We’ve released the 2017 We’re the People Reading List and it seems to be getting a warm reception. As always, you can download and print PDFs from that site. Please do so, and share them. We critically evaluate books during the year to find those that we can put in any young reader’s hands without reservation. We critically evaluate the books over the year for microaggressions, stereotypical characters, situations or images. And, all are written or illustrated by First Nation authors or Authors of Color. We are not compensated for our work on is and we do not receive books from publishers or authors. We create that list purely for readers who support #ownVoices.
Microaggessions. Stereotypical images. Minstrelsy characters. Books like this would not make our list.
I recently shared the above image on Twitter with just a few comments, assuming everyone who looked at this cover would see the same thing I do. Well, you know what they say about assumptions. Some questioned why I was sharing a Lemony Snicket book and Allie Jane Bruce provided clarity.
If there are people who can look it this image and see no problem until it’s pointed out, are we creating our own problem? This is just a cover so, why judge a book by the cover? Bad moods are black, right? It’s racist so let’s have the book recalled, right?
Let’s unpack this. Pick up any of these issues (or others) and let’s address them together. I think the issues this book creates are most worthy of a dialog. I can’t tell you how much I wish the illustrator, editor or author were in this discussion and as much as I do not see the need to veer into personal attacks I find it so odd that when books by women are “up for discussion” the attack is almost immediately personal but here, even when it’s Daniel Handler, it’s not yet gone there. I hope that we’re developing new ways of debating offensive books and not just approaching men and their work differently. Y’all, those women took a beating while publishers just stood by.
I have not seen this book beyond its cover. I know there are F&Gs out there, but I’ve not seen them. I’m curious about how this story unfolds, aren’t you? How does this visual thing develop? What’s the story about? What’s up with that stick?
I hate feeling like the book police, one who patrols books for rights and wrongs. But, I think ‘book police’ exist for the same reason children’s literature exists: to socialize children in the way we want them to think; to create a well informed American society; and whether we want to admit it or not, children’s literature tries to protect children. When do we police too far? When do we promote our own selfish agenda over the greater good? How much push back do marginalized people have to assert to validate their feelings existence when Whiteness dominates the landscape?
I think of that child Allie mentioned. It could be that child of color in a predominantly white classroom who everyone is going to turn to and look at and who the bully will start to called The Bad Mood. I even think about that child with the rich brown skin who will be teased by her classmates of any color. I’m a grown woman and couldn’t help but take that image personal, to feel that this is what people think of me, that I am your bad mood. And if I feel that, I feel the need to protect children from it.
Why is this bad mood black?
I know there is research on the psychology of color, but why does black, the presence of all colors, have such negative connotations? Didn’t the fashion industry reclaim black?
What about having the blues?
We do judge books by the cover. We are drawn to books by the design presented to us. Publishers know this. Just consider the books that have been published with white faces on the cover of books with protagonists who are not white. They’re using the art on the cover to sell the book.
That Thing. That bad mood. When you humanize it with hair and eyes, you give it skin. Here, the skin is black. That Thing, that mood, immediately becomes associated with black skin people. How does it develop in the story? What’s up with the stick?
I’m really hoping Little Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette is considering a conversation on this book. Granted, all we’ll probably get is a final response come October when the book is due to release, but what a great way to build customer confidence and loyalty here! Talk us through the process!
The necessary response I perceive is much broader than an immediate reaction to this single book. It’s decolonizing the publishing industry. One or two interns or editors of color isn’t the answer because a few people shouldn’t be expected to carry the burden of battling systematic racism. (FYI: when I mentioned that people didn’t see what was wrong with this image until it was pointed not, I didn’t say ‘white people’. I said ‘people’.) The only way to change the mindset that is blind to institutional racism is to more fully integrate the institutions. Diverse backgrounds will enrich the industry with diverse perspectives and insights.
I appreciate the many perspectives I’ve read on Twitter on this issue, those that range from seeing no problems with the humanized Thing to those who want the book recalled immediately. I do see a problem and I’d appreciate hearing what Little Brown intends to do with this book. Until then, please share your thoughts and insights. Let’s dig deeper into this.
UPDATE so, this happened while I was writing this post.