I’m volunteering to Live-Blog my ALA attending experience for ALSC. Check it out here:
Category Archives: Field Reports
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.)