February. Way back when I began teaching, I hearted February as it gave me the opportunity to do veer from the tried and true and do some really creative things with my students. Because the student population at the Catholic school where I taught was 100% African American, we would celebrate Valentines Day as “I Love My Black Me Day”. My 7th and 8th graders wouldn’t have to wear uniforms and we’d have guest speakers on topics such as relationships, health, children in the civil rights movement, and sharing our talents. Throughout the school, the month would be filled with biographies, viewings of “Roots” and kente print. That was 15 years ago and thngs really haven’t changed.
Here on the blogosphere, I see White bloggers and journalists feel that it’s now safe to talk the lack of presence of Blacks (and other minorities) in YA literature. To be clear, there are Whites who keep this topic at the forefront, but not enough, not nearly enough. I’ve notice on the YALSA listserv, there has been a surge of people asking for books with Black characters. It often starts as the request for “urban books”, that nebulous term for “African American books”. The conversation becomes muddled and one or two will respond with straight up urban fiction, some will throw in Stephanie Perry Moore and Paul Volponi and sometimes there’s even 8th Grade Superzero and some Sarah Dessen. I often wonder why librarians can’t effectively describe exactly what they’re looking for on these listservs in terms of genre, setting, ethnicity, reader age…?
In responding to a recent request on a listserv, I created such a major faux pas!! Someone was looking for sources for African American YA books and well, of course I listed my own. I then mentioned Reading in Color and The HappyNappyBookseller and that was it. AHH!!!! Can you believe I forgot the BrownBookShelf and Miss Domino?? Then there’s Multiculturalism Rocks that promotes books of color, as well as Diversity in YA, PaperTigers. Fledgling and??? Who else am I forgetting that promotes books for teens and children of color? Since I dwell in the world of YA I know I’m missing children’s books blogs.
I’d be remiss in my duties of a promoter if I didn’t mention the thorough list Zetta Elliot compiled a while ago of African American YA speculative fiction books. I admit, this isn’t particularly my favorite genre, but when it comes to building imaginations and getting readers to wonder about possibilities, this is it. So, why aren’t there more books here?
I admit, I am doing special reading for February. I’m reading Bleeding Violets for our online discussion and I’m reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for a discussion with my teachers. Are you reading anything special for Black History month?