Kirkus Collections – Diversity in Children’s Books: A Searchable Database

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!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports

Dear White People: It Is Up to You to Undo Racism (with help and guidance from People of Color)

In early July, I attended a week-long educators workshop offered by the National Museum of African American History & Culture.  (With daily access to the museum’s collections before it opened to the public!)

There were more than 30 attendees and five master teachers, with 2-3 guest speakers a day.  We unpacked many topics, from the dehumanization of the African American slaves to self-reflection of what is Whiteness in the 21st century America and how as educators we must examine and incorporate true history and social justices into our curriculum.

After a particularly impactful day, with one of my New York City Independent School colleagues, Erica Corbin Rodriguez leading the workshop, I went back to the hotel and texted with a friend who was a former student and also a fellow-teacher at Dalton.  He is a 24 year old white male and I have his permission to post our conversation here: I’m the white text with blue background and he’s black text with gray background.

Screenshot_20170713-163407~01Screenshot_20170713-163436~01Screenshot_20170713-163528~01

As the 2017-18 school year starts tomorrow for all our students, I am constantly reminding myself that it is my responsibility to keep social justices front and center in my curriculum and my interaction with students. This one former student is not a unique or singular case: he is one of many responsible, compassionate, and self-reflective white men and women that we hope to “unleash into the society” and make the world a more just and loving place.  And just as he said, he is responsible to undo racism, more so than any person of color.  He and many others will need constant dialogue and guidance — let’s work side by side to achieve our common goal: equality for all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports, Views, WIWWAK

Farewell Child_lit – You’re No One’s Baby

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 7.09.11 PM

Screen shot of child_lit About Page

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 :)

3 Comments

Filed under Child_lit Archive

Book Critic AND Book Champion

There was a discussion last year about how some of us are “book champions” and others are “book critics.” The implied conceit is that somehow, these two roles or temperaments are mutually exclusive.  A great summary with her views and links was published on Monica Edinger’s “Educating Alice” blog: The Championship Season.

After much self-examination, I know that, I too, would like to maintain both traits – not as if they’re the two ends on a continuum: if I move toward one end, I’m leaving the other end behind.  I’d rather imagine them as baking ingredients which must work together well with just the right amount of each.  I hold that it is imperative to examine all aspects of any book I encounter and critically evaluate them: pointing out what works really well and what has perhaps fallen short when engaging in discussion of a book: whether in person with a friend, online on a blog, in print for a magazine, or as a member of an award selection committee.  However, it is equally important to have a lot of passion and love and express such support vocally and often, especially when working with the target readership.  I often joke with my students that I’m just a paid book pusher: starry-eyed and eager when recommending titles.  I will never shy away from praising a good book and champion for great themes, outstanding literary styles, convincing world-building, and layered character development.

That’s why I point out inaccurate racial representations; that’s why I discuss whether the use of certain narrative devices supports the plot or the theme; that’s why I talk and write about books I’m crazy in love with but also about books that raise questions and concerns.  I’m not going to choose between the two:

I consider myself a Critical Book Champion!

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports, Views

My Appreciation for Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

emperor's riddleThis is a brief note to say that Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang (Aladdin, May 2017) fits the bill of my continuing search for fun stories set in contemporary China that features Asian American children and authentically captures both the modern day life familiar to western readers and the cultural flavor unique to China.  Definitely a book that I will introduce to the Chinese American mother and child who came seeking books featuring characters that “look more like her.”

1 Comment

Filed under Book Notes

Musing While (Off)White

Readers of this blog and friends & colleagues might have known that I am originally from Taiwan, growing up as a racial majority, upper socio-(but-not-economical) class, and never having to figure out my racial identity as a marginalized child, teen, or young adult.

When you grow up occupying only a small slice of the population pie (less than 1/16 for Asian Americans of varied country origins,) your self-image and self-worth must rely not only on your family’s heritage and conviction, but also on your school environment, your neighborhood, and media representation.

For the last few years, I have identified myself as a Person of Color so I could unite with my Asian American, Brown American, and Black American brothers and sisters to raise awareness of the institutionalized racism they (we) must confront and rectify together. However, I must confess the hesitation, the discomfort, and the sense of being an “imposter” in many of such groups that I insert myself in at work, at professional settings, and social gatherings.  I attend the monthly Faculty of Color meetings to discuss and strategize how to make my school a more inclusive and just environment for everyone.  I go to the annual People of Color Conference for educators to glean and share new knowledge and lesson plans.  I read books and articles and discuss about all sorts of sub-topics related to the systemic oppression so many of my colleagues, friends, and students have to contend with on a daily basis.

Every so often, I say to myself, “But you have never personally experienced any of these, except for perhaps once in a while someone jokingly (or seriously) thinks that you can do math a little better or that you are probably quite docile.”  The last point could be exasperating since I am so far from being docile or gentle but the misconception or stereotype never gives me an iota of emotional stress.  My racial identity could be easily just part of my whole being: like that I’m short or I am near-sighted and that I am a mother and a librarian.  I am more and more aware of how much a luxury it is that I can go about my day, moving in all sorts of spaces to not be keenly aware of my racial identity.

This is the kind of luxury (privilege?) that I imagine many of my white friends, colleagues, and students have.  And I also imagine that this is why so many of them are still struggling to figure out why their brown/black/Asian counterparts cannot simply “let this racial identity thing” go, or cannot simply train themselves to not allow racial identity to dominate one’s self-image or as the main influence of one’s notion of self-worth.

The more I think about my own identity, the more I know that I cannot claim to be a Person of Color in 2017 America. Instead, I feel like I need a different category — a different label, perhaps. My socio-economic status, my immigration status (naturalized citizen by marriage,) my work stability, and my lack of external threats from law enforcement, etc., makes me, if not 100% equal to most upper-middle class white Americans, close enough to Being White.  This explains why I often do not have the “ouch” reaction that many people of color have when encountering media misrepresentations, lack of representations, or grossly inaccurate stereotypical expectations — all because I have not experienced years of being misunderstood or being reduced to a “type” and not being seen and valued as a unique individual.  If there is some sort of continuum of Racial Identities — then I would drop my pin (when it comes to how privileged and how socially resourced I am) somewhere in the “White” section. Since I cannot claim to be actually White, I will from now on think of myself as Off-White and hopefully can use this identity to help my White colleagues, friends, and students to figure out how we can help advance the anti-racist and social justice causes.

I welcome comments and thoughts — am I being completely off here?  Am I usurping anyone’s identity to claim myself as Off White or is it somehow accurate and perhaps even rings a bell for other Asian Americans?

IMG_20170710_083405

 

2 Comments

Filed under Views, WIWWAK

“Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like me” as viewed by an East Asian parent

For the second year in a row, I posted Children’s Literature Ambassador Gene Yang’s Reading Challenges (Reading Without Walls) as a preamble to the Summer Recommended Reading Lists for my students.  The three main points are:

  • Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like me or live like me.
  • Read a book about a topic I don’t know much about.
  • Read a book in a format (or genre) that I don’t normally read for fun.

Last Wednesday, a parent brought her 4th grade daughter to the library to check out summer books and her first question to me was, “Who decided on the summer reading challenges?”  Seeing her and her daughter, both of East Asian descent, it suddenly dawned on me that the first challenge was not a “challenge” at all, but a re-enforcement of what has been the norm in the child’s reading experiences: almost always reading about someone who doesn’t look like her.  The mother confirmed my realization by saying that there are pretty much no books with characters that look like her! So I grasped at the straw of the second part of the same challenge: live like me and said that this could mean someone living in a rural area, from a different era, or different country.

The next ten minutes saw me scouring the library collection, trying to offer SOME titles with characters that might mirror her daughter’s appearances or experiences, written by authors of a similar background — to very little success.  She already read all the books by Grace Lin multiple times.  Linda Sue Park’s books do not seem to speak to her (even though I thought Project Mulberry might work just fine…) Cynthia Kadohata’s books tend to cover more somber topics that the child does not want to read over the summer (and The Thing About Luck was already checked out!) Marie Lu’s books do not feature East Asian main characters and Kiki Strike’s girl pal Oona Wong has a father who is a major criminal.  The books by Ying Chang Compestine are either too serious or too scary or do not feature a girl main character. I was hoping she would probably take out Millicent Min, Girl Genius but she took one look and didn’t like the idea of reading about a girl who’s super smart.  Eventually, they took out some other books and left not unhappy but definitely not entirely satisfied.

And I was left pondering: Why did I not see how the first part of the challenge might read/feel to child readers who have not seen themselves reflected in books all along? Why?  Because I defaulted readily into the “white audience” mode and only realized the imbalance when confronted with this real-life scenario that offers me a broader view.   I also realized how lacking of knowledge I am to fun books (fantasy, mystery, school humor, graphic novels, etc.) that feature East Asian characters prominently for tweens! Suggestions welcome!

Lesson learned and hopefully will be able to apply in the future.

 

15 Comments

Filed under Field Reports, WIWWAK