Scholastic books ‘edited by interns’

Former proofreader says publisher’s books, one of which recently printed a map without Israel, are edited by students

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Children display books of Scholastic's Clifford the Big Red Dog at the Arthur Tappan School in Harlem, March 6, 2013 (photo credit: AP/John Minchillo)
Children display books of Scholastic's Clifford the Big Red Dog at the Arthur Tappan School in Harlem, March 6, 2013 (photo credit: AP/John Minchillo)

The vast majority of Scholastic’s proofreaders are paid interns with little qualifications to correct factual errors in the books they review, such as the one containing a map omitting Israel, a former production intern at Scholastic said on Thursday.

Hours after an article first published in The Times of Israel Wednesday, the world’s largest children’s book publisher expressed “regret” on its blog for erasing Israel from a map in the book Thea Stilton and the Blue Scarab Hunt, published in 2012. Scholastic promised to stop shipment of the book, revise the map, and reprint it, but provided no explanation on how the error came about or what it would do to prevent similar ones from taking place.

Speaking to The Times of Israel from New York on condition of anonymity, the former student employee — who had reviewed several maps in Scholastic books during her six-month internship — described typical Scholastic proofreaders as “bored out of their minds,” with no specific knowledge of the subject matter included in the books they are meant to review. She estimated that 75 percent of Scholastic’s proofreaders are interns, not full-time staff.

“As an intern, I haven’t majored in history and I don’t have any degrees in geography or mapping. They basically just trusted me to use any references at my disposal and check the map that I had been given against the internet or reference books of any sort,” she said.

As the last copy editor at the end of a chain of five to six proofreaders, the intern described her job as gruelingly technical and “possibly one of the worst jobs you can have in publishing.” During her time at Scholastic, a map — like any other graphic image — would be checked for factual or artistic errors together with the book’s text.

Once, the intern was asked to check the accuracy of maps in a book about the Holocaust. It was she who realized, without guidance or instruction, that she must use a historic map of Europe as reference rather than a contemporary one.

“I had to be educated enough to know that you can’t use a current map of Europe for that book,” she said. “I don’t know if every intern who’s bored out of their mind is going to spend as much time as I did to make sure the images are factually correct. I happen to care enough about the topic to make sure the map is correct, but I don’t know if I would have employed the same attention if it were a different situation.”

Though she did not yet work at Scholastic when Thea Stilton and the Blue Scarab Hunt was published (it is book number 11 in the series), the intern said that as far as company policy is concerned, the book must have been reviewed by at least three or four people in the US.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that several people saw this map and let it go,” she told The Times of Israel.

Translated from Spanish or Italian, the Geronimo Stilton series is adapted by Scholastic’s editors to an American audience. On one occasion, the intern recalled, she was told to amend a picture of someone drinking alcohol for being “too suggestive for American audiences.” On another, a chapter titled “I’m too sexy for my shirt” had to be scrapped.

“Certain things that apparently would fly in the Spanish or Italian versions were not going to fly in the American ones,” she said.

The erroneous map was almost certainly inserted in the original Italian version of the book and overlooked by Scholastic, the intern concluded.

Scholastic was not available for comment at time of publication.

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