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People Speak Out About the Patricia Polacco Outrage

Ohanian Comment: Various people have written me about SRA/McGraw-Hill's cancellation of Patricia Polacco's appearance at the IRA Convention.

Dear Susan: There have been lots of comments about a situation that arose during the recent IRA convention in Chicago. I request that you share the message below with your audience. I hope it clarifies that IRA played no role in the situation. Thanks!
May 8, 2006

To: Concerned educators and IRA members
From: Alan E. Farstrup, IRA

We have become aware of a problem that arose between Ms. Patricia Polacco and a publisher. Apparently, the publisher in question hired Ms. Polacco for pay to provide 5 speeches on behalf of its products. She agreed apparently believing she was being hired or invited by the International Reading Association—though she says that when she actually later read the agreement she recognized her mistake. IRA did not issue such an invitation. When someone agrees to speak on behalf of a commercial product, the company is likely to want some
control over the content of the presentation; and that is what appears to have happened here.

IRA does not allow anyone to appear 5 times on its regular conference program, it does not hire third party entities to contract with speakers on its behalf, nor does it pay speakers to appear at its conferences. IRA neither exercises nor condones censorship. However, we also have nothing to do with private contracts between children’s authors and the companies with whom they choose to work. This was a private for-profit arrangement between Ms. Polacco and a publisher and has nothing to
do with IRA.

I can tell you that IRA is – and should be – very concerned about the appropriate participation of speakers and publishers at the annual convention. Each year IRA staff review the convention in an effort to make future
conventions and conferences stronger. We will be evaluating our communications and guidelines affecting publishers and other exhibitors to make sure that our policies and expectations are clear to all concerned. Constructive comments and suggestions for improvement of the convention are welcome and very useful. It has
been my experience that many, many conferees come to convention in order to participate both in the exhibits and to take part in high quality, interesting professional meetings and sessions. Publishers are a part of our
professional community and most take their roles
seriously and participate ethically. Going to the exhibits is optional, as is attending the clearly identified commercial sessions where publishers share their ideas and present information about their products. An important goal is for all presenters and exhibitors to
participate in a professional and ethical manner and that every effort be made to avoid conflicts of interest. IRA conferences must be venues where various findings, experiences, perspectives and opinions can be openly aired and discussed.

Best regards,

Alan E. Farstrup, Executive Director
International Reading Association

NOTE: In the conference program on p. 113, SRA/McGraw-Hill ran a full page ad. It shows a book each by Nancy Carlson, Patricia Polacco and Frank Asch. The copy says "We're bringing three reknowned authors to our booth for inspring presentations, autograph signings,and free copies of their books."

The ad lists four times when each author will be available.



Here's Patricia Polacco's assistant's address:

Ken Goodman: IRA should clearly post in the program and in the exhibit hall a statement that says clearly that IRA has not reviewed nor approved any material exhibited at the convention and that those attending are advised to carefully critique exhibited materials and claims made for them.

excerpted from Patricia Polacco's statement:You can imagine my astonishment when I finally called this firm and learned that this was not the reason. They requested my written outline because their 'client' wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND MANDATE...as well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company who manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country.

Virginia Parent: When I got to this part, I let out a loud audible GASP.

I have a story about Patricia Polacco. Like millions of children around the country, my daughter was mesmerized by all her stories. Especially The Keeping Quilt And Mrs. Katz and Tusch. (Forgive me, we love her, but my daughter is fourteen and it's been years since I've read these books and the hour is late and my memory weak, but I'm still sure I got those titles right since we read them over and over and over). We loved those books especially because of their Jewish content. There was another about the Oakland fires that really resonated with my five year old. Patricia Polacco was one of our favorites.

Therefore, when we discovered she was speaking at the Corcoran in Washington, imagine our delight! We jumped at the chance. Sarah was already in sixth grade but we went anyway. We are passionate about books in this household, they are everywhere so that it is dangerous to attempt a middle-of-the-night bathroom run for fear of tripping all over then. We have always loved this author because she helped instill that passion in our child. The day at the Corcoran was actually a book illustrators event, but Polacco was featured (perhaps because she illustrates her own books?)

Early in her talk, she began decrying No Child Left Behind. She talked of how this was sapping children's creativity, destroying their love of reading but most importantly how art and music were being scrapped in favor of more test prep. She was unrelenting, unforgiving, she minced no words. I was so overcome, I had tears in my eyes. When she finished, I started applauding. Immediately my eleven-year-old daughter and husband joined me. The rest of the audience sat there in silence. But then they picked up the pace. The clapping became louder and more insistent. All that lacked was that we didn't stand up and give Ms. Polacco a standing ovation.

My daughter learned a valuable lesson that day. You stand up for what you believe in, you fight for what is right, even when you are swimming against the tide.

Judith Fogel
Fairfax, Virginia

— Alan Farstrap, Ken Goodman, and Judith Fogel




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