I’m grateful these days that I work in a school where I am allowed to share my honest opinions, respectfully, with my co-workers and my students about what matters: that equity and inclusion are of supreme importance, that love and kindness are what we need to combat hatred and ignorance, and that there is hope in young people and the future.
Yesterday/Last Night, youth librarians, young readers authors and publishers gathered in the Hilton, New Orleans, Grand Ballroom to witness and live a historical moment. In the room that held a thousand, we united and cheered in the decision (long in coming, and long overdue) to update and change the name of the life-time achievement award administered by the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC).
The Wilder (Laura Ingalls) Award has been given to an author or illustrator who has made, “over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution” to American children’s literature since 1954. In recent years, however, the name of the award has prompted the Association to examine its implication, especially when it comes to Wilder’s portrayal and sentiment about Native Americans (Indians) and Black Americans in her classic Little House series.
Read about the decision to update the name of the award to Children’s Literature Legacy Award and the divergent opinions (in comments) from the general public here:
I, for one, applaud the decision and am proud to be a part of an organization that continues to examine practices that should no longer be upheld as we honestly face the reality of this nation’s history.
I’m volunteering to Live-Blog my ALA attending experience for ALSC. Check it out here:
I haven’t posted for a long time — but I have been thinking about both our society and the children’s books that reflect (and hopefully help shape) our society and its future.
E-V-E-R-Y S-I-N-G-L-E D-A-Y!
Here’s what I posted on Facebook this morning:
As we teach girls to say NO, we must also teach boys to RESPECT. As we teach girls to be STRONG, we must also teach boys to be KIND. As we teach black children to EXCEL, we must also teach white children to REFLECT. As we teach black children to have more self CONFIDENCE, we must also teach white children to have more INFORMED EMPATHY.
Instead of judging and blaming each other, we must teach POSITIVE INTERACTIONS AND ACTIONS between groups of people.
Heck, this is not just about children. This is about all of us.
And promptly a white male relative (in his 50s) who is informed, kind, and loving, posted that he agrees with my basic principles, but it seems so “one-sided” and that it sounds like I am blaming and judging white males.
Here’s what my response to him:
Actually, I think of it as helping white males to adjust better in a world where their past and complacent modes might no longer serve them well and let them be equal partners of a future, equal world.
If you truly examine our history and society and systems, you would see that pretty much all other groups: women, non straight, and non white people have been on the receiving end of systemic oppression: less paid for equal work, fewer rights for the same human beings, etc. I actually want Educators who have been advocating one sided to educate girls and people of color but having largely ignored giving the tools and skills to handle an increasingly demanding (and rightfully so) world.
So yes, it is one sided: for the benefit of our children and ourselves. Instead of just blaming people like Trump or Sessions or Weinstein, I want to figure out how we can successfully educate the white/male of the future to thrive and to not thrive by stepping on others’ heads. Does this make sense to you?
Indeed, I have been wondering and hoping for more books by White and Non-White authors that feature good, kind, fair, courageous, moral, wonderful WHITE male and female characters — who do not just show up as white saviors or antagonists but act like so many of my real life white friends do — stand up for what’s wrong, fight for justice, and are self-reflecting and always want to be better humans.
I often hear that children need mirrors to reflect themselves and their experiences — I say that they also need a crystal ball that can show them what they COULD become. I am worried when I started noticing that authors of children’s books seem to think that when they create wonderful children of color protagonists, they are then obligated to create white antagonists (bullies, uncaring teachers, etc.) I wonder about the image that a white young reader sees in such books — are these the only roles they can assume now? Are they being delegated to the dark side without redemption? How hopeless is that? And how dangerous!
I wish to caution writers and editors: in our zealous (much needed) pursuit to include positive characters from marginalized groups, please do not make the dangerous mistake in creating a host of negative characters from the majority group, or excluding them from positively interacting with characters from the marginalized groups.
Case in point: Miles Morales features a black/hispanic hero with an Asian side-kick and a racist white teacher — is there no possibility for Miles to have close and allying white peers, friends, and mentors? Another case in point: Hello, Universe features wonderful, quirky, and ultimately lovable Filipino, Hispanic, and Asian main characters. And there is ONE white family/white child — and that ONE white family/child are bullies whose actions are most aptly described as despicable. Of course, these are but two books from thousands of children’s books published in 2017 — but they are highly touted, much recommended books, featured in Best Of the Year lists, for middle grade students. What is the telegraphed message here — and if there are more books like this frequently consumed by young readers — how would they view each other and each other’s group?
This is why I say, “Thank Goodness for Magnus Chase,” a white boy, created by a white male author, who encounters an assorted group of friends and foes — from different cultures, with different sexual orientations/gender identities, and religious beliefs. And they are judged not by the color of their skin or identity traits — but by their inner convictions. Because, let’s not forget that when Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he never meant that he wished his children to grow up “judgment free.” As citizens of the world and members of our own community, we must understand that the content of our character is to be examined, held accountable, and, yes, “judged” by our peers and our society. Being part of a particular culture, whether marginalized or main-stream, does not exempt anyone from having a moral conscience.
While I am completely opposing the sentiment behind the “All Lives Matter” slogan (which is a detraction and distraction from the urgent “Black Lives Matter” movement,) I must advocate that ALL CHILDREN’S LIVES MATTER.
Please look at the big picture.
Please look toward a long-term future.
Please mind the GOAL — which is to respect and treasure everyone equally, regardless of skin colors, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, genders, etc. etc. etc. In order to actually achieve this goal, we cannot trample on ANY child and their potential, positive future. We must make it possible that the children of today will become fair and compassionate adults – so we must hold up that crystal ball and motivate them with positive imageries of their potential selves.*
* Of course, I am not advocating of having no villains in books or no conflicts in stories! Just please be mindful of the trend…
Children’s book review editor at the Kirkus Review wrote an introduction to its ambitious, and hopefully highly functioning and useful database. Please read! The Collections will only grow as more books are published and added to the Database.
Public Librarians and Booksellers with Baker & Taylor accounts will be able to access the full Database. Alas, it is not available to me (school librarian using Follett, even though it owns Baker & Taylor.) *sigh*
They are also going to publish, one article a day, in October, a series of essays by authors, librarians, and scholars, expressing diverse viewpoints on the Diversity landscape of children’s literature. Can’t wait to read them all!
Over at SLJ’s Blogsphere, Betsy Bird (Fuse#8 Production) documented the pending demise of Child_lit Listserv, hosted at the Rutgers Email server and has been “owned” and run by Rutgers Rare Books librarian Michael Joseph for more than 20 years.
I was among the earliest subscribers to child_lit (mid-1990s) and served as its occasional archivist in those days, publishing (with permission) discussion threads on various Children’s Lit topics from “Love You Forever: Funny or Repulsive?” to “Tikki Tikki Tembo and Cultural Accuracy in Folktales” — those were the “good old days” when fewer people found their way to online discussion boards and no pervasive social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter or even many personal websites/blogs.
Children’s Literature lovers, authors, publishing folks, and scholars found each other and we built a communal Home on child_lit. Michael Joseph took on the responsibility of hosting and running the listserv and as Child_lit neared its end, many many subscribers expressed their gratitude to him in having maintained such a wonderful place for all of us through these many years. I am among the grateful list members! Michael and I have known each other through Child_lit (as many others, like Monica Edinger, Cheryl Klein, Patrice Kindl, Jane Yolen, Philip Pullman, Linnea Hendrickson, and Pooja Makhijani, and so on…) for more than two decades and I have so much respect for him as a scholar and friend. However, as Michael pointed out in his “decision paper” on August 21st to the list members, with conversations about children’s and YA books being all over the internet and Child_lit (in his view) has lost its scholarly/academic luster, Michael decided that it’s time to shutter the windows and lock the doors.
This decision greatly saddened me. Child_lit is not a collection of lifeless pixels housed on cold and heartless email servers. It is a community and a place of connection of people who are interested in exploring the world through children’s literature — even if perhaps the style of the discussion has evolved and changed. I did not want this place to disappear. So I took action.
In the past week, I contacted various folks at Rutgers, posted a Survey on child_lit to gauge members’ interest (which is high) in maintaining this virtual Home. Finally, I found a professor at Rutgers who graciously agreed to help maintain the listserv for a while until we can find a new Owner of the listserv. However, when I brought this solution to Michael, I discovered that Michael’s mind was firmly made up and he will not allow for the transferring of the “virtual deed” (which could be easily accomplished.)
I wrote this on Child_lit today and would continue pondering on “who owns what we collectively build” in the online/virtual world.
Farewell Child_lit – You’re No One’s Baby
A list member said to me that she has no problem with Michael terminating Child_lit because, after all, it is His Baby, and he has every right to do whatever he wishes with it.
Although I am in no way angry at Michael for not wanting to continue “owning” child_lit because it no longer matches his original vision of the discourse, I found this notion of child_lit, which belongs, in my view, to the entire child_lit community and even to the entire children’s literature community because we often take what we learn from here to our daily children’s lit. practices.
The analogy of “the baby” makes me wonder about how we view intellectual products in the age of online engagement and how we treat “virtual real estate” and “virtual ownership.” It also makes me chuckle: I have a real life human daughter who is younger than Child_lit (18) and by now, I no longer think of her as My Baby, and can no longer dictate how she manages and conducts her life. I’m giving advice, yes. I’m helping her out when she needs, yes. But, I will never tell her that I’m pulling every support away from her because she has irked me or not being a replica of myself. (She just started college and is making course choices that surprise me!) So the idea that because we, collectively, have disappointed Michael and he has tired of the ownership of the list, we, collectively, will lose our virtual community (home/real estate) still does not sit squarely with me.
That said, if this is indeed the FINAL DAY OF CHILD_LIT — farewell, friends old and new. We shall meet and find each other somewhere else :)