Picture This: Reflecting Diversity in Children’s Book Publishing

sarahpark.com

At the 2016 ALA Annual Conference, author Tameka Fryer Brown presented the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) multicultural publishing statistics during the panel “Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids.” She displayed Tina Kügler’s oft-cited 2012 infographic, with the comment that even though the numbers are now 4 years old, the image communicated inequity in publishing so well that she would use it at every opportunity.

Just before ALA Annual, St. Catherine University MLIS Program assistant professor Sarah Park Dahlen had posted to Facebook asking if anyone knew of an updated illustration, but Kügler’s was the only one anyone knew about. Friends said they would be happy to support an illustrator to create an update. Author/teacher Molly Beth Griffin saw Sarah’s post and queried her Twin Cities Picture Book Salon to see if anyone would be interested; David Huyck (pronounced “hike”) responded, and a…

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IN SUPPORT OF ELLEN OH

With thanks to Ellen Oh and Libba Bray for these thoughts.

Libba Bray

I’ve been largely off social media lately. It’s not unusual for me to go underground for periods of time to deal with work and/or life stuff. But as I was underground this week, I missed Ellen Oh’s very important post on diversity, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and about white authors writing POC.

I’m reposting Ellen’s blog here so you can read it if you haven’t already: http://elloellenoh.tumblr.com/post/139448275729/dear-white-writers

It’s a great post, thoughtful and thought-provoking as are all of Ellen’s posts. But there were some who felt angry and slighted by Ellen’s words, who took offense and interpreted her words as saying that white authors cannot and/or should not write diverse characters. Some attacked her. Some sent vile hate mail. To this, I would say, please reread Ellen’s post as well as the reprint of Jacqueline Woodson’s important speech from 1998 (Yes—1998) that Ellen cites. Read their words…

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28 Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball

Great, great list from the blog Scott Woods Makes Lists! If you have more titles to suggest, please add them in the comments!

Scott Woods Makes Lists

A few years ago I was asked by a local TV station to suggest some books for children in honor of Black History Month. Being a Black librarian I relished the opportunity, but I did point out that my offerings would avoid the typical fare of Black children’s books: boycotts, buses and basketball. We’ve picked up a few other hobbies since the 1960s, and there are hundreds of books to show for it. Here is a humble sampling of some just in time for Black History Month. 28 children’s picture books, most of them featuring Black children doing what all children do: play, make up stories, learn life lessons, and dream.

I picked titles that came out within the last ten years (or so). I also tried to spread out the gender of the protagonists, as well as put some light on some typically ignored aspects of Black life in…

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Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day!

Robert Tres Trujillo's Art

Robert Tres Trujillo’s Art

Today is the day, join the kid lit community in celebrating cultural diversity in children’s books. The festivities take place here: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

About Multicultural Chidlren’s Book Day, as stated on the group’s website:
Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom have teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event and non-profit initiative.

This is an incredibly needed initiative and wonderful cause to support, don’t you think? If you agree, the organization is open for donations that supports reading programs in the classroom, as well as a donation book center, just to mention a few programs. The website includes links to relevant book reviews.

I hope to this, very soon, be a worldwide movement.

Happy Multicultural Children’s Book Day, let’s make it an every day thing.😉

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Happy Book Birthday, Crystal Allen!

Oh Mylanta…She’s back!

We are pleased as peanut brittle to celebrate the latest, greatest release from author and BBS contributor, Crystal Allen, also known as The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown (Balzer and Bray).

We asked Crystal for some inside scoop on the creation of her new chapter book series. Our conversation went as follows:

BBS: You are known as a phenomenally talented MG author. What made you decide to write a chapter book?

Crystal: I was asked by my publisher. It was very difficult at first to change my writing from middle grade to chapter book, but as the voice of this sassy new character came alive, the writing took on a life of itself. It’s been so much fun!

BBS: What was the biggest difference craft-wise in writing a chapter book? Was it more difficult than you anticipated? If so, how so?

Crystal: Oh Mylanta…

Plot. There is such…

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On The Depiction of Slavery in Picture Books

“The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” – Faulkner, William. Requiem for a Nun. New York: Random House, 1951.

The following two paragraphs were added two hours after the initial publication of this post. Turns out I wasn’t quite done yet.

I’m not saying there’s only one way to depict slavery in children’s books, but I’m starting to wonder: has slavery become the new normal? It’s like the first paint you apply on a canvas, which becomes the background, and then you paint a happy portrait on it, one that is supposed to make the viewer smile and deeply reflect at the same time. How does that work? I’m still trying to figure it out.

New normal: because of last year’s big picture book controversy, will writers, and illustrators, and even editors working on a kid’s book depicting slavery (even just in the background), now explain their creative choices in every book they publish and on social media? Is it supposed to help me understand the book, impact my reading experience, will that change how a book ultimately makes me feel? I welcome the dialogue on all accounts. I think a dialogue still is needed, and maybe when we find a balance, or maybe when what appears to be morphing into a “new normal” stabilizes, will all these questions become obsolete. For now what I’m left with is the struggle to navigate the waves of joy and sorrow such books bring, not just in me but also in the sea of emotions of the young reader.

On the controversy of the smiling slave in children’s books: did Black slaves ever smile? 

Is that question really up for debate? The real problem with the picture of a smiling slave, in a children’s book, has more to do with the truth and atmosphere the story and illustrations convey – especially if slavery is only part of the background of the story and not the central element, and how the aforementioned may impact a kid. Images and words are not neutral. Again, the problem is not the smile. And the problem is not whether a Black or White person wrote the story, whether a Black or White person illustrated it, or whether a Black or White editor curated it.

The topic of slavery in picture books will remain a sensitive one as long as parents will fear for their children’s safety, every time they step outside of the house, and as long as children themselves will refrain from smiling or get nervous simply because they have spotted a police officer. It might stop being a sensitive topic (to the level it has reached today, I mean; the past has happened already, and we can’t changed it, and yes it was ugly) – when we’re able to sustain a conversation about racism that doesn’t stop at “Us vs. Them,” but takes us further and keeps opening spaces that will bridge history with present, and fear and pain of the other with healing and cross-cultural respect. Books either denouncing or simply showing a human being who is not equal to another one, or not free, are published in an era where young and old, whether they want it or not, are aware of videos about kids being arrested, handcuffed in the classroom or in the streets, or shot dead. The kid doesn’t even need to have a Facebook or Twitter account to be exposed to that information. A conversation among classmates during recess is enough to do the damage.

On the “Us vs. Them” atmosphere.

I challenge every Facebook user who hasn’t already done so, to not just post a video about police brutality against a person of color, fuel the anger and stop there. Ask the questions. Create a dialogue that stirs us up toward looking for a solution. I ask the journalist who hasn’t already done so to not just report or write about acts of racism and stop there, leaving us to explode when every where we turn we’re already saturated by viral contents on the same violent topic. Do your research about grassroots (literary) efforts in the same area, and please mention them in your article.

Though usually labelled “for 4 to 8 years old” and marketed as such, a fundamental difference between picture books as a category, and middle grade and Young adult novels, is the wide age range of the readers. Picture books uniquely bring the family together. Grand-parents and parents read the stories to the kids; sometimes the precocious kid reads the book to his or her parents; the older siblings also get involved, and read them aloud to the younger ones. If something is not accurately addressed in a picture book that has historical elements in it, it can impact a whole family, not just the child. It will make a parent uncomfortable, confuse a kid, and further extend a racial stereotype, to put it mildly.

Why did I feel the urge to write this post?

Hercules, President Washington's slave cook.

Hercules, President Washington’s slave cook.

After writing about the cultural and ethnic background of the writer (Ramin Ganeshram), the illustrator (Vanessa Brantley-Newton) and the editor of A Birthday Cake for George Washington (Andrea Davis Pinkney, VP and executive editor at Scholastic Trade Publishing), in an article titled Smiling Slaves in a Post-A Fine Dessert World,  Kirkus Children and Teen Editor Vicki Smith asked: “Had A Birthday Cake for George Washington come out a year ago, concurrent with A Fine Dessert, how would it have been received? It’s impossible to know, but I think one thing’s for sure: the conversation would have been a whole lot different.”

I doubt it. Again, given the climate in which any book depicting slavery is published, including textbooks, I don’t think the conversation is that much different. Anytime “slavery” will be brought up in children’s book, the following will happen: it will generate a conversation, likely lively, because slavery remains a sensitive topic. Whether relating to a food recipe or not, slavery is not an easy topic to cover with children, not even with adults, and this especially if the general feeling is that the book has missed the mark at some point. Though the wound of slavery has been treated through its official abolition, it’s still in the healing process. Its scarifications remain visible through the examples of racism our world is still fighting today, and this is observed through the socio-economic dynamic and inter-cultural relationships within and outside of a country, and not just in the United States.

 

For Further Reading – edited on January 09 2016 to add a few more links.
o I recommend Vicki Smith’s original article, Smiling Slaves in a Post-A Fine Dessert World, as well as Andrea Davis Pinkney Guest Post on Scholastic, A Proud Slice of History.
o From UK based online children’s books magazine Books for Keeps, here is an article written by Brycchan Carey: The Depiction of the Slave Trade in Children’s Books.
o Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas once asked: “How can we inspire young people from all backgrounds while being honest about the pain and the hope of the African American story?” She answers in this Los Angeles article titled Four children’s books introduce African American experiences
o Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom: ALA Notable Children’s Book by Virginia Hamilton, Leo Dillon & Diane Dillon. Knopf, 1993.
o The Child’s Anti-Slavery Book: Containing a Few Words about American Slave Children and Stories of Slave-Life, by Julia Colman & Matilda G. Thompson.
o From Debbie Reese, of American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL): “These set of links are blog posts that are primarily on what-to-do about (…) broadly speaking, diversity in children’s/young adult literature.” From her blog post Not Recommended: A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall.
o Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010, by Paula T. Connolly. 1st ed. U of Iowa, 2013.

Addendum: I did read A Birthday Cake for George Washington. The book review will be posted separately.
01/17/2016: Scholastic has Pulled A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON off the shelves and is accepting returns of the book. Read the publisher’s full statement here: http://oomscholasticblog.com/post/new-statement-about-picture-book-birthday-cake-george-washington

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Is It Too Late? Happy New Year + Blog’s Numbers + Ivory Coast Music

There, I said it in the title. And I mean it, may this year be the happiest and have the most enjoyable shape we can sculpt it into. May the brush of diversity keep adding its meaningful hues to our cultural landscape.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 03.21.23I often get asked about this blog’s numbers, mostly by publicists, and sometimes by other bloggers or writers; so this is for you. WordPress kindly gifted me with a yearly review of Multiculturalism Rocks! activities. As humbling as it is, I’m more than happy to share the information with you.

1- Number of posts in 2015: As some of you know I’m slowly coming off a very long hiatus, due mainly to deaths in my family, and once again I apologize for not observing the blog etiquette that would have had me write a blog post about my subsequent silence and disappearance, early on. Back to 2015, I posted six times (only) last year.

2- Visitors: A modest 6,000. The most popular post in 2015 was We’re the People: Summer Reading 2015, which to date has had 965 readers.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 03.21.463- Number of countries: 99, with the top 3 being the USA, Canada and the UK. Then there is Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil; France, Germany, Russia, India, Nigeria, Cameroon (my country of origin), South Africa, Australia, China…just to quote a few.

4- Additional info on who is reading: since the birth of the blog, this bit of information always surprised me. There are tools that let you know the IP address of your readers, such as mywebstats.org, sitemeter.com, freestats.com. In this blog’s case, the top IP addresses mostly link to public schools, public libraries, colleges and universities – all this in and outside of the USA, and surprisingly a few major American publishers (thank you guys!).

5- Top referrers: Facebook and Twitter mainly, then a few blogs where my name has been mentioned – heartfelt “thank you,” fellow bloggers.

That about sums it up.

I’m just back from a trip in my home country, and while there I delightfully bathed in the ethnic and culturally diverse rhythms that got the country dancing. If you’re ready to stretch your musical taste bud, discover Shado Chris, a singer, music arranger and promoter from Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast - Reading Women Writers and African Literature Website

Ivory Coast – Reading Women Writers and African Literature Website

A little background and rough explanation of the song, “J’S8 Jahin Prêt”: most of the songs and rhythms originating from an African country highlight a rhythm coming from a specific tribe (please remember that when you listen to an African song, including Shakira’s popular World Cup Anthem). I reached out to the band to get the name of the rhythm displayed in this upcoming song, and I will update the post if I’m lucky enough to get an answer. The title of the song, “J’S8 Jahin Prêt,” is a West African French slang for “I’m ready” (literal translation), which could also be understood as “Bring It On.”

In the first verse the singer shares about the struggle of pursuing a dream and achieving a goal, and adresses the people who attempted to dismiss him (“Music (being an artist) is not for you, give up already”), mocked him and even compared him to a snail, and who now would like to take his place. But he gave it his all and made it. Cue to the refrain: “Bring it on.” In the second verse Shado Chris talks to the ex-girlfriend who dumped him when he was going through one of the toughest times of his life: “I went all the way (for you), now that I’m where I am you want to come back…cue to the refrain.

Thanks for welcoming Ivory Coast into your screen. Enjoy, and “talk” to you soon.

 

 

 

 

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