What better day for a book trailer than a Saturday? And, what’s better for Halloween that a little fantasy? The Novice is the first is the Summoner series by Taran Matharu.
What better day for a book trailer than a Saturday? And, what’s better for Halloween that a little fantasy? The Novice is the first is the Summoner series by Taran Matharu.
I know those girls because I’ve taught those girls.
They’re the ones who are loud, indignant and if you listen to them, they’re quite often right in their message although wrong in their approach. Smart, too. They knew the school was letting them down and could tell when a teacher didn’t care. They fight with words as easily as with their fists. They cut class if they don’t like you and work like the dickens if they do.
“Women of color are more likely to push back on things or they are going to talk a certain way and you have to understand what they are saying. You have to know how to deal with and not be upset with or be offended by it . . . . [The girls] are going to question you. It’s not that they are being disrespectful. It’s they just want to know”.
They’re the ones like P, a student I had who none of her other teachers seemed to notice. These were good, young black teachers who worked hard with the students and it was odd that they didn’t notice P. She rarely came to school but when she did, she would quietly do her work. I found out that every 6 months or so, she was living in a new home because her mother couldn’t care for her children. P had a limp because she had a bone that never set right.
“AT-RISK YOUNG WOMEN DESCRIBE ZERO-TOLERANCE SCHOOLS AS CHAOTIC ENVIRONMENTS IN WHICH DISCIPLINE IS PRIORITIZED OVER EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT.”
I remember C, the girl who took an attitude with me because I called out to her from the back of the library, said I yelled at her and she wasn’t accepting that behavior. How she became one of my special students, I’ll never know.
These are the girls who gave me this gray hair. These are the girls whose faces I could look into and see my neighbors and my cousins in their features. Their lives were too often beyond me. It’s these girls who let me know I would never be a writer because their short lives has more stories than all my years ever would.
I’ve stepped away from the news lately. In the morning, instead of the Today Show I’ll watch the most recent episode of General Hospital while I get ready for work. When Dajerria was dragged across the lawn by a police officer in Texas, I never watched the video, nor have I seen footage of 18 year old Shakara being thrown from her school desk. I have looked at the still images and thought “yeah”, not in affirming way, but in a way of knowing what it’s like to be in a school where teachers are afraid of black girls and where discipline is turned over to armed men.
“INCREASED LEVELS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND SECURITY PERSONNEL WITHIN SCHOOLS SOMETIMES MAKE GIRLS FEEL LESS SAFE AND LESS LIKELY TO ATTEND SCHOOL.”
I’ve read that Shakara’s mother recently passed away and the girl had just gone into foster care. She’s a quiet child.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement was prompted by the brutal murders of black boys in the streets and even then, there was an undercurrent, a muffled cry calling out the names of black women who were also being killed. And dragged across lawns. Hanged in jail cells. And thrown out of school chairs.
I wonder how many crimes against our girls have gone untold. How many girls think they don’t matter, that no one cares?
This silence about at-risk girls is multidimensional and cross-institutional. The risks that Black and other girls of color confront rarely receive the full attention of researchers, advocates, policy makers, and funders. As a result, many educators, activists, and community members remain underinformed about the consequences of punitive school policies on girls as well as the distinctly gendered dynamics of zero-tolerance environments that limit their educational achievements.
Why on a blog about diversity and literacy? Because, diversity is about social justice and there clearly is too little justice for our young girls. Social justice, hell humanity, recognizes our connected responsibility to these children. Because these schools are failing our girls when they’re calling armed security guards to remove children from chairs. Because we need to get our girls literate so that they can effectively navigate the world around them. Our gilrs will DEVOUR books that resonate with them. They are SPONGES. But, with no mirrors, they cannot see their own beauty.
“Because girls may not be perceived as problems or “in crisis,” their needs for affirmation may be overlooked, leading some girls to gravitate toward unproductive pathways or to simply fall through the cracks.”
source of all my quotes today:
Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected
Nicola Yoon recently announced that her recently released novel, Everything, Everything (Delacorte Press, 2015) has been optioned by MGM.
With all the children’s books that have evolved into movies, have you ever seen a chidlren’s or YA book by a Native American or person of color become a major motion picture? Yes, there are film versions of Watsons Go to Birmingham, and The House of Dies Drear but they were not major releases. I think it’s huge to see these books moving to film and I hope to see lots of support for them.
Quvenzhane Wallis becomes the latest (and youngest?) African American celebrity to get a book deal. Wallis has a four book contract with Simone and Schuster for three chapter books and a picture book.
Publisher’s Weekly recently released its annual salary survey of the publishing industry. A few takeaways.
It will be interesting to compare these results to those from the Lee and Low survey specifically for firms that publish children’s and young adult literature.
Latin@s In Kid Lit is currently running a series on Cuban American authors which has thus far featured reflective pieces from Alma Flor Ada, Meg Medina, Laura Lacamara, Nancy Osa and Margarita Engle. I like getting to know these authors, what it means to be a Cuban American (no, there is no single story!) and discovering a few new books. I can read more critically when I understand what it means to be Cuban American.
The Kirkus article “On Ethnicity and Authenticity” explains what happens when we read critically, when what we bring to the reading differing expectations in what words we’ll use and how this sometimes derails authenticity.
“…both choices were made to increase the appeal of each book to a general U.S. audience, I can understand it. Broader appeal means higher sales and, arguably, higher exposure of each ethnic minority to children unfamiliar with it. But the trade-off—potential alienation of the culture each book is about—seems tragic to me. If, as we keep saying in our calls for diversity in children’s literature, children need both windows and mirrors, isn’t it working against that goal to give them books that are not truthful to those diverse cultures?”
In a recent blog post, I asked how we can move forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature, both collectively and individually. Several responses were generated on FB, via email and as comments to the original post. They appear below. Each of these thoughtful responses provides avenues we all might consider as ways to personally get involved in the diversity movement.
Anne Sibley O’Brien; children’s book creator, performance artist
My focus, including in the books I create, is on diverse races and cultures, so that’s what my ideas are related to, but most here apply also to other forms of diversity.
One of the biggest problems I’ve noticed is that people often don’t know about so many of the books that *have* been published that feature diverse kids. This lack of visibility leads to lower sales which leads to fewer diverse books being published. And round and round the vicious cycle goes. We need to take action to reverse that cycle by increasing visibility, usage and demand.
I’m a co-founder of two projects that promote racially- and culturally-diverse books, to increase visibility and usage and to inform the conversations about diversity in books: I’m Your Neighbor (www.imyourneighborbooks.org), a searchable database of books about recent immigrants; and the Picture Book Project: A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color.
Of course the majority of the titles in both collections are still by white writers and illustrators.
Other things I’m thinking about/working on that individuals, especially established white writers and illustrators, can do to increase the visibility of books about and especially BY writers of color and Native people:
– When promoting your own new titles – on blogposts and social media, in interviews, during school and conference presentations, etc – develop and share a companion list of related (by topic, group, setting, genre, etc) titles *by diverse authors*: “And if you enjoyed my book, here are some other titles I think you’d like…”
This is a particularly useful resource for teachers and librarians who are building their collections, and particularly effective coming from those authors who have a wide following and successful sales.
– After your own author appearance, recommend several writers of color for future appearances. Or help sponsor a diverse author at your local school.
– In your own community, pay attention to recommended reading lists – school summer reading, book clubs, etc – and add suggestions of diverse books.
– Choose diverse books as gifts for baby showers, birthdays, and friends.
Finally, I believe one of the most important steps is to unpack and increase awareness of patterns of privilege, dominance and entitlement in the white community. So much of the attitudes and behaviors that have resulted in a lack of diverse books is unconscious. Unless we become aware of these patterns, even the best-intentioned white people – and sometimes even POC – will continue to perpetuate them. Read challenging material about race and DISCUSS. The blog, “Reading While White,” is a good place to start.
Cheryl and Wade Hudson; publishers, co-founders Just Us Books
Previously marginalized characters need to be integrated and centralized in stories for all children. This is one of the primary reasons we established Just Us Books–we wanted our own African American children to see themselves positively reflected in the books and stories that we read to them. Some responses to the #LargeFears review shows just how deeply embedded white privilege is in contemporary children’s literature. So the struggle continues.
Just Us Books and Marimba Books will continue to publish books for children and young adults that reflect our nation’s, our world’s diversity. That commitment which motivated us to establish our own publishing company is still just as important, just as crucial, in 2015 as it was in 1988 when Just Us Books brought its first book to the marketplace. We will not only continue to advocate for more diversity in books that are published for children and young adults, but will also encourage and promote the inclusion of people of color on staffs of publishers producing these books. As publishing professions who are also authors of children’s books, we will also continue to take advantage of every opportunity we can to share our stories and educate others–whether librarians, reviewers, booksellers, parents or simply book lovers everywhere about the role each can play to help address inclusion and equity in all areas of publishing.
Debbie Reese; Blogger, librarian, activist.
I understand the impetus to move forward, and I’m doing all I can at American Indians in Children’s Literature to promote children’s books that present Native peoples–“warts and all”–to readers.
I don’t think it is enough, however, to promote the good. There’s far too much misrepresentation out there. The ugly truth is that misrepresentations of Native peoples are the norm. They’re so embedded in what people think they know about us, that when our truths are given to them, they are rejected as “not real” because what they see as “real” is stereotypes.
Moving forward, then, means calling out the problems again and again and again until real Native peoples are the norm and stereotypes of us are the exception. It means calling out the problems in much loved books so that kids are not assigned to read LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS.
We have work to do. At ALA Midwinter 2015, I said that we need more voices calling out problematic representations. We can’t just promote the good and add the good to what is already on the shelves. There’s a lot of unlearning required. That is important work, and that is a key piece, for me, in moving forward.
debraj11; YA, paranormal and science fiction writer, avid reader, human rights advocate
The way forward is, I believe, in your post: “The Whiteness of literature will continue until the economics of a brown marketplace demand otherwise.”
I am far more intentional today in the utilization of my purchasing power and time to support books written by POC. And it has been a wonderful experience to look inside new windows, see mirror images, and encounter new stories.
As more librarians, teachers, book reviewers, and bookstore clerks make the works of POC visible, kids and adults will lead the way to changes in the publishing industry.
Maya Gonzalez; award winning artist, author, educator, activist, peacemaker, publisher, equality lover, obsessive recycler, traveler, river lover, tree talker, sky kisser
**i believe the only way to take the diversity conversation to the next level with dignity and respect and effectiveness is to get the kids involved. if we want to create real change, we have to do it different. i’m actively teaching kids of color, disabled and lgbtqi2s kids every aspect of coming into VOICE and bookmaking AND telling them why. awareness coupled with tools of action. this is where i’m going. i deeply appreciate all the beautiful efforts so many amazing folks are putting toward equity right now. we are hitting critical mass! slowly but surely.
Mike Jung; middle grade fiction author and founding member of We Need Diverse Books
I think it’s easy to conceive of “diverse books” as something limited to the books themselves, separate from any of the creative and business forces that permeate them, but after the past two years I find it impossible to do that anymore. Books only fulfill their ultimate purpose (which is to be read) after they’ve gone through a publishing pipeline involving a whole lot of people. Agents, editors, designers and art directors, publicists and event planners, sales representatives, booksellers, librarians, and teachers are just some of those people, and they all influence how and if a given book is found by the readers who want and need it. I do believe the most important people are at either end of that pipeline; authors and illustrators at the start, and readers at the finish. We and they are at the heart of the endeavor. But I also believe that a truly diverse body of literature can only emerge from a truly diverse ecosystem of creation and distribution, which involves people in all of the roles I mentioned, and more. I’ll write my own books, because that’s the most valuable way I personally can contribute, and I’ll continue to engage in public dialogue, because we can’t change our unconscious biases without becoming more fully conscious of them. I’ll also try to openly and publicly confront my own history of inaction and ignorance. I’ve been inactive and ignorant for too long.
Laura Atkins; independent children’s book editor
Such a tough but important question. First, my main thought from what I’ve seen in the Meg Rosoff controversy. I’m struck by how people see things in such different ways. How can Meg and I have read your Facebook post linking to Large Fears and had such profoundly different reactions? I have this feeling that some of us are speaking not just different languages, but from different universes. I’ve tried to get my head around what she said/meant, as she clearly felt misunderstood. But to me, it seemed like a mean-spirited reaction to your post celebrating a book about a queer brown boy. And we both know there aren’t many of those. I’d love to quote an entire post my colleague Jonah Heller from VCFA wrote – based on his research about picture books featuring gender creative children. He said he could count two such books – published in 1987 and 2004. How could this, along with the statistics that the CCBC release each year, not convince ANYONE and EVERYONE that there is a big problem with a lack of diversity and equity in children’s books?
That’s a long answer to what stumped me with what happened. It’s like we live in these parallel realities and just don’t see the world in the same way. Which depresses me. I also realize that I can walk away from this discussion as a white lady and take a break. A break many people of color can’t take, unable to walk away from a society that is often racist and white supremacist. And I know that language would turn off many people right there. But as I get older (the ripe old age of 45), I’m getting less worried about modifying my language. Because that’s what it looks like to me, and to many others.
What will I do to move us closer to greater representation of marginalized people in children’s literature? I will speak out when I see things that feel wrong to me, as I did in responding to Meg Rosoff’s post. Which was hard for me as I’ve been a huge fan of her writing, and it’s scary to stand up to someone famous. But also not so hard since what she said seemed to clearly wrong to me. And it helped that I could draw on personal experience having a lesbian mother (and quick correction, I found out today that she and her partner have been together for 35 years!). So first, speaking out.
I will work to highlight and spread the word about books written by authors of color, and work done by people, especially of color, who are doing equity and social justice work in the children’s book field.
And I am especially interested in following and being involved in non-traditional publishing efforts. I know we are both huge fans of Zetta Elliott’s publishing work at Rosetta Press. Maya Gonzalez/Matthew Smith with Reflection Press, Janine Macbeth with Blood Orange Press, people like Innosanto Nagara who wrote A is for Activist, and Robert Trujillo who illustrated I am Sausal Creek… The list could go on. I’m so excited by these grass roots publishing efforts. Because I also have very little faith in the mainstream publishing industry which functions as a profit-driven behemoth – trying to make money rather than publishing the books which should be out there. Which we can see from the stats – fewer than 10% of books published by/or about people of color while more than 50% of the children born in the United States today are children of color. That’s been a stuck statistic for a long time – publishers clearly don’t feel a sense of responsibility to serve the children in this country.
Things WILL change as demographics shift. And I’d rather be on the side of change. There’s no question I’m radical, and I want to be surrounded by other radical people working in this area. I love reading the Reading While White blog, and seeing people deeply interrogate the status quo. That’s where I want to be too. And following the work of important people like you! And Debbie Reese, and Sarah Park Dahlin, and others who keep all of us on our toes, calling things out when they need calling out.
I am an activist, and want to be involved with, and support the work of, other activists. I’d rather believe and work for the change that I and others want to see than give up hope. So maybe I’m an optimist too. Time will tell…
Sheila Ruth; publisher, author, webdesigner, KidLitCon organizer
I don’t know what the answer is, but I think the best thing we can do is to continue the conversation, continue to talk about and push forward. While it’s true that there’s been some horrible and disheartening backlash, I think a backlash usually means that there’s something to lash back against, and I think it indicates that the problems have reached the level of awareness for many Americans that hasn’t been there before. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, I’m an optimistic person by nature, but it seems to me that the last year or two especially, much progress has been made in creating awareness. Whether that can lead to real change? I don’t know, but I hope so.
Zetta Elliott; award winning children’s author, educator
I decided a year or two ago that I can no longer afford to devote so much time and energy to the diversity debate. Since 2009 I’ve spent countless hours writing open letters, and giving talks at conferences, and posting essays all over the blogosphere. But attitudes like Rosoff’s are woven into the fabric of the kid lit community and they contribute to the continued marginalization of writers of color. In 2013 I self-published one book; in 2014 I self-published nine. So far this year I have self-published 3 books, and 2 more should come out later this month. Only 2% of children’s book authors published annually in the US are African American, and only 1% of publishing professionals self-identify as Black. I have dozens of stories that never would have seen the light of day without print-on-demand technology, and I have at last a dozen stories still on my hard drive. Rosoff and her more discreet peers live in a parallel universe; they don’t know anything about the kids in my community, and they know nothing about my culture’s storytelling traditions. I don’t want to waste time responding to their ridiculous claims, but I know they collectively they hold almost all the power. My job is to seize what power I can and get my stories to the kids who need them. Perhaps this controversy will make the kid lit community think twice about the ways self-published books are stigmatized and marginalized by those who claim to love children and the books they read/need.
Jonah Heller recently wrote the following in a FaceBook post. Because he doesn’t have a blog home and because this deserves a wider audience, I’m sharing it here now. Jonah holds an AFA from Young Harris College and a BFA in Dramatic Writing for Film and Television from Savannah College of Art and Design. He currently studies writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Having just written a critical thesis on picture books featuring gender creative boys, and considering the original subject being discussed in the linked article regards said topic… I have something I’d like to say:
Myles E. Johnson and Kendrick Daye’s “Large Fears,” is the picture book being discussed. Huffington Post describes it as a story about “a black boy who loves pink things… and longs to travel to Mars where he thinks he will find people and things that accept him rather than shame… [him] for being different from other young black boys in his life.”
“Large Fears” joins a list of titles featuring gender creative, African American, male protagonists that I can count on one hand.
The other two I can pull out of my bibliographies from my recent critical research into gender creative picture books for boys, are:
Alexis De Vaux and Cheryl Hanna’s “An Enchanted Hair Tale” (Harper and Row, 1987)
Cheryl Kilodavis and Suzanne DeSimone’s “My Princess Boy: a mom’s story about a young boy who likes to dress up” (1st Aladdin, 2004)
If anyone can think of any other picture book titles which specifically feature a gender creative African American boy, please let me know.
*Note: There’s a 14-year gap in publishing between “Enchanted Hair Tale” and an 11-year gap between “My Princess Boy” and “Large Fears.”
That’s an entire decade between each title.
If you were born in 1987 like I was, that means you had limited or zero access to just one picture book featuring a gender creative African American boy. I actually never encountered “Enchanted Hair Tale” in my childhood. I found it twenty-seven years later.
For the generation of kids born 10 years after I was, they had limited or zero access to “Enchanted Hair Tale” and “My Princess Boy.” Not much of an improvement in a decade.
There are not “hundreds” or “thousands” of books, featuring gender creative African American boys, written for children who specifically identify that way.
Now, you can be a moron and you can make a stupid blanket statement by saying that there are “hundreds” and “thousands” of books written for marginalized children as someone in the comments thread did:
“There are not too few books for marginalised young people. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them. You don’t have to read about a queer black boy to read a book about a marginalised child. The children’s book world is getting far too literal about what “needs” to be represented.”
But you’d be lumping an awful lot of countless, diverse individual experiences together. And that’s just stupid, ill-informed, and irresponsible.
You would be minimally correct in that some marginalized children could maybe encounter a selection of books that feature a protagonist that is in some way marginalized.
Then, you can also make another dumb, blanket assumption:
If a gender creative African American boy has a broad imagination they can substitute one marginalized experience for another and apply it to their own lives.
Shouldn’t they be able to picture themselves and their own situation as being similar to that story they read about a little Caucasian girl who wouldn’t quit being a tomboy?
The answer is no. They shouldn’t have to. And you’re an idiot for thinking they should.
Because the experience of a gender creative African American boy is not the same experience of a gender creative Caucasian girl.
Because “Enchanted Hair Tale,” “My Princess Boy,” and “Large Fears” are not the same stories as Andrea Beaty and David Robert’s “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” Leslea Newman and Cyd Moore’s “A Fire Engine for Ruthie,” or Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Temple’s “Not All Princesses Dress in Pink.”
As Laura Atkins put it:
“It means something to read a book that in some way mirrors your experience. It means a lot. All kids deserve to have both mirrors and windows.”
Let me break down that person’s response to Laura:
“Read a newspaper. Read a magazine. Go see a movie. There are zillions of places kids can see mirrors.”
Having come from a screenwriting background before I started pursuing children’s literature, I can soundly say that those mirrors are just as limited and underrepresented in all forms of media entertainment and not just children’s books.
I’ve sat in a comic book illustration classroom where the class was predominantly white and only two of us were exploring diverse characters and shapes in our drawings. Others were fixated on manga-style, over-beautified versions of white people. Perhaps those individuals have grown and explored since then, but perhaps not. Either way, that reluctance to step outside the white norm is part of our next generation of young illustrators!
So whether it’s a magazine, a movie, or a video game: kids from diverse backgrounds are still encountering negative stereotypes that belittle and make fun of their own experiences. Or, they don’t see themselves at all.
While some of these mirrors may have been produced, created, and put out into the world, they are not always available to every child. Access is the key word here. Physical access can be limited or restricted due a number of reasons: parental, school, community or library censorship; lack of interest from publishers and marketers; or outrageously skewed prices.
While researching gender creative picture books, I also took on the role of the consumer when I purchased some books online. What I found was that a child, parent, or librarian’s access to these books can be incredibly limited due to pricing. Not to mention the actual quality of writing and illustration these books is on a… wide spectrum.
Some gender creative titles are self-published or crowd-funded because that was the only way those authors could put their work into the world. That being said, you find some books which could have definitely used the helping hand of an editor and an art director.
The price of these books can vary – significantly. If it’s self-published or crowd funded, you might have to really hunt the book down on the internet to purchase it on an alternative site to Amazon, such as Etsy.
You might find a book for as low as .01 cent plus shipping and handling; the book store may just be looking to get that book off its hands because it may not be a title with a wide audience appeal. That’s pretty good for the reader who’s purchasing that book. It’s also pretty bad for the author in that they’re not making any money on that title – which may discourage them from producing more work in the future. While the one book is cheap, the potential for more books like that being produced is lowered.
On the flip side, you might find a book for as high as $45-$50. Here, the author is selling it themselves or the store is hiking up the price so that the author and they can make a profit. Good for the author and the bookstore. Bad for the customer in that very few people are going to want to pay $45 for one picture book. While it may have been a quality book, access to that title is limited based on price.
Also, purchasing the book may have been the customer’s only option if their local public library is run by a conservative director and conservative board.
Then, we have some titles that are great books but are simply out-of-print and are no longer being published. Would anybody like to purchase Bruce Mack’s “Jesse’s Dream Skirt” for $165.00+? I had to special request that book on an inter-library loan. But how many parents or librarians will be dedicated enough to pursue that option?
So, I laugh at this idea that there are “zillions” of places kids can see mirrors. No, there are not. Access plays a big role.
On to the next bit:
“Books do not have a ‘job.’”
Actually, books do have a job. The more artsy and literary of writers may cringe at this statement, and those of you may feel free to disagree with me… but realistically, the first job of any book is to entertain.
If it’s not entertaining, no one’s going to enjoy reading it to themselves or sitting down and reading it to their children.
“Books are to teach kids about the world, about being different or being brave. I really hate this idea that we need agendas in books.”
Teaching kids about the world and being brave can be considered an agenda in a book!!!!!!!!! This person says that books are to teach kids about the world, but then immediately detests the idea of teaching an agenda? Perhaps they meant some books can be overbearingly didactic, in which case I do agree.
“A great book has a philosophical, spiritual, intellectual agenda that speaks to many many people — not just gay black boys. I’m sorry, but write a pamphlet about it.”
I agree, partially, that a great book can speak to many people. But that doesn’t always mean that every great book which speaks to many people features a diverse protagonist.
Regarding agendas: Yes. You will find some gender creative picture books for boys that are loaded with didacticism and lessons about being better human beings. In some cases, the writers of these books have chosen to focus on delivering a message rather than telling a story. That’s an unfortunate truth.
Yes, some of them do read like poorly illustrated pamphlets you’d find inside of a therapist’s office, instead of reading like a quality children’s book. In these cases, the writer has ignored their craft completely and chosen not to do their job.
Yes, it does lower their audience appeal. Not everyone likes to be preached at.
Yes, that does affect their sales and their potential to produce more. Not everyone can make a profit on a sermon. And not every child should have to be force-fed a lesson.
Yes, this is all an ongoing issue within this window of picture books that needs to be addressed by those writers.
But, no. Those writers do not need to write a pamphlet about it.
Those writers need only to pull up their britches and remember that the first agenda and job of any book is to entertain because these kids deserve representation in quality-written books with quality illustrations. And, not all of these kids want to read the same story of oppression and marginalization over and over again that beats them over the head with a message at the end of it. That gets boring.
So, I say: produce good, quality work with diverse characters. Tell a well-written and craft-focused story – don’t just deliver a lesson. And if you can’t speak to a certain experience, then step aside and let someone else who has lived that life have a chance to say something about how it really feels.
More on this topic to be delivered during a lecture coming this summer (hopefully).
(The bold and italicized font was added to Jonah’s writing.)
I’ve always believed that people read to find their place in the world. Some do this by using books to explore possibilities and others to find themselves. Rudine Sims Bishop expands this concept much better in her article Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors.
But, why do people write? Some may take pen to paper to break the world down for the reader, to tell them how it is and how is should be and those usually aren’t very good fiction books. Others just tell a story, and while many authors write about characters who visit them or situations that inspire them, all write from a world they’ve come to know. I think this is the authenticity we find in literature.
To be clear, I do not know Meg Rosoff. It was one of those days a year or so ago when I was feeling something or other and that had me sending FaceBook friend requests to most of the names I recognized that they were being recommended to me through FB. Meg’s was one of those names and she accepted my request. We’d never chatted on FB (or in real life!) never commented on each other’s post, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her commenting on my post to promote a rarely seen book about a queer black boy written by a queer black author. Well, pleasant until I read her response. I initially thought the response from a well-known author for this neophyte was a sign of support, but upon reading the dismissive and disjointed comment I thought perhaps it was done in haste and would soon disappear but, it never has. Instead, it’s become the Post Seen Around The World.
Many have questioned why the post appeared on my FB page. Many, including myself see it as an egregious act by someone in privilege (because of her socioeconomic class, her whiteness and her professional accomplishments) stomping on a marginalized person. I don’t know why it was written.
The original FB post has been shared publicly so that people could see the words in their original context. Unfortunately, conversation on Twitter has no hashtag and is all over the place. It’s difficult there, where most of the conversation has happened, to see all the directions in which it has spun. I do believe that the majority of opinions expressed there are in opposition to what Meg stated on FB.
I’ve not seen much support for Meg, but she does state on someone else’s FB page that she’s received private emails of support because people are afraid to speak up, fearing verbal attacks from those who passionately work for diversity in kidlit. This blog post turned into a FB post and most reactions to the post are on the non-public FB post. I link to the post in hesitation because it’s so problematic (from my perspective) that it will lead to another week of debate, but it does provide some clarification for Meg. I have no doubt there are others who agree with and support Meg, whether in all or in part.
In a second post to me on FB, Meg wrote “It’s a shame this has all blown up in this way. My subject tends to be gender (among other things) about which I’ve written extensively. I can’t write about young gay black kids, but I hope people who care deeply about the subject will do so. “ Of course, this doesn’t sit well with her original post on my FB post. I’ve seen evidence of her commitment to social justice, so I am truly confused. I don’t understand how someone who is truly a wordsmith would misspeak in such a manner. Blinded by success? I do believe that regardless of how convoluted that first post may have been, of how poorly the efforts to walk it back may have worked, that there remains an overwhelming presence of empowerment and privilege. And, I’ve had to edit this to add in the article that appeared in The Guardian the took diversity in kidlit to a much broader audience.
My reflection is looking at how this spiraled; at seeing the brief moment on Meg’s second post when there was dialog, when there was conversation and when that moment was lost. Meg seems to continue to hold the view that I am trying to dictate to writers what they should write. In several places on this blog, I state quite clearly that I believe writers should write what they know. The Whiteness of literature will continue because there are readers who find themselves in that agenda. The Whiteness of literature will continue until the economics of a brown marketplace demand otherwise.
I am asking for opportunities for writers of color and this is something publishers control.
I hope you can tell that I hold no ill will again Meg Rosoff. I don’t know the woman!!! She’s stated a perspective with which I do not agree, she’s written a book with which I cannot relate, but I cannot ask anyone to deny a writer of merit the opportunity to publish, whether they be White, queer, Latino or autistic. And I will not propose what any of those writers write.
How do we marginalized people get a piece of the pie? How do we get anyone to understand the need for more books for Native American and children of color when we keep getting caught up is this sort of fray? We should have come out of this with more allies, with people who are willing to admit the lack of books written by authors of color and who can cite ways for entitled authors to reach back and pull others up. But I feel us losing these possibilities. For the diversity movement to move forward, we have to be able to preach beyond the choir and we’re killing those opportunities.
I’ve noticed the silence from those directly involved in publishing and wondered why that is when this conversation is so much about them. Perhaps the void can be explained by an author who contacted me privately. The author wanted to contact Meg but was fearful to do so because these major authors control book award committees and other opportunities for authors. If an author does anything to rile them, they jeopardize their own career. Professional privilege. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Note I stated “an author” and called out no individual.
Many lessons have been learned from this. We’ve been made aware of the attitudes that are often shared in private by those in kidlit. We’ve had to realize the limited reach of the 100 year old movement for diversity in children’s literature by seeing how few are aware of seminal works, both articles and children’s books themselves. I’ve seen how close we can come to saying the same thing and still miss each other’s point. How do we move on from this?
I’m asking people how we can move forward to attain greater diversity in children’s literature, or what they themselves plan to do from this point out, What’s yours? Email me FB me or respond in the comment section below. I hope to pull the responses into an upcoming post.
And Large Fears? The book is currently sold out.
I’m working on my reflection piece for the #LargeFears debacle. I would have put these links at the bottom to share other’s reflections, but the post is really long. I believe these are all the reflections I’ve seen. Feel free to add others in the comments.
My Weigh-In on the ‘Diversity Debate’; The Bookie Monster