Category Archives: Field Reports

The Whiteness of My Profession

Over at Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog – a commenter noticed that the nineteen Heavy Medal readers who volunteered to read and participate in discussing and choosing our 2019 Heavy Medal Award winners/honorees all identify as White.  I wrote my longish response in a comment there and repeat the words here:

The predominately white Committee (with Steven, white, and myself, Asian/non-white, serving both as manager of the blog and occasional commenters starting January) simply reflects the librarian profession as a whole.

Here’s the finding from ALSC itself in 2016 via an Environmental Scan study of librarianship in the U.S. (Note, the Librarianship counts are almost 10 years old by now so hopefully the number has increased.)

“The overwhelming majority of librarians, including children’s librarians, are white women. Librarians are disproportionately white compared to the population of the United States as a
whole, as demonstrated by the “Librarians and US Population” graph that follows (Librarian data from Diversity Counts 2009-2010 Update; US population data from “Outreach Resources for Services to People of Color”). It is clear from this graph that people of color and Native/First Nations people are grossly underrepresented in the field of librarianship.” — The graph shows the following:

88% of Librarians are white and 12% are non-White: 1.8% are Latino, 6% are African American, 3.8% are API, and 0.4% are multi-racial or Native American.

So, out of 21 people (including Steven, white, and Roxanne, Chinese,) we should have 2.5 persons who are “non-white” – we have 1, making it 4.7% diversity: if we only look at race. If we look at other factors, gender (5% of the profession is male, and we have 4 members identify as male, making 20% of the membership.) We also have some diversity in political views, abilities, ages, sexual orientation (openly identified or not,) professional focus, etc.

This brings me to explain an important process during the Committee formation to balance representation so Committee members look MORE like the nation and the children our professional serves than the profession itself. ALSC, through members and the Board, intentionally balances the representation of each Committee (Newbery, Caldecott, Bepre, Sibert, Notables, and many more,) through both the voting and appointment processes.

We here at Heavy Medal do not use any balancing mechanism. If no Heavy Medal Readers of Color volunteer to serve, then we have no HMAC Members of Color to participate. Do you think we should have pushed during the call for participation to encourage more readers of color to sign up for this process? I am curious to what outcome would have been then.

Last year’s Newbery Fifteen included three (counting me) Asian participants — we did not have any African, Latino, or Native American participants, either. Or could it just be very possible that we do not have many/any Readers of Color — and this is merely a parlor game for white (and Asian) children’s literature enthusiasts?

Much to think about.

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No More Laura! And the controversy begins…

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:

http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2018/06/childrens-literature-legacy-award-alaac18/

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.

 

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ALA Annual Conference – New Orleans

I’m volunteering to Live-Blog my ALA attending experience for ALSC.  Check it out here:

http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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“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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