So glad I was out and about with my sister yesterday. It’s really snowing here today! For once, I can actually pour a cup of tea, grab a book and relax.
We’re the People are working on our next summer reading list and will release again in the spring. While working in an academic library does give me access to many things I wouldn’t have in other libraries, it doesn’t give me intense conversations about children’s literature. So, it was such a pleasure when we recently met up on Skype. Everyone in the group brings such unique and important insights to our conversation but I have to say that right now, I’m still digesting contributions from Debbie Reese and Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Rarely do we, or rather do I, discuss books solely from the perspective of social justice. Debbie tends to do this from a micro level while Lyn does it from a macro level. You really begin to realize the impression books leave on readers when you read at a critical level.
Talk about impressions! The conversation about Birthday Cake does not stop. The dialog did begin to get meaningful when people began asking what children’s books best represent enslavement. Yesterday an article ran in the Chicago Tribune with journalist Nara Schoenberg interviewing Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Paulette Brown Bracy and myself about children’s books that feature enslavement. Ebony cited the numbers Zetta Elliott and I released earlier this year, that only 32 books written by African Americans were released in 2015 for children ages 12-18. She continued on to state “The reason we keep needing new slavery books is because slavery historians keep unearthing new information about what U.S. slavery was actually like.” Indeed! If we don’t get passed slavery (and this won’t happen if there is no collective understanding on how it was enacted) then, we’ll never get past racism.
I don’t think any of the 32 books for 12-18 year olds last year were about enslavement, I think that slavery is found most often in picture books. That phenomenon is worth studying.
As intensely important as enslavement is, so are books that empower imagination, solve mysteries, question contemporary social structures and make children laugh. We need more of those, too!
Also served up this week Ramin Ganeshram burned her editor, illustrator, publisher and even the activists who rebuked the book she wrote. Before this was released, I was beginning to think that Ganeshram’s story had been corrupted by her publisher, but her rant pretty much indicates that the words were hers. In owning her own words, very little else stated in the piece really mattered: it was her mess.
It’s difficult to determine the point of such unfocused blaming, but it is easy to see the fingers that point back at the source. Many wanted to know what happened at Scholastic, but not like this. Let there be whispers and rumors, not career suicide, not contentious terms like ‘lynch mobs’. And, I certainly didn’t want to see blame become personal. Let the publisher continue to be seen as the perpetrator they are.
Zetta Elliott wrote this week about the undeniable whiteness of the Scholastic Book Fair that teachers and students witnesses. And, early in the week she and I reflected on representation.
People want to believe we’re making “progress” because the word “diversity” gets bandied about on social media. But what’s needed in the “movement” for inclusive children’s literature is greater transparency. I get VERY tired of the relentless optimism and naïveté of some diversity advocates who refuse to grapple with the facts. If there are 3000 novels published for young readers in the US each year, then should we really be celebrating the publication of 30 Black-authored novels? And of those 30 authors, only TWO were making their debut in 2015? I think that’s appalling. ~Zetta
Don’t miss the BrownBookshelf’s annual celebration of African American’s in kidlit. This is such a beautiful way to learn about books and authors we may otherwise miss.