaz was a member of SCBWI’s board and a faculty member at the conference.

According to SCBWI executive director Lin Oliver, in 2012, SCBWI received an anonymous complaint against Díaz. The complaint corresponded with what the organization’s leadership had observed of Díaz’s behavior at conferences, which they considered unprofessional. At that point, they removed him from the board for a year and he attended sexual harassment training. SCBWI then readmitted him to the board on a probationary basis for one year, during which no further incidents were observed or reported.

Díaz was allowed to return to the board in a permanent capacity in 2015. When Mercurio came forward in the fall of 2017 to report a 2012 incident, Oliver discussed it with Díaz, who apologized to Mercurio.  At that time, Oliver and Díaz mutually decided he should resign from the board.

Díaz has illustrated numerous books for children, including Newbery Honor winner The Wanderer by Sharon Creech. He won the 1995 Caldecott Medal for his illustration of the picture book Smoky Night by Eve Bunting.

Kara Yorio About Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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