My DKDK (Don’t Know Don’t Know) Moments – Or What I Learned From My Online Discussion Mistakes

On July 17th, I posted “A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS,” offering my views on a particular spread of illustration after a couple of days engaging on Reading While White, and other online interaction places (email listservs and twitter.)

During those days and ever since, I have not stopped thinking about the many different reactions I received both publicly and privately (via emails and in person.)  I also have not stopped thinking about Debbie Reese’s public declaration of how, for a couple of decades, her impression of me has been that I am on the opposing side of her convictions — which is, simply put, to have accurate, and dignified, representation of American Indian content, and a lot more of it, in Children’s Literature.

This revelation both shocked me and saddened me.  It is also a prime example of how I did not follow my own advice — to acknowledge that this could have been a case of I “Don’t Know That I Don’t Know” and to spend more time listening and considering others’ views than defending my own.  I don’t mean that I should not have expressed my views, but I think I could have done better in the “listening” and “considering” department, and less on the “defending” my views department.

So, here are some things I have been thinking about for the last ten days:

I Failed at Being A Visible and Vocal Ally

First and foremost, I realized that I have not been a vocal enough ally to Debbie.  When I agree with her views and her tireless work as an advocate, I usually sit back and agree in silence.  I pretty much only speak up when I have questions about how she interprets something, and wants her to either defend further or clarify more.  I also want her to see how I come to have my opposing views.  (An example was over The Hired Girl on Heavy Medal blog.)  These disagreements occupy a very small percentage of how I normally react to Debbie’s views: I fundamentally agree with everything she stands for and have always benefited much from her sharing of her thoughts and feelings (yes, Debbie can be very emotional when she writes about the hurt and injustices she sees in books for children).  I have based my collection development for my library on many of her recommendations.  However, since I have not been actively and visibly expressing my support, it is of course impossible for Debbie to know.

This has been a wake-up call for me to be a better ally and supporter – not just to Debbie Reese, but to others who have been taking up the banner for a better, more equitable, and authentic children’s publishing world.

Online Discourse Is Real Life, Too!

A second thing that I learned is how even when I started off trying to simply parse out a thorny issue intellectually, social media and online engagement could easily bring in emotional responses, mostly due to the quick turn around back-and-forth and the misinterpretations of tones due to the lack of physical and tonal cues.

I need to adhere to the Real Life practices that have served me well:

1. Take time to cool off and consider the others’ views and feelings before shooting off an email to express dismay or outrage.

2. Go directly to the person who I feel that has “wronged me” and find out the reasons behind any public (or private) outburst, in a way that is genuinely to solve the issue and not to express my own displeasure.

3. Do not engage emotional discourses between publicly: especially between friends and friendly colleagues.

What Should Drive Children’s Publishing?

The DESIRE to Do It Right and not the FEAR of Doing it Wrong!

A third thing that I have been considering has more to do with an aspiration for my publishing colleagues and it will be in a separate post.  Just to forecast here: I yearn for the day when the driving force of publishers, editors, authors, and illustrators to create powerful and accurate books that are accepted readily and praised by outsiders and insiders alike is a strong and genuine desire to DO IT RIGHT after lots of soul searching and professional training, and not the fear of DOING IT WRONG and being called out after the fact!

 

 

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Absence Heightens Presence

Walking down Seattle night streets, I came upon these trees adorned with Christmas lights.  My aesthetic mind created an instant division: I loved the moving lights up in the branches and had next to no emotional reaction to the static lights on the tree trunks.  What made the moving lights so much more appealing?

Could it be that each absence of light makes the presence of it more vibrant, more intense.

Could this same revelation be applied to my reading aesthetics?

Is this why I find books filled with figurative language page after page less appealing than books that only feature effective and well developed figurative language when absolutely necessary?

Like the static lights on the tree trunks, the too frequent presence of metaphors, similes, and analogies reduces my appreciation of an author’s artistry.  I need the appropriate absence of figurative speeches to fully feel the impact of their presence.

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A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS

There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (capitalization as part of the title/design), written and illustrated by Lane Smith (Stinky Cheeseman, The Happy Hocky FamilyIt’s a Book, etc.), was published in May, 2016 (two months ago.)

This book has received four starred reviews from major review sources and positive reviews from others. However, the use of the word TRIBE and some of the images on a particular double-page spread toward the end of the book have sparked heated debate (in which I took part) in several online places.  A short description and link to each of these reviews (with comments) can be found at the end of this post.

I read and re-read this book many times and have considered all the reviews cited below and many additional comments sprinkled throughout the internet.  Finally, I feel that I am ready to share my own take on this book.  I must stress that this is but ONE of many potential interpretations of the book which features very few words and delivers most of its “messages” with pictures that can be differently interpreted.

By no means do I want to discount Debbie’s and others’ pain when they face certain images (that they see on the second to last double spread) which definitely trigger strong emotional reactions from past and personal experiences.  (My own triggers are seeing erroneously attributed so-called Chinese cultures or imageries and boy do those get me seeing red!)

So here it is,

Fairrosa’s Interpretation of the Double Spread in There Is a TRIBE of KIDS:

I must confess that my initial reaction to the word TRIBE in the title was a skeptical one: how would it be used in the book?  to indicate some relations to Native American cultures?  to indicate something primitive?  When I finally read through the book (many times over,) I realized that, as Debbie Reese and many reviewers pointed out, it is a play on word.  Tribe is a collective noun for a group of “young goats” (kids) and Tribe is also a collective noun for many human groups that share the same cultural, geographical, or historical experiences.  The word is still used widely.  It is used by American Indians as their official group names.  It is used by the Jewish people.  It is also used by groups who need to bond over their unique identities and experiences, such as the deaf community (as found in Tribes, a play by Nina Raine from 2015.)

In the case of this book, Lane Smith used it to indicate a very specific “kind” of human beings: children. The child protagonist, after mimicking all kinds of animals, finally found his own “tribe.”  The text is all in past tense — until the very last spread which is in present tense, proclaiming the currency and the universality of childhood.

Here is my interpretation of the second to last spread accompanying the text, There was a TRIBE of KIDS (note the past tense!)

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 11.11.46 AM

(reproduced with permission from Roaring Brooks Press)

Since our child protagonist is not in this picture, so unlike the previous encounters, we don’t see him mimic or play act.  We see this child (looking a bit like Burt in Mary Poppins, doesn’t he?) welcoming the new child (our protagonist, off page, unseen) into a TRIBE.

 

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We, readers, along with the child protagonist, observe the scene with keen interest:

A TRIBE of kids from around the world and from both yesteryears and now, dressed much like our protagonist (in leaves, branches, and flowers,) being themselves and playing like all children might:

We watch, as they

swing, eat and play with their food,

tribe02 tribe15 tribe08

collect seashells and flowers,

tribe04 tribe25

play balls, crawl, balance, dance,

tribe03 tribe09

tribe11 tribe12

scout, explore,

tribe13 tribe26

take care of a younger sibling, 

tribe10

dress up like an adult (a princess, a king, a judge?)

tribe19  tribe20 tribe27

give a hug,

tribe01

dangle, slide,

tribe14 tribe17 tribe16

model, run (like an olympian with a torch,)

tribe23 tribe24

hide, and seek.

tribe28 tribe18

tribe22  tribe21

What I do not observe is the child protagonist attempting to mimic any of these KIDS, as if these are roaming animals. I also don’t see the “wildness” linked to a colonial sense of the word TRIBE (as stated by Minh C. Le and as troubling to others). I see children engaging in regular childlike and childhood activities.  And if I were to read this book with a young child, that’s how I would posit it — “Look, do you play hide and seek, just like these kids?  Do you pretend to be a king or a princess sometimes?  Do you play with your food?  Do you love going down the slides or sit on a swing?  This makes you part of the TRIBE of all children in the world.  You belong with each other and you accept and embrace one another.”

As I pointed out in the beginning of this post, my interpretation is different from some others’ views, including those of Minh C. Le’s, Sam Bloom’s, and Debbie Reese’s. All three wrote thought provoking reviews of this title — and I urge all to read them and take their concerns or potential hurt and mis-use of this book seriously.

Il Sung Na’s ‘The Opposite Zoo,’ and More by Minh C. Le (New York Times)
Le feels that the “juxtaposition of the word ‘tribe’ with the woodland utopia conjured uncomfortable associations,” and a particular image is problematic “in its echoes of the longstanding trope in children’s literature that uses Native imagery or ‘playing Indian’ to signify wildness.”

Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids by Sam Bloom (Reading While White)Bloom finds himself in agreement with Le’s take on the book and ponders why all the reviewers for the major publications have given this book such favorable feedback when he sees even more images that are problematic.  He posits that perhaps it is due to Lane Smith’s long-time fame and status as a celebrated children’s book creator.  He also links to a page delineating the negative associations that the word TRIBE contains from the Teaching Tolerance site. Bloom concludes his essay by strongly indicating that he does not recommend this book. He writes, “If it wasn’t Lane Smith’s name on the front cover, could we more easily see the problems inherent in There Is a Tribe of Kids? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that this is a book that I personally won’t be sharing with (human) kids.”

Lane Smith’s new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) by Debbie Reese (American Indians in Children’s Literature)
Reese details the picture book and focuses first on the word play and the repeated pattern of a child going through the natural world, mimicking behaviors of groups of animals, while garbed in leaves.  Reese then moves on to discuss the double spread that features a TRIBE of KIDS (children) and the specific images she finds objectionable.  She also delineates many counter-points to Rosanne Parry’s review of the book.  Reese uses words like “rolling your eyes” and “grinding your teeth” to express how irate she is with Parry’s proposed interpretation of the book’s images.

Rosanne Parry also wrote a blog post in response to Sam’s post: A Tribe of Book Reviewers (Writing in the Rain Blog). Parry writes to share her interpretation of this book and her disagreement with Sam’s take on the book as a reinforced negative portrayal of children “playing Indian.” Parry’s take on this book is in accordance with reviewers who see that there are multiple cultures represented in the book and that the book’s focus is on the importance of a sense of belonging and the warmth of acceptance in every child’s life, regardless of their origins or skin tones.  The final “snapshot” seems to encapsulate this sentiment — the kids of pale and dark skin tones locked in a friendly embrace to show their kinship and solidarity:tribehug

For those interested, here are links to all four starred reviews:

 

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Facebook Black & White

As a librarian for young people, I tend to prioritize literature, believing that introducing great books to my students will inform them and cultivate them to become reasonable, compassionate, and socially conscientious adults.  Adults who will make a difference in our world and our collective future.  And that is also why this particular blog was set up more than 20 years ago (it was not a blog then, but a “website”) to focus on no more than children’s literature.

I have, however, evolved, through the years.  I still believe in the power of books, of course, but I also realize that I have a lot more to say about the world we live in than just which books to give to the next group of 4th graders or what books should have won an award, etc.

So, officially as of today, Fairrosa Cyber Library will be a place where I toss in whatever I am compelled to write about and to open discussions on.  I welcome comments and debates and please share widely if you think the posts are worthy.

Here are two Facebook posts that I read, from former students who are young adults (in their early 20s) in regard to race relations in the United States on this July 2016 weekend.  (I have permission from both of them to publicly post their opinions as written, attaching their names to their words.)

I saw this post first thing in the morning, from Clyde Lawrence, white:

clydelawrenceI normally only post about music and the mets because they’re the only things about which I feel I can speak with authority, but I just wanna say that what’s going on across the country is really terrible and I’m filled with rage and sympathy on behalf of all the people of color affected daily by systemic racism and violence. Although I try to talk in-person about this stuff as much as possible, I have mostly remained silent on social media because I had been unsure of whether my digital voice being distributed to a community of almost-exclusively like-minded people would be productive (or worse, diluting the voices of those who know what’s up). But recently/particularly today, I’ve seen so many people I trust to know what needs to happen more than I trust myself saying that silence on the part of white people simply needs to stop, and I feel that. So here I am, saying two things: I stand with the ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ movement, but also I hope to learn about more specific and productive ways I can help. Hit me up on messages or something if you have ideas about what I, as a white person who wants to be part of the solution, can do, not that it’s the responsibility of others to figure that out for me.

This was actually from yesterday, but we just Facebook friended each other today, so it’s new to me, by Jeremy Allen, black:

jeremyallen[A friend/white] inspired me to say something. I too have a difficult time posting on social media on issues of social justice due to a mixture of finding it kind of self-indulgent and fear of the reaction it may cause. I think that the majority of my Facebook friends unanimously agree that what is occurring in our country is wrong. Radical change must happen, and fast, I think that much is clear. If you disagree with me on that, reevaluate yourself/unfriend me plz.

But what is perhaps even more disheartening to me are the comments that I continue to read that are starting a kind of race war, “us vs them,” mentality. This is especially upsetting to see among the young adults I went to school with whom I consider to be fantastic, educated, well informed, and reflective individuals. As someone who feels they straddle the line between both the “black” and “white” world, I offer an opinion to each.

To my white friends: Show support in the ways you believe are righteous, but be open to criticism if they are not well received, and adapt. You do not understand their struggles the way that blacks inherently do. I live a very privileged life, I do not try to deny that. And yet I am familiar with the discomfort of being on the street alone at night and having a police officer pull you aside to question what you’re doing, when really you’re just walking home. Or being stopped in Soho pushing your little sisters empty stroller and being interrogated about where you got it (no, I’m not into stealing strollers). It sucks, it’s awkward, it’s unnecessary, and it’s racist. Yet I have it far better than most. So, just be mindful that sometimes your words — no matter how well intentioned — come off ignorant. If you are a true supporter, you will not be disgruntled by constructive criticism but rather happy that you are able to participate in a way that is constructive to all. This is a learning process.

To my black friends: Do not silence the people who are trying to show support. Saying that it’s “not their place to comment” because of their skin color, economic status, or whatever, is only going to make the problem worse. This is us vs them. But the “US” is the educated and informed, those who strive towards true equality, regardless of race, age, economic position or gender, and the THEM is those who seek to oppose that very same spirit. To make blanket generalizations about white people, or to shame an individual for trying to express solidarity, is to regress. If the wealthy white kid feels so moved as to make a comment, despite them having truly no reason to, let them! If they make an off mark comment, inform them. But do so constructively, and inclusively. There is too much change to be made, and too many issues at stake, to alienate those who are trying to help.

I cannot be more moved by their thoughtfulness, their courage to speak up, and their willingness to continue the work to change our world.  Like Jeremy said, this world of racial bias and bigotry has to be radically changed, and fast.  We can all educate ourselves by reading and by reflecting and by learning from our peers, and those who are older or younger than us.

Please comment and have a dialog and also go out and DO something to change the world for the better.  Starting, perhaps, with reading up on information and how you can take actions here:

Campaign Zero

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Kadir Nelson’s New Yorker Cover: A Guessing Game

This image is the cover of this week’s New Yorker Magazine — by artist and children’s book creator Kadir Nelson.  It’s almost unbearably ironic that this issue comes out during a week of highly publicized, video-recorded, social-media plastered images of black men killed by the police with apparently little or no justifications and five policemen gunned down by an irate sniper at a peaceful rally for racial equality. I saw this image posted by friends on facebook and read some of the comments beneath this picture and found out how differently this picture could be interpreted by different viewers.  Someone thought that the father in the picture feels desolation and is not having a fun day at the beach; while others see this as family and harmony.  Someone questioned why there are clouds reflected in the sunglasses, and I immediately thought that the comment maker was criticizing the image.  This showed how I presumed and assumed others’ intents and how I definitely need to change the way I post on social media to build understanding and not alienation.  The comment maker wrote back to say that there might be a “hidden message” in those reflections and I can see that now — and have started to wonder, what do those clouds reflected in his sunglasses mean?

Art is like that.

So many possible interpretations.  I have a few thoughts in mind — what are yours?

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2016 ALA Annual at Orlando, Final Recap

In between the ALSC Awards and the Odyssey Award presentations, I attended the ALSC Membership Meeting and were updated on what this Division has been working on all year. I also joined everyone to celebrate the presentation of the professional awards. Distinguished Services Award recipient Pat Scales is a former school librarian and past ALSC President and she so deserves this Award for her 38 years of and continuing services to children, the library profession, and to ALSC.  Other awards and grants and this year’s recipient information can be found on this page.

ALSC Office also has gathered all the award acceptance speeches in one easily accessible page.

 

Of course, the Conference was not just about media and professional wards, it was also about professional development and teaching and learning from each other with many workshops and sessions going on in the Convention Center.  To get a broad sampling of all the offerings and what ALSC conference attendees gleaned from this Conference, visit ALSC’s 2016 Annual Conference Blog Roundup page.

Finally — but truly NOT leastly — I thoroughly enjoyed the two meetings on Saturday and Sunday (5 hours and 2 hours long respectively) with my fellow Odyssey Audiobook Award selection committee members.  We’re from many different parts of the country, with different professional duties, varied audiobook listening and evaluating experiences, and distinct personalities — and I met each and everyone of other eight members for the first time at Annual and felt completely grateful for everyone’s diligence, insights, and good humor.  I can’t wait to see everyone and have those meaty discussions about each audiobook we have all carefully listened to at Midwinter (in Atlanta)!

 

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2016 ALA Annual at Orlando – Recap, Part 2

Following the CSK Awards breakfast were ALSC awards celebrations on Sunday and Monday.  ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children) is the administering body for many well known (and some lesser known but equally high quality) Youth Media awards.   Youth Media = books, videos, and audios.  Newbery and Caldecott are the two longest standing American Children’s Book Awards, of course, but then there are also: the Belpre for Latina/o Book Creators, Batchelder for Books in Translation, Arbuthnot Lecture, Wilder Lifetime Achievements, the Sibert for Nonfiction, the Geisel for Beginning Readers, the Carnegie for Videos, and the Odyssey for Audiobooks.  All of the 2016 winners and honorees were publicly celebrated on these two days.

The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet is always an elegant and happy affair with more than 1,000 in attendance, well crafted speeches, and a long receiving line that pushes the event way past midnight if you choose to hang around (or don’t have a choice because you work for the publishing companies!)  The three acceptance speeches are printed in this month’s Horn Book Magazine: Newbery, Caldecott, Wilder.  I also took a couple of snapshots and posted them at the end of this post.

Each year, I have also routinely attended the Monday morning award presentation of Sibert, Geisel, Batchelder, and Carnegie since ALSC started hosting this celebration and have always come away awed by the richness and dedication of writers, artists, editors, producers in creating high quality works that powerfully impact young people’s lives!  This year was no exception.  The bonus reel for me was meeting David Adler, the 2016 Geisel Award winner for Don’t Throw It To Mo.  Adler has been a beginning readers author for almost half a century and his Cam Jansen series held special significance in the Feldman household: it marked my daughter’s journey from a pre-reader to a completely independent reader back in 2006.  I had to take a picture with Adler and told him that it was Cam Jansen that made my daughter a true reader.  He humbly replied that if it were not his series, some other beginning readers would have done it, too.  But I must beg to differ here — it is because Adler not only understands text cadences for very beginning readers, but he also understands that perhaps a young and bright minded girl would want to see herself reflected in some way in the stories she encounters so there is a connection between the act of reading and the reader herself.   No, it had to be Cam Jansen and not just “some other series.”

Here’s David Adler with his much deserved Geisel Medal!

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For the first time, this year I also attended the Odyssey Award for audio book production presentation Monday Afternoon and it was simply fabulous.  We were treated to a humorous Infographs slideshow documenting the total minutes the Committee spent listening, the yardage of yarn knitted, the sacrificed one must make (not spending time with the family, not watching football on TV, not reading print books, etc.,) and the number of headphones used to their bitter-ends and many other Odyssey Committee Only Experiences!  We then were treated to the amazing live performances and speeches from the voice actors and musicians!  I especially adored the impassioned speeches by the performers and producers that sheds light on what a labor of love and how much expertise it is needed to produce a single good audiobook.

My biggest take-away from this event is that even though Odyssey is for audiobook Production and not for the Content of the original text, these two are indeed deeply intertwined.  Jayne Entwistle, the reader for The War That Saved My Life, told us that she was so deeply moved by the book and its characters, she cried multiple times at the studio while recording this book.  She teared up and pretty much sobbed just to recall how much she loved this text.  Her narration and character acting showcase not only how highly skilled she is but also why there is a certain kind of genuine gravitas and presence that a lesser text would not have inspired: the skills would still have been there, but the not-at-all-easily-quantifiable, extra LIFE would not have.  Attending this event, I gained added insights for my own task in being part of the selecting committee of the 2017 Odyssey award winners — hope to see many people joining us at this really lovely event next June in Chicago!

 

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Betsy Bird in her Caldecott/Newbery Winners library catalog cards dress especially made for the Banquet.

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The long receiving line that kept us way past midnight.  (I went out with friends old and new for a late night snack of root beer floats and apple pies that lasted until 2:00 a.m.  Feeling very indulgent, of course! Pictures are on someone else’s phone!)

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