Category Archives: Field Reports

“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.

 

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Chinese Government to Restrict Foreign Picture Books – News from China

According to these two articles, one by the Guardian, Peppa Pig pulled: China cracks down on foreign children’s books and one on South China Morning Post, What does China have against Peppa Pig?, the Chinese Government has started to limit the number of picture books originally published overseas in order to both foster local children’s book publication and have a firmer control over the kind of ideology conveyed through the local picture books. (Thanks, Jeff Gottesfeld, for posting these links on Facebook!)

I am monitoring this progress and will report back for those interested in following this topic.  But, right out of the bag, I’d like to point out that the number of translated books for children in China has always been huge and overpowering.  Look at this screenshot of the top paperback picture book bestsellers on their largest online children’s bookstore: 2 from the Netherland, 4 from the United States, and 2 from France.  Not a single title is by Chinese authors or illustrators.

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Compare this to the top selling picture books on Amazon in the U.S. (There is no such category, only best selling children’s books.)  There are eight picture books in the first twenty titles which are mostly Harry Potter books: First 100 Words by Roger Priddy, The Going-To-Bed Book by Sandra Boynton, The Wonderful Things… by Emily Winfield Martin, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry’s The Gingerbread Man (Little Golden Book) by Nancy Nolte (Author), Richard Scarry (Illustrator), and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  All of them are published in the U.S., by U.S. authors and illustrators.  In fact, it has always been rare for foreign, translated work for children to thrive in the U.S. marketplace.

So, I imagine that the need for #OWNVOICE is real and urgent in China.

There is a reason I used this hashtag since I saw that someone invented this other hashtag on Facebook to stress that China Need Diverse Books: #CNDB (modeling after the #WNDB, We Need Diverse Books hashtag) as if the Chinese market is flushed with nothing BUT Chinese creators’ works.  The reality is quite the opposite.

Let’s truly examine the full ranges of the issues of picture book fields in these two countries before making judgements regarding the nature and influence of this potential “government mandate.”

The fact is: the U.S. has no government mandate, but a free market, that dictates what gets published and sold.  And what we have is usually an extremely U.S. or Western centric slate of titles year in and year out.  Any publisher is BRAVE enough to bring a couple of culturally unfamiliar, translated books into the U.S. market is praised, patted on the back, but rarely sees monetary success because of such courageous move.  (And why isn’t the Betchelder Award ever cites the Translator along with the Publisher.  Or for that matter, why aren’t translators’ names always prominently placed on the cover or title pages? That’s another whole blog post to come.)

As some of you know already, I am working with Candied Plums, a new children’s book imprint, to bring contemporary Chinese books to the U.S. There is no mandate from anyone or anywhere, except for the publisher’s and my desire to bring more cultural understanding and accessibility to the U.S. readers.  These picture books, in my opinion, do not promote the “Chinese/Communist Dogma,” nor do they convey any specific ideology except for displaying all ways that we can be human.  These books should be as popular in China as all the imported books.  So, perhaps, just perhaps, the publishers who have been working hard at publishing their #OWNVOICES would have a better chance at reaching their #OWNREADERS with this new, drastic mandate from the Government?

 

 

 

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Nameless City by Hicks – RWW Review

I’d like to draw attention to this thoughtful review of Erin Hicks’ graphic novel Nameless City over at Reading While White blog, I could not bring myself to reading most of the book, because of my own strong emotional (mostly adverse) reaction the raised concerns explored by Angie Manfredi in her review.  I did not speak up about this title because I strongly believe that one cannot critique a book without reading the book in its entirety and closely examining its many components.  (I felt the same about Ryan Gaudin’s The Walled City and Richelle Mead’s Soundless, both “inspired” and “loosely based” on an exoticized old China without the authors’ true understanding of the very real, and very much “living” culture or paying tribute to the long established literary tradition in this particular country.)

 

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The Odyssey Experience!

This past year, I had the extreme pleasure of serving on the Odyssey Award Committee for the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults.

The following are actual numbers of time spent by me on this Listening Odyssey – including unfinished listening and also re-listening, not including note-taking or review writing and posting on the private conversation online bulletin board.

Minutes Listened: 40000
Hours Listened: 667
Days (24 hours) Listened: 27.8
Weeks (24 hours/7 days) Listened: 4
Months (24 hours/7 days) Listened: 0.9
Work Days (8 hours) Listened: 83.4
Work Weeks (8 hours/5 days) Listened: 17
Work Months (8 hours/5 days) Listened: 4

So it is with great pleasure and relief that we unveiled our selection on January 23rd. For more detailed information, please check out the official website.  I love every single one of these titles TO PIECES!  Each does something magical to enhance the already wonderful original text.  All four deserve to be listened to and be read.  I also love how we have different age brackets represented — and an outstanding Graphic Novel adaptation in the midst!

Anna and the Swallow Man written by Gavriel Savit, narrated by Allan Corduner, from Listening Library, won the Gold medal.

The three honored titles are:

Ghost written by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockard and produced by Simon and Schuster Audio.

Dream On, Amber written by Emma Shevah, narrated by Laura Kirman and produced by Recorded Books.

Nimona written by Noelle Stevenson, narrated by Rebecca Soler, Jonathan Davis, Marc Thompson, January LaVoy, Natalie Gold, Peter Bradbury, and David Pittu, and produced by HarperAudio.

 

 

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Salla Simukka, Finnish Author

At a small event hosted by the Consul General from Finland, introducing best-selling author Salla Simukka from Finland, I learned a little about Nordic Noir and Finnish Weird.

Simukka’s takes the lines from Snow White as the three titles of the trilogy: As Red as Blood, As White as Snow, and As Black as Ebony, but this is not a fairytale retelling or fantasy.  Rather they are gritty, dark, and intense crime novels for teens.

I also learned that in Finnish, the third person pronoun has no gender differentiation, so a reader of the Finnish original would have little clue as to the gender of the love interest of the main character.  (And in book 2, the full identity is revealed and it is probably going to be a surprise for most readers!)

These books’ English editions have been available in the States since 2013 but now are getting a re-release (probably some editorial revision as well) starting January 2017 by Random House/Crown Books for Young Readers.

Salla had a conversation with her U.S. editor Phoebe Yeh (WNDB) discussing her writing style and views. She’s eloquent and full of energy.

Hopefully we will see more and more translated contemporary work from other countries to enrich young people’s understanding of the world and empower them to be true global citizens.

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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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