Category Archives: WIWWAK

Who Publishes Newbery Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

Last Monday, I published the statistics of Caldecott publishers from the last 20 years.  This week, I offer the results of my spreadsheeting for The Newbery Award.  Sampled years: 1996 to 2015 (20 years.)  Two comparative highlights:

The Newbery gold and silver medals have gone to fewer publishers than the Caldecott medals.  (28/13 for Newbery and 32/17 for Caldecott.)

The Newbery Gold Medal winners are mostly female while women have only won four Caldecott gold.  (13x vs 4x)

Again I ask the Children’s Lit experts in the field to correct information when you spot errors so I can update and make this report more accurate for everyone.

Summary by the number, from 1996 to 2015:

Authors

  • 84 Winning and Honored Titles total (20 winner and 64 honor)
  • 19 Individuals won — (Kate DiCamillo won the gold medal twice.)
  • 12 women are named award winners (63%)
  • 4 Winners are POC: Kwame Alexander, Christopher Paul Curtis, Cynthia Kadohata, and Linda Sue Park
  • 41 Honor titles are written by women and 23 are written by men (64% vs 36%).
  • Multiple winners of Gold + Silver seals: 4 times: Jacqueline Woodson; 3 times: Christopher Paul Curtis (1 gold), Kate DiCamillo (1 gold), Jennifer Holm; 2 times: Richard Peck (1 gold), Jack Gantos (1 gold), Nancy Farmer, Sharon Creech (1 gold), Kevin Henkes, Laura Amy Schlitz (1 gold), Jim Murphy, Gary D. Schmidt, and Patricia Reilly Giff.

Imprints & Publishers

  • 28 Different Imprints
  • 13 Different Publishers after consolidation*

* Please bear in mind that due to the nature of large companies incorporating smaller publishers with previous wins, the accounting can not be perfect.  (FSG, for example, was independent, then part of Macmillan.)

Also recognize that children’s book publishing is a small world and there are but a few dozen companies operating in the U.S., eligible for the award.

Here are the two charts I made.

Newbery Wins by Imprint

The reddish area represents about 50% of the total, split between 7 imprints while 21 other imprints share the rest 50%.  Clarion had a large share and now counts as part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. FSG did exceedingly well as a small publishing house (Frances Foster and Melanie Kroupa were both acknowledged as their imprints) before becoming part of Macmillan.  So did Henry Holt, now also part of Macmillan.

Nancy Paulsen, Joanna Cotler, Frances Foster, Richard Jackson,Melanie Kroupa, and Wendy Lamb are all editors with their own named imprints, making up for almost 10% of the total.


Newbery Wins by Publisher

The reddish area represents about 89.5% of the total, split between 8 publishers while 5 other publishers took home 10% (7 titles) of the win. Penguin and Random House are still counted separately even though they are technically merged.  Together, these two publishers combined would have 30% (25 titles) share of the total wins for the last 20 years.  Front Street is no longer a stand-along publisher and their backlist titles are now sold by Boyds Mills and also absorbed into Namelos, under the steerage of Steven Roxburgh, former publisher of Front Street.

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Sunday Select, August 09, 2015

FCLSS

Quote of the Week:

“There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the ‘Whites’ toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.”

Albert Einstein, “The Negro Question (1946)”

Children’s Lit Happenings!

Announcing the 2015 Golden Kite Winners — from Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

2015 Teens Top Ten Nominees Announced — from Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

Ashley Bryan Talks with Roger by Roger Sutton — from The Horn Book Magazine

A Notable Summer by Andrew Medler — from Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC)

Author Name Pronunciation Guide — from TeachingBooks.net

Interview with Phoebe Yeh by Jenn Baker — from Minorities in Publishing (MiP)

Roundtable: The New Archie by Brigid Alverson– from School Library Journal

Important Points to Consider:

Einstein: The Negro Question (1946) by Albert Einstein — reposted on On Being

Teen Girls and the Persistence of Gender Stereotypes by Randye Hoder from The Atlantic

Diversity: What Can We Do About It? — from The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

INDIAN 101 FOR WRITERS – A Five Part Series, Part I — from A Fresh Pot of Tea (link provided for Part II and so on)

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The Truth Commision by Susan Juby

truthcommissionThe Truth Commission

by Susan Juby

Reminiscent of but less cynical than The Year of Secret Assignments (or Finding Cassie Crazy,) The Truth Commission explores the meaning of “truth” and the effects of truth-telling vs lying with a plot that started off deceptively breezy and quirky but progressively gaining weight as the readers realize that the tale is a lot more than presenting some artsy high schoolers’ (and the author’s) mercurial whims.  I definitely got hooked about half way through the story once the successful older sister’s dark secrets start spilling out, and totally appreciated the twists and the examination of unreliable narrative devices.  A memorable read.

Cultural Querries:

  1. I don’t understand why the school’s mission in multiple languages would be printed in both Mandarin and Cantonese, since for the most part Mandarin and Cantonese are the same in written form, unless one (like some publications in Hong Kong) tries to mimic the colloquial usages (like in online discourses and tabloids). Its usage has been limited mostly to Hong Kong and even though has gained some popularity, is still definitely not the practice in official documents. Since one of the main characters is half Korean, it is evident that the author is aware of the existence of other Asian cultures.  So, why not Japanese, Korean, or Hindi? Is this a deliberate choice by the author to show the supreme quirkiness of the school or is it really the practice of that specific Canadian region?  (Is it set in British Columbia?)
  2. I also wonder about the portrayal of Dusk’s half Korean and half Jewish family background.  She is described as rebelling against a family of doctors and her “tiger” parents’ expectations. It did make me cringe a little, even if I am quite aware of how this is the reality of many young people.

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Who Publishes Caldecott Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

Inspired by Barbara Genco’s Caldecott by the numbers: Brooklyn edition (math is fun!), I did a little bit of my own unscientific investigation playing with a spreadsheet and a couple of charts: for the past 20 years of Caldecott winners and honor titles.  There are people more knowledgeable about the publisher/imprint situation and also where they are located (and were located when each individual title won the award) so please feel free to comment and correct.  I will update the blog entry when corrections are received and verified.

Summary by the number, from 1996 to 2015:

Illustrators

  • 87 titles received gold and silver medals (20 winner, 67 honor)
  • 18 individual Caldecott winning illustrators (David Wiesner and Chris Raschka both won twice)
  • 4 women were named medal winners (20%)
  • Out of the 67 honored titles, some illustrators were named more than once like Jerry Pinkney: 4x, Mo Willems, Brian Collier, and Peter Sis: 3x, Kadir Nelson, Melissa Sweet, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Jon Klassen, 2x — not an exhaustive list, and some honored illustrators were also winners in other years, such as Jon Klassen, Brian Selznick, and David Wiesner.
  • 58 out of the 87 titles are illustrated by men (67%)

Imprints & Publishers

  • 32 individually named imprints
  • 17 publishers were named (after some consolidation*)
  • 10 titles are from publishers that do not operate mainly from the NYC offices – as to the best of my knowledge: Candlewick: 4x, Chronicle: 1x, Eerdmans: 2x, Harcourt: 3x, Beach Lane: 1x (11%)

* Please bear in mind that due to the nature of large companies incorporating smaller publishers with previous wins, the accounting can not be perfect.  (Roaring Brook, for example, was independent, then part of Millbrook, and now part of Macmillan, which in turn is actually a part of an even bigger company, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.)

Also recognize that children’s book publishing is a small world and there are but a few dozen companies operating in the U.S., eligible for the award.

Here are the two charts I made.  If you can’t see them here, please click on the links.

Caldecott Wins: By Imprint — The reddish area represents about 60% of the pie

Caldecott Wins: By Publisher — The reddish area represents about 87% of the pie

The information gathered for these charts are from the Official Caldecott Award Page. Readers might find it of interest to browse older winners and honor titles and discovered more facts, such as:

Finding some publishing names no longer with us: Lothrop, Bradbury, Scribner, Four Winds and the “original” Macmillan Children’s publishing group.

Some years the same publisher is awarded 2-3 times, for example: Orchard in 1997, 3 wins; Macmillan in 1972, 3 wins; Harper in 1971 2 wins

Before 1980s, Newbery and Caldecott were the SAME committee.


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Not Just a Book, The New Jim Crow is a Call for Real Action and a Movement

newjimcrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

audiobook read by Karen Chilton

It took me a long while to finish listening to this.  My heart would shrink a little when the thought surfaced that it’s time to listen to the next chapter or section.  Why would I want to torture myself knowing more aspects of how UNJUST the United States Criminal Justice System has been to our black fellow citizens — especially black men, especially black young men?  Why would I want to hear more stories that confirm how color-blindness, racial indifference, and lack of information of myself and millions of kind-hearted Americans contributed more to the creation of a lower racial “caste” in our society (convicted felons for minor or nonviolent drug offenses) than overt racists.  Why would I want to feel powerless when informed of the institutionalized sanction so our law enforcers may commit atrocious acts (seizing and keeping of properties of those who might or might not have committed a crime, for example and the incentives to use military grade weapons and tactics against unarmed individuals.)

But I kept at it.  And kept learning.  And kept finding more supporting evidences from the chatters and opinions in social media and other information sources.  And kept talking to whomever would listen.  Until the book was done.

And I promptly bought the paperback copy of the book so I can refer back to it whenever I need.

The book was published in 2010.  And in 2015, we read about president Obama’s bipartisan-sanctioned plans for Justice Reform and listen to reasons behind his granting clemency to unjustly sentenced minor drug offenders.  It will be great to see new policies that address the long-time injustice in the Criminal Justice system.

Watch Obama’s speech at the 2015 NAACP Annual Convention.

A collection of videos about this topic can be found on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/obama-naacp-speech-philadelphia-justice-reform/

 

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Investigating Yeh-Shen and the Chinese Cinderella Myth

yehshenYeh-Shen

Retold by Ai-Ling Louie
Illustrated by Ed Young

Original Pub. Date: 1982
Publisher: Putnam (HC); Puffin (PB)

Country of Origin: China

This title appears to be a fairly straightforward translation/retelling of the original text found in an old Chinese book. In the foreword, Louie states that the story can be traced back to 850 A.D., in the Tang Dynasty. This is widely regarded by the western and Chinese folklorists as accurate.

Although the actual 9th century text seems to be forever lost and the current tale was copied and compiled much later, in the 17th century. The story of Yeh-Shen is in volume one of the Appended text. The original text’s standard English title is You Yang Za Zu — Columbia University’s East Asian library rare book collection owns two editions of the 19th century reprints.

Even if this tale was originally recorded in the 9th century, whether it is the “original Cinderella story of the world” is still up for much debate in the academic world. I found a source that collects many different theories (unfortunately, all in Chinese) and one of the revelation is that Yeh-shen is a highly unusual name for a Chinese girl and it shares similar sound to the word “Aschen” which means ash, and Aschenputtel is the original Grimms fairy tale title for the better known Cinderella. This seems to indicate to some scholars that Yeh-shen was a retelling of a Western story, brought over to south west China by Arabic traders or via current day Vietnam.

Although Louie’s translation is fairly faithful, she chose to leave out the last part of the original story. Here’s the last part of the translation done by Arthur Waley, a famous East Asian scholar, although he never set foot in any Asian country in his lifetime. It’s published in Folk-lore, vol. 58 (London: The Folklore Society, 1947.):

The step-mother and step-sister were shortly afterwards struck by flying stones, and died. The cave people were sorry for them and buried them in a stone-pit, which was called the Tomb of the Distressed Women. The men of the cave made mating-offerings there; any girl they prayed for there, they got. The king if T’o-han, when he got back to his kingdom made Yeh-hsien his chief wife. The first year the king was very greedy and by his prayers to the fish-bones got treasures and jade without limit. Next year, there was no response, so the king buried the fish-bones on the sea-shore. He covered them with a hundred bushels of pearls and bordered them with gold. Later there was a mutiny of some soldiers who had been conscripted and their general opened (the hiding-place) in order to make better provision for his army. One night they (the bones) were washed away by the tide.

Cultural Analysis:

Cave: The Chinese word for Cave, DONG, could have meant also a small village. It seems that the Cave People might have been Villagers. Evidence of such terminology is prevalent in Korea today.

Worshiping the two dead women: It is not uncommon for many spirits of the deceased to be deified (taken as an object of worship/made a god/dess of.) It is unclear, though, from the original Chinese text whether the people were praying for girl friends, as Waley’s text states, or praying for birthing of baby-girls. The text only used one work — NU, female — (However, given the importance of boys over girls in most Chinese cultures, it might not be praying for baby-girls.)

Costume/Illustration:

Supposedly, the southern tribe in where Yeh-Shen came from was probably Zhuang Zu (壮族) — from the modern Guang Xi province. This image from a Chinese stamp shows the traditional outfits which echo Ed Young’s illustration.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a minority group and the traditional costume is not the same as the majority, Han, group.

zhuangzu

Costume of the minority group (design found on a Chinese stamp)

(This was posted, by me, on another blog a few years back.  Reposted.)

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle ( (ねじまき鳥クロニクル) by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Rubin
read by Rupert Degas

I felt so lost when the recording of this book ended. A small part is due to the sense of irritation by the vague and unresolved ending. But that was easy to get over with: as a reader, I never need tidy endings. Indeed, if all the loose threads and baffling aspects all get tied up and connected neatly, I would probably have been quite disappointed.

The real reason of the sense of loss is that now I no longer “live” in that hyperrealistic, half-true and half-dreaming world Murakami created for his readers.  Starting with a very small story of an insignificant person, the narrative slowly opens up and expands to encompass both History (especially the Sino-Japanese War) and the unexplainable force of the entire Universe.

My admiration of Murakami’s philosophical exploration of what it means to be alive and to be connected to the rest of the humanity did not sway me from questioning one assertion of his ideology: That BOTH the Chinese and the Japanese were engaged in fighting a Senseless War. In theory, I believe that War is evil and senseless.  But, growing up Chinese (and with my mother’s entire family in Fake Manchu murdered by the Japanese) made me also realize that China’s RESISTANCE against Japan’s INVASION into our country might not be so senseless after all. On a scale of Japan on one side and China on the other, the weight of who’s responsible of all the senseless killings and deaths should definitely tilt heavily on the Japan side.

I finished the book back in April.  Three months later, I can still hear and feel some of the scenes and dialogs in my mind.  However, I will not recommend to listen to this particular audio recording: I found Degas’ voice acting as the young girl, May, more distracting than enhancing and I wish that he could have pronounced the Japanese names with more accurate intonations.  One day, I will go back and read the book itself and who knows, I might be able to teach myself enough Japanese to read in its original form!

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The INjustice in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 8.04.06 AMI posted this to Facebook just now, thinking that it has little to do with Children’s or YA literature so the paragraphs do not belong on this blog. However, when I consider the reason for We Need Diverse Books movement and the imagery of young black males portrayed in some “gritty” modern teen novels, I found myself compelled to post my facebook update here as well:

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” for status update. What’s been on my mind so much lately (because I’m listening to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow) is the INjustice in our Criminal Justice system. Looking to verify some of the scenarios she cites in her book, I looked up the current prison fact sheet and found this (and other facts) on the NAACP site:

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

What I now realize is that — these African American prison inmates do not just serve time and endure unfair punishment, they also lose many of their civil rights: including the basic right to vote to change the societal bondage of such unfair conditions.

We need to be aware and demand and SEE change in our Criminal Justice system and not allow the local and federal governments to keep funnel precious resources and huge amount of money into maintaining a penal system that does nothing to improve our society for all (building more prisons instead of training teachers and supporting education, for example!)

Link to the CRIMINAL JUSTICE FACT SHEET

Link to the PDF of “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers” by The Sentencing Project

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What is Akimi's mother?

Finally got around to reading a book favored by many of my students.  So far, the writing is crisp and fluid, the storyline is intriguing, and the main character is easy to like. Then, I ran into a sentence that caught me by surprise: “Akimi’s mother is Asian, her dad Irish.”  I tried to imagine why the narrator decided to name the COUNTRY of origin of this character’s father — IRELAND, and to name the CONTINENT of origin of this character’s mother?  The symmetry would have been, “Akimi’s mother is Asian, her dad European,” or “Akimi’s mother is Japanese, her dad Irish.”  (Akimi is a unisex Japanese name.)

By naming the father’s specific country, we acknowledge that different European countries have different cultures and traditions and also different background/immigrant stories.  By naming the mother’s origin as from one generic and vast continent, we erase the differences of the diverse cultures and heritages, and fail to acknowledge the different background/immigrant stories.

Of course, one cannot know what went into writing and editing such sentences: I don’t know whether the author originally put in the ethnicity of the mother and was advised to change it; I don’t know whether there are reasons I am unaware of that naming the mother’s heritage might be offensive; I don’t know that it is not just so common a narrative convention that no one on the editorial team would be able to catch the inconsistency and correct it.  

Few people would even notice this unessential sentence unless they are like me who reads statements like this and see the bright neon sign of frustration: when will American, non-Asian writers start realizing that Asians and Asian Americans belong to many different sub-groups, all carrying with them drastically diverse beliefs, traditions, and histories? And if they’d like to put in some ASIAN characters to “diversify” their stories, perhaps some more understanding of where those characters came from, what kind of back stories they and their forefathers might have would have helped to raise the authenticity meter? And also perhaps consider: whether they behave more like those from their countries of origin or more like your “common” Americans… (by the way, what IS a “common” American?)

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Intersectionality

Thinking about how this has been a recent buzz word when it comes to discussing diversity topics.  It is truly the reality of our identities: one cannot just be Asian, but Asian and female, Asian and female and middle class, and Asian and female and middle class and not 100% straight, so on and so forth.  And I always want to honor others’ views and feelings when in a heated discussion.  However, it seems that sometimes when intersectionality is mentioned, it is someone’s way Out of the more uncomfortable strain of the topics.  If talking about Race is the most uncomfortable, then let’s introduce the intersectionality of Race and Class.  Then let’s shift the focal point to Class.

So can I ask this question in future discussions when intersected identities are introduced: which topic makes one the most uncomfortable?  Then I will insist on not wavering from That one because it is obviously the topic most needed addressing and worked on.

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Children’s Book Publishing, Hot Men, and Sexism

After reading and posting comments on Roger Sutton’s blog post from yesterday presenting questions and a snapshot regarding gender representations in YA and children’s books, I recalled another similar post from a while back (8 years ago) The other g-word and all the impassioned, albeit a lot less heated, and eye opening comments following that post. 

Many of the comments, including my own, allude to the Hot Men phenomenon of children’s publishing: both behind the scene in the publishing process and in the front line at promotional and other events.

I was definitely trying to stir up the pot a bit but I still wonder if so many of the comments, especially from female children’s book creators, don’t tell quite a bit of the truth! 

Such as this one: When I got my first book illustration job at a major publisher, I noticed something that made me feel instantly uneasy. It was a male illustrator’s headshot taped to the wall with hearts around it. I asked about it, and got giggles and swoons about his cuteness from the all female dept. My first thoughts when I saw this photo were: is this just a little office joke or is he actually be more likely to get offered a ms. then a similarly talented female or male? and: does he feel weird when he comes into the office and sees that?

Or this one: When I was studying illustration, a teacher took me and some of the other female students aside for a talk at the end of the year. He said he had no idea what was going on, but he wanted to warn us of something. He said that in his experience, year after year, he not only had more female illustration majors then males numbers wise, but that in his opinion they were overall better illustrators, and that after graduation most of the women faded from the scene while more men made it. He was utterly perplexed, had no answers, but urged us to be aware of this and to please not quit and to press on despite the odds. He literally begged us not to get discouraged and quit the field.

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Over at Read Roger Horn Book a small…

Over at Read Roger (Horn Book,) a small word/ideology battle over female representation in children’s and young adult books. Gender by The Numbers. Take a look!

I posted a couple of responses — here’s the most recent one, in response to two other commenters:

Maia said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if having female authors or protags guaranteed that what was being written reflected a feminist worldview?”

Yes, wouldn’t it? From earlier March to now, one of my thoughts was: how many women writers who write stories with female protagonists have pretty much “subjected” their main characters to fit the negatively stereotypical young women mold? Vapid, romance-crazed, hyper-appearance-conscious (toward themselves, their peers, or their love-interests), etc.? I’d rather take Avi’s Charlotte Doyle or M.T. Anderson’s Violet (from Feed) over Stephanie Meyer’s Bella (Twilight Saga) or Cecily von Ziegesar’s Blair or Serena (Gossip Girl) any day.

So, the bottom line: numbers definitely do not always tell the whole story. If any of us wishes to engage in truly fruitful discussions on these issues, we all have to first do our homework and read A LOT of the books under examination and THINK carefully about our initial, intuitive responses and then THINK again and again about whether these responses have solid basis in reality — and then LISTEN to each other and CONSIDER the many other sides of the same issue.

And, by the way, as a middle aged woman who has lived in the States for the last 25 years, I must agree with Maia that, to me, rage, pent-up or otherwise, is never a good starting point to initiate a conversation and is definitely not a valid excuse to ignore facts or to lash out at random strangers. I am almost offended by Mike Jung’s sentiment that these women are somewhat excused for their bad behaviors because of their rage — would you excuse men the same way? Can they lash out at women? If not, then perhaps you are still thinking that women are not sensible creatures who should have the ability to engage in logical and reasoned discourses even when they feel wronged? Are we so unreasonably emotional that we cannot be held accountable for our actions?

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April 1, 2015 · 1:56 pm

But I NEVER imagined him as being like me. In my head, he’s white.

With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, many gatekeepers and practitioners of children’s literature have been publishing thoughtful articles and having deep conversations on the urgent need to publish and promote books featuring diverse characters.  To highlight how important this movement is and how decades of mostly “white” books have “trained” our young readers what to expect from books, I’d like to swing the spotlight directly on some young readers themselves:

The Setting

Time: A sunny Monday morning in winter.  3rd period.  Individual choice time.

Place: A comfortable School Library Reading Room, Upper East Side of Manhattan.  This is an independent school where 60% of students are white and the rest are made up of darker skinned students (if we also consider East Asian as “darker” skinned.)

Character List

F – The Librarian, Female, Asian American, 50-something

A – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Half Black, Half Jewish
R – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Twin of A.
W – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. African American.
J – Student, 7th Grade.  Male. Caribbean Black.
N – Student, 7th Grade.  Female. Jewish/White.

A, R, W, J, N are all devourers of books, especially action packed Science Fiction or Fantasy novels.

The Scene

The students sprawled on the comfy chairs and benches with their laptops, half participating in a discussion on books featuring African American characters and history as they had just finished a unit on African American Authors and Stories (Day of Tears, Carver, We Are the Ship, The Other Wes Moore, Brown Girl Dreaming, among others.)

Suddenly, A exclaimed, “Oh my god.  The main guy in the book I just finished is black! He’s super cool! But I NEVER imagined him as being like me.  In my head, he’s white.”

R, J, and W immediately jumped into the conversation and were all in agreement how they also never imagined a superhero with their own faces.  N, usually talkative, remained silent.  The kids and the librarian then started talking about how there are also so few black action heroes in movies except for perhaps Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson.

The period ended.  Everyone picked up their new reads and left the Reading Room.

End Scene

The previous was based on a recent informal conversation I had with those five kids.  I didn’t detect any sense of outrage or dismay.  The boys simply accepted the lack of dark skinned heroes as the norm.  I, on the other hand, could not stop wondering about that one statement, “I NEVER imagined him as being like me.  In my head, he’s white.”

Is this a shared sentiment across the country by non-white young readers who seldom see themselves on book covers or between the covers?  When they do encounter people of color in books, most of these characters seem to always need some form of “saving” — from poverty, from political or racial injustice, or from other dire situations (human trafficking, child soldier, etc.)

Isn’t it high time for us all to change that default and reshape the landscape of American children’s books?

Let’s have non-white heroes and let their faces show on the covers.

interrogation ofmetalandwishes tankborn
2014, Candlewick Press
Australian Import
Vol. 1 in Tseries
2014,
Margaret K. McElderry
Vol. 1 in series
2011, Tu Books
Vol. 1 in trilogy

 

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Haven’t had a chance to read all the…

Haven’t had a chance to read all the abusive words thrown at Andrew Smith that caused him to shut down both his twitter and facebook accounts. I did have the chance to read the VICE interview and saw what he had said (as published by VICE) and simply couldn’t fathom how an honest, although tongue-in-cheek, and quite humble remark such as, “I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though” would have been the cause of so much personal attack and pain. I read couple of responses that more or less match what I think: Andrew Smith is a brilliant author who deals with issues in his books mostly through male perspectives: raw, honest, frequently biased or myopic (because it IS raw and honest) — and is obviously aware of the criticism that he’s not fleshing out his female characters as much as his readers would have liked. I’m trying to make sense of all this… I have not read Alex Crow — but I did read 100 Sideway Miles and found Julia to be independent, mature, and an incredibly strong and positive influence over Finn — an entirely different female character from Shann in Grasshopper Jungle. I need to do a lot more digging to figure out why the outcry and also whether I find it justifiable to condemn a human being and his character simply by the characters they put in books and also by some sentences in an interview that, to me, seem to be interpreted to carry very different meanings than intended.

Here are links to the original interview and some responses:

The original interview:
http://www.vice.com/read/failure-of-male-societies-869

An interpretation that states Andrew Smith, by saying (tongue-in-cheekly) that he’s ignorant of how women function, Andrew Smith is admitting that he considers women “LESS THAN HUMAN.” I can easily, by the same ignoring-all-logic-or-facts method used by Tessa Gratton here, claim that he is considering women “MORE THAN HUMAN” and thus harder to grasp and he’s trying to do a better job at learning how to WRITE THEM as characters. Sorry. Grrr…. :
http://tessagratton.tumblr.com/post/113355208098/andrew-smith-and-sexism

A well-argued essay in response to the twitter witch hunt and Gratton’s attack
https://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/slice-of-life-11-criticism-is-key/#comment-12019

A long list of thoughts that present many ideas that I think about what Andrew Smith had said:
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/03/12/what-i-think-about-andrew-smith-and-what-he-said/

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March 13, 2015 · 10:43 am

I am not happy with the WIWIK tag…

I am not happy with the WIWIK tag — I don’t think it expresses the correct sentiment. So bear with me as I change it to What I Wish We All Know. Either something that I know that I wish others do, too; or something that I have questions and wish to be informed: all of them should be something that is under each practitioner’s belt. So, perhaps, it should be WIWWAK: What I Wish We All Know! And it is still pronounceable.

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March 13, 2015 · 9:46 am

WIWIK – What I Wish I Knew

I have been thinking how I may contribute to the #weneeddiversebooks movement. One strong belief of mine is that we not only need diverse books but amazing and accurate diverse books. Two more blog posts in the Doing The Diversity Thing Diversely are forthcoming. More thoughts have been brewing. In the meantime, is there something I can do on an ongoing basis? And how do I gather all of these under one thread?

Last night, reading Wendy Mass’s The Candymaker and encountering this declaration: “alphabet is the foundation of every language” gave me an idea. This is an incredibly fun book, extremely popular with my students. I am thoroughly in love with the intriguing plot line and mesmerized by the candy factory! But reading that sentence, my instinctual reaction was, “um, no, the Chinese language is not built on a system of the alphabet. And there are more than a billion people who use this language daily!” I know that this is from Miles’ mind, a 12-year-old boy in a book. The author must have known that there are languages in the world that were not built on alphabets! She just made her character think this way. And yet, I wonder. Miles is a highly intelligent, book-loving, code-making, language-creating child. So it is also highly likely that he does know that “not every” language in the world is founded on a set of alphabets. A simple “almost” before “every” in this sentence would have been more accurate without sacrificing the authenticity of the character.

But, could it be possible that the author and the editor really did not know that there are non-alphabet based languages? If so, then perhaps I can contribute by questioning and discussing such matters for practitioners — authors, editors, librarians, teachers, etc.!

Thus a new TAG on Fairrosa Cyber Library was born. wiwik — What I Wish I Knew. With this tag, I can collect questions I have regarding cultural references in children’s books and give myself homework to research and find out accurate information. Others can join in to discuss and enlighten me, too! (I’m also adding this tag to some older posts and the link to the sidebar.

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Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 3: How Can We Know When We Don't Know What We Don't Know?

One form or another “matrix of knowledge” is often presented at educators workshops, especially when the discussion is about diversity.  These are the four quadrants of such matrix: 

KNOW
KNOW
DON’T KNOW
KNOW
KNOW
DON’T KNOW
DON’T KNOW
DON’T KNOW

When I read Malinda Lo’s blog post on YA novel reviewing, I realized that many of the problems cited in her article come from the lower-right quadrant.

We can look at these quadrants in light of book reviewing:

  • KK: One has a firm grasp of a particular knowledge and can readily access and utilize such knowledge.  Most reviews are done by reviewers familiar with the content or genre in order to accurately assess the quality of the book.
  • DKK: One sometimes is not consciously aware of possessing particular knowledge since such knowledge has become second nature.  Most reviewers will not have to put in extra effort to notice typos in a finished book.
     
  • KDK: One is consciously aware that one lacks particular knowledge or set of knowledge. In this case, research and inquiries are made and new knowledge is gained. Faced with a book where the main character has an unfamiliar medical condition will prompt any reviewer to do some research in order to assess the accuracy of the tale.
  • DKDK: One is unaware of one’s lack of knowledge in a particular area. More often than not, one also believes that he/she actually has solid knowledge about the matters at hand. This often makes it difficult for anyone to obtain actual knowledge.  In Lo’s “Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews,” most if not all of the examples cited in part 1 “Scarcely Plausible” and part 4 “Readers May Be Surprised” fit squarely into this  DKDK box.

I have no doubt that the reviewers in Lo’s examples believe that they KNOW about peer cultures or that they really KNOW how potential readers will react, and thus evaluate the books accordingly: all based on the self-trust in one’s knowledge and also on an urgent sense of mission to be the gatekeeper, warding off culturally insensitive materials.  But, as explained clearly by Malinda Lo, such heroic protection could result in damning certain books for committing crimes against cultural accuracy while in truth that the book might be indeed culturally accurate.  Such as the demand of having a glossary, since it has been standard practices and requirements on books with “exotic” and “unfamiliar” (read: non-white) words or expressions and that lack of such glossary signifies inferior quality. 

I myself have engaged in several discussions over the years on the portrayal of Chinese culture and characters in children’s and YA books.  I always do this with much trepidation: since there is no way that I can truly be the spokesperson for an entire (and extremely complex) culture, even if it is considered MINE.  (I am now even more aware of the differences between Chinese and Chinese American Cultures.) Take my post on Five Chinese Brothers for example.  This old picture book is often criticized as racially insensitive (or downright racist.) I addressed this controversy back in 2008, in Examining The Five Chinese Brothers, mostly defending the illustrations by Kurt Wiese. I pointed out that if one examines the pictures carefully and accurately, without being influenced by an overblown sense of social justice, one can easily see how many of these cartoon faces have different features: nose shapes, eyebrow angles, even ear shapes and sizes.  The well-intentioned critics usually claim that Wiese was being racially insensitive because he perpetuated the “oh, they all look the same; I can’t tell them apart” concept. These critics didn’t seem to realize that perhaps they themselves Don’t Know how to read cartoon/stylized lines of Chinese features.  To me, all five viewable faces in the two pictures below are distinctly different — are they?

 Photo-38-751016

Photo-43-785330

However, since posting about it 7 years ago, I have also come to realize how much I also DKDKed!  My insistence to support the use of yellow for the faces is based on my personal experiences: as a Chinese girl growing up in a homogeneous environment, proud to be a member of the “yellow race,” and never having to contend with my ethnic identity.  It is a highly biased stance (and I wanted to break the connection of Yellow=Undesirable, what an naive idea!)  I disregarded the real experiences of Chinese and Asian American child readers.  Just because I don’t find being labeled “yellow skinned” hurtful does not mean that there are not many who are indeed hurt.  In this case, I believe that their views are more valid than mine.

Yes, I have to update my own mindset, bringing myself from the DKDK quadrant to at least the KDK quadrant and striving to listen and learn from others. 

Since my pervious post in this series was about Africa Is My Home, I decided to look at reviews from 2 years ago when the book was first published.  I found this review from Kirkus and decided that a discussion about parts of the review fits nicely here.  

I have some disagreements with the review, but most can be chalked up to personal tastes and subjective views.  I would not have classified this book as a “text-heavy picture book” but a “heavily illustrated historical fiction.”  I don’t feel that Robert Byrd’s illustrations are “frequently cramped,” although there are definitely a few busy scenes: at the market place, in the court house, and on the Amistad.  I (and my students) also don’t find the text befuddling in any way.  

What made me wonder the most is this claim of one of the book’s several “flaws:”

“Its illustrations…offer minimal variety in the characters’ skin tones and facial features.”

The reviewer seems to say that it is quite problematic in depicting the people (adults and children) from Mende Land (Sierra Leone) with very similar skin tones: perhaps to the point that implies Robert Byrd’s lack of respect for the people depicted.  Most racially sensitive folks believe that “not all Africans have the same skin tones” and that “no one should lump all all Africans as being the same.”   We should treat them as individuals and as humans equal to everyone else.  This is all I hold true as well. However, the reason we see distinctly different shades of skin tones in the States (or other non-African continents) is the result of the long and vast history of African diaspora and racial mingling.  And in Africa Is My Home, the illustrator Robert Byrd shows his awareness of this in his illustration of  the market place scene set in Cuba:

IMG_20150227_092333

IMG_20150227_092315

(note the two women shopping for vegetables/fruits)

Byrd, using water color and non-realism style,) depicted Mende Land children and adults with very similar skin tones.  The variation, if any, is extremely subtle.

africaismyhomepageimage

There are also some very similar facial features, for sure: The shape of the nose, the large round eyes with the whites showing, etc.

Curious, I searched for recent photographs of Sierra Leone children and came across many group photos such like this one from the BBC News Magazine.

_69801704_children

And cannot quite bring myself to label Byrd’s choices as a flaw in the book.

If Byrd had made the skin tones and facial features a lot more varied for the Mende Land people, just like what he did for the Cuban market place scene, would the Kirkus reviewer then praise him for his cultural sensitivity, even if that might have been an even more inaccurate depiction?  From where I stand, this well-intended criticism, aimed to point out “cultural insensitivity,” seems to lack cultural understanding itself.

Like I said earlier, I’m always really fearful when I hold different opinions about books regarding cultural references: since perhaps I am so off base.  So, I’d love to hear from others who have better understanding of the topics addressed here and would love to be enlightened about anything that I Don’t Know that I Don’t Know!

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I'm Not Sure I'm So Fond of Almonds

I like many different kinds of nuts. I actually am QUITE fond of almonds and many things made from almonds, even Toasted Almonds.  However, in the past few days, reading different books, written both by non-Asian and Asian authors, I have found myself puzzled by the insistence of the shade of my kind of skin as “toasted almond.”  It feels like a lazy throw-away descriptor, much like that of “olive skin tone” (as referenced in my other post.)

Here, depending on the lighting and different parts of my body being highlighted, are some sampling of my skin color from photos taken in 2014:

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.57.56 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.57.07 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.56.41 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.55.55 AM

Here are pictures I took off the internet, showing what toasted almonds might look like in different settings, I guess, under different degrees of “toasting”?

almond1almond2almond3

 

I can definitely see Some resemblance between some of my photos and those of the almonds, after the toasting process. But for some reason, I feel heavily reduced since that seems to be the only way to describe my skin tones and those of millions of others who share my skin tones.

A plea: can we possibly build up some newer vocabulary, phrases, and ways in describing physical attributes, especially varying skin tones?  Perhaps more precise, and not always resorting to food comparisons?  (Another recent weird encounter — some Chinese girl’s complexion is described as “white rice noodles,” as a way of non-offensive, or even complimentary description — I can’t imagine any Chinese girl being too excited being told that their skin reminds people of white rice noodles. Just imagine, if you are reading a book where a white girl’s complexion is described as reminding the boy next door of a plate of “steaming ziti.”)

This site might not offer the ultimate answer to all questions about describing complexions and other physical attributes, but it serves as a starting point and a reminder of how not to resort to stock phrases and cliches. http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/FAQ

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Continue interesting discussion over on ccbc net re…

Continue interesting discussion over on ccbc-net re character ethnicities in children’s / YA books. And here’s a little rant I just posted there:

Also re Hunger Games — There’s always the discussion over Katniss’s ethnicity — she’s described as having “olive skin” and dark hair, eyes, etc. while her mother and Prim are fair haired and blue eyed. Does that indicate that she’s mix-raced? Does anyone know how Suzanne Collins envisioned her? What is Olive skin, anyway? Light or dark brown cured in a barrell? Green on the tree? Black in a can? Can we all just agree that this is a useless descriptor and toss it out of the window as of Feb. 2014?

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February 4, 2014 · 11:18 am

Counting by 7s

countingby7sby Holly Goldberg Sloan

My reactions to this book are quite mixed that I cannot sort them all out coherently.  So, here we go, a list of what I liked and what I had some issues with:

Starting with the positive aspects of the book:

  • I quite enjoyed the protagonist and her many interesting observations and thoughts.  Especially when she was less “normal” and more stubbornly herself the first part of the book.  I know that’s kind of the point of the book, that Willow “learned” how to interact with others and became more accepted and more accepting, but she definitely becomes less interesting a character as the story progresses.
  • I appreciated the author’s effort in pulling together a cast of diverse ethnicities, and featuring mix-raced kids and adults.
  • I definitely was curious and interested enough to know how things would pan out for Willow and the others, especially Dell.
  • I liked how at first one couldn’t quite tell the age and gender of Willow.
  • I thought that this is a thematically significant story.
  • I also thought it totally fine for the author to switch POVs — I’d rather this than having the author trying to keep it all in Willow’s head and thus making the book either too claustrophobic or Willow too wise and and unconvincing in her insights.

Now, onto the things that troubled me or did not satisfy me as much:

  • Vietnamese is presented as a language that one has to learn “verbal conjugations” for — when in reality, like many Asian languages, one uses only a few time stamps/phrases to indicate tenses while the original verbs remain the same.  I know that the author consulted Vietnamese speaking friends so it is even more curious that this oversight is in the book.  (I did read the online galley so don’t know exactly how the finished book handles this aspect exactly.)
  • I cannot wrap my head around how Pattie has SO much money that she could buy the entire building complex from the bank at the end of the book because of Willow and her predicament, and yet would subject her own children to live squalidly in the garage where her teenaged son who obviously is VERY troubled by the fact that their living condition is shameful (and he didn’t even have normal underwear) and was acting out and doing poorly at school.  Would an immigrant mother who suffered quite a bit of humiliation in her own youth, and who is presented as competent and caring for others, hide away all her wealth to this extend?  This just doesn’t compute for me.
  • There is quite a bit of rule and law breaking through the whole book, by almost every character, that I got slightly paranoid about recommending this to young readers.  Dell got by in his job without ever following protocols or performing the minimum requirements.  We hope that he has changed toward the end of the story… but that was not quite clear.  The whole “using Dell’s address” and faking that they’re all living in that apartment works quite well, but from the get go was a giant and elaborate lie, which became a wonderful truth at the end of the tale… seems too convenient and pat and is that what the author tries to convey?  As long as a lie comes from a good place, it will lead to a positive outcome?  Even Mai tells lies to the school in order to go to the custody hearing.  I am usually not one to worry about such things in children’s books, but for some reason, the accumulation of such behaviors as a way to make the story work got under my skin.

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