The F Words: Libraries

Libraries have played an important part in the development of my sense of justice and my social consciousness. In my teens I used to read books by Black authors of the Harlem Renaissance: writers like Langston Hughes,  Claude McKay, James Weldon Johnson, and Countee Cullen.  Nobody assigned me these books. Nobody told me about them. Somehow, in browsing the library’s shelves, I came upon these books and was interested in what they had to say.

Of course I was only one of millions of teens who, then and now, rely on library books to introduce them to the world in its many aspects, from natural sciences through philosophy through powerful fiction. Reading books (which, unlike articles, are generally much deeper and richer and nuanced) is important to a person’s emotional and intellectual growth. As libraries are under attack by those who want to block our access to certain books (because they want to block our avenues of thinking), it’s more important than ever to support libraries and librarians and fight against censorship.

City of Light Publishing, publisher of The F Words, is a strong supporter of public libraries and freedom of speech. (See their title, Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn.) In June of 2022 City of Light Publishing attended the American Library Association’s annual conference, ALA 2022, in Washington, D.C., where they featured five of their recent titles: Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn, by Jonathan Zimmerman; New Girl, by Kate McCarroll Moore; The Cayuga Island Kids series, by Judy Bradbury; Kite to Freedom, by Kathleen A. Dinan,  and my YA novel, The F Words. Of course City of Light was there to represent all its titles, not just these featured five. But the five featured are books that support diversity, tolerance, intellectual curiosity, and political action — books that librarians sorely need in their collection so that young people in particular can read fiction and nonfiction that reflects the desire for and desirability of tolerance and equality.

There are 9,000 public libraries in the US. In addition, there are about 21,000 high school libraries. Adding the two together equals 30,000 libraries which could (and should, I believe) acquire The F Words and other City of Light titles for their patrons.

Some of the librarians from the network of libraries were at the ALA Conference, the largest gathering of librarians in the US. What did these librarians learn about The F Words? When it comes to teen fiction, what are these librarians looking for? 

Well, according to what City of Light Publishing experienced at the ALA Conference, the aspects of The F Words that immediately created interest were these:

  • that it’s a “boy’s book” in that the protagonist is male and the story is told from  his point of view
  • that it’s a “boy’s book” and the protagonist participates in high school sports
  • that it’s a “boy’s book” and the protagonist writes poetry
  • that it’s concerned with many different levels of social justice

It is important for everyone, but  particularly young people, to be able to see themselves in stories. Thus stories told from a girl’s or woman’s point of view, a boy’s or man’s point of view, a gay or lesbian or trans point of view, a Black or Latino point of view (and so on) are so welcomed by librarians, and so needed by young people everywhere.

More girls than boys read YA fiction. Is that because boys don’t read as much as girls do, crave other things more than they crave literature? Is it because so much YA is written from a girl’s point of view? Whatever the reason, the fact is that teachers and librarians understand how vital literature is to human growth and understanding (of ourselves and others), and so they want a wide choice of books with male protagonists (just as they want a wide choice with female protagonists). 

This is one of the main reasons why librarians were excited by The F Words — because it’s told from a boy’s point of view — and because from that point of view it combines thematic elements whose combination should pique reader interest: social justice, poetry, and sports. 

I’m so glad that my publisher was able to attend the ALA Conference and talk to librarians one-on-one about why they should be interested in The F Words. And I hope that in many different libraries across the country a teen is browsing fiction, sees The F Words, pulls it off the shelf, and checks it out.

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The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

The F Words: Political Protests

I’ve been a professional writer for a long time. My first novel, She’s on First, was called “the best book that’s written on the idea of the first woman to play professional baseball,” and was reviewed by Sara Paretsky on the front page of the Chicago Tribune features section. My nonfiction title, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, was featured in the Sunday New York Times and won the SABR-Macmillan Award for Best Baseball Research of the Year.

In children’s literature I’ve published more than 150 educational activity books. As a freelance editor/writer at School Zone Publishing I wrote eighteen Start to Read books and developed and wrote their Read and Think series. I’ve written many BrainQuest cards for Workman Publishing and my BrainQuest Workbook Grade 4 is very popular. My early reader, Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories (Houghton, 2005) received excellent reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal and was named Book of the Week by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center.

And yet — I had never written a YA novel. 

I had started one, way back in 2001. But I never got beyond the first chapter. I thought that maybe it would be about freedom of speech in a high school context. 

As with many projects, I put this one aside on the assumption that if it was meant to be, it would happen.

At long last (well, 2018 to be exact) it did happen. I did write a YA novel. That novel, The F Words, will be published by City of Light Publishing on September 1, 2021. In other words: this year.

What caused my single chapter, sitting there in a lonely file on my computer, to come to life? It had to do with a protest demonstration. One day (I think it was in 2016), I was one of  perhaps 20,000 participants in an immigrant-rights march in Chicago. All around me I observed teens: thousands of them. 

I was very happy to see them. Their presence reminded me of politically active teens from the Sixties, when we protested for civil rights, for women’s liberation, and against the war in Vietnam. And this made me wonder: What are the circumstances that make a teen of today politically active? That help make him or her protest injustice? (This was before the 2020 police murder of George Floyd and the outpouring of mass protest, so much of it fueled by teens and even preteens.)

My question was the germ of the idea that led me to revisit the first chapter of The F Words and write the rest of the story — another forty-nine chapters.

The first draft was rough, carrying forward ideas of free speech and the school newspaper and public demonstrations. In the second draft I dropped the school newspaper part of the story and stuck with the heart of the first chapter — my character, 15-year-old Cole Renner, spray-painting the F word on the school walls.  

If I hadn’t been on that demonstration with all those teens, and hadn’t asked myself the question of what makes them political in these times, I may never have written The F Words. Just one more reason I’m glad to participate in protest demonstrations.

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The F Words will be published by City of Light Publishing on September 1, 2021.