Tag Archives: thoughts

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.26.33 AM

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?

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Field Reports, Views, WIWWAK

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.

img_20161101_205125

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports

A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS

There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (capitalization as part of the title/design), written and illustrated by Lane Smith (Stinky Cheeseman, The Happy Hocky FamilyIt’s a Book, etc.), was published in May, 2016 (two months ago.)

This book has received four starred reviews from major review sources and positive reviews from others. However, the use of the word TRIBE and some of the images on a particular double-page spread toward the end of the book have sparked heated debate (in which I took part) in several online places.  A short description and link to each of these reviews (with comments) can be found at the end of this post.

I read and re-read this book many times and have considered all the reviews cited below and many additional comments sprinkled throughout the internet.  Finally, I feel that I am ready to share my own take on this book.  I must stress that this is but ONE of many potential interpretations of the book which features very few words and delivers most of its “messages” with pictures that can be differently interpreted.

By no means do I want to discount Debbie’s and others’ pain when they face certain images (that they see on the second to last double spread) which definitely trigger strong emotional reactions from past and personal experiences.  (My own triggers are seeing erroneously attributed so-called Chinese cultures or imageries and boy do those get me seeing red!)

So here it is,

Fairrosa’s Interpretation of the Double Spread in There Is a TRIBE of KIDS:

I must confess that my initial reaction to the word TRIBE in the title was a skeptical one: how would it be used in the book?  to indicate some relations to Native American cultures?  to indicate something primitive?  When I finally read through the book (many times over,) I realized that, as Debbie Reese and many reviewers pointed out, it is a play on word.  Tribe is a collective noun for a group of “young goats” (kids) and Tribe is also a collective noun for many human groups that share the same cultural, geographical, or historical experiences.  The word is still used widely.  It is used by American Indians as their official group names.  It is used by the Jewish people.  It is also used by groups who need to bond over their unique identities and experiences, such as the deaf community (as found in Tribes, a play by Nina Raine from 2015.)

In the case of this book, Lane Smith used it to indicate a very specific “kind” of human beings: children. The child protagonist, after mimicking all kinds of animals, finally found his own “tribe.”  The text is all in past tense — until the very last spread which is in present tense, proclaiming the currency and the universality of childhood.

Here is my interpretation of the second to last spread accompanying the text, There was a TRIBE of KIDS (note the past tense!)

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 11.11.46 AM

(reproduced with permission from Roaring Brooks Press)

Since our child protagonist is not in this picture, so unlike the previous encounters, we don’t see him mimic or play act.  We see this child (looking a bit like Burt in Mary Poppins, doesn’t he?) welcoming the new child (our protagonist, off page, unseen) into a TRIBE.

 

tribe07

We, readers, along with the child protagonist, observe the scene with keen interest:

A TRIBE of kids from around the world and from both yesteryears and now, dressed much like our protagonist (in leaves, branches, and flowers,) being themselves and playing like all children might:

We watch, as they

swing, eat and play with their food,

tribe02 tribe15 tribe08

collect seashells and flowers,

tribe04 tribe25

play balls, crawl, balance, dance,

tribe03 tribe09

tribe11 tribe12

scout, explore,

tribe13 tribe26

take care of a younger sibling, 

tribe10

dress up like an adult (a princess, a king, a judge?)

tribe19  tribe20 tribe27

give a hug,

tribe01

dangle, slide,

tribe14 tribe17 tribe16

model, run (like an olympian with a torch,)

tribe23 tribe24

hide, and seek.

tribe28 tribe18

tribe22  tribe21

What I do not observe is the child protagonist attempting to mimic any of these KIDS, as if these are roaming animals. I also don’t see the “wildness” linked to a colonial sense of the word TRIBE (as stated by Minh C. Le and as troubling to others). I see children engaging in regular childlike and childhood activities.  And if I were to read this book with a young child, that’s how I would posit it — “Look, do you play hide and seek, just like these kids?  Do you pretend to be a king or a princess sometimes?  Do you play with your food?  Do you love going down the slides or sit on a swing?  This makes you part of the TRIBE of all children in the world.  You belong with each other and you accept and embrace one another.”

As I pointed out in the beginning of this post, my interpretation is different from some others’ views, including those of Minh C. Le’s, Sam Bloom’s, and Debbie Reese’s. All three wrote thought provoking reviews of this title — and I urge all to read them and take their concerns or potential hurt and mis-use of this book seriously.

Il Sung Na’s ‘The Opposite Zoo,’ and More by Minh C. Le (New York Times)
Le feels that the “juxtaposition of the word ‘tribe’ with the woodland utopia conjured uncomfortable associations,” and a particular image is problematic “in its echoes of the longstanding trope in children’s literature that uses Native imagery or ‘playing Indian’ to signify wildness.”

Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids by Sam Bloom (Reading While White)Bloom finds himself in agreement with Le’s take on the book and ponders why all the reviewers for the major publications have given this book such favorable feedback when he sees even more images that are problematic.  He posits that perhaps it is due to Lane Smith’s long-time fame and status as a celebrated children’s book creator.  He also links to a page delineating the negative associations that the word TRIBE contains from the Teaching Tolerance site. Bloom concludes his essay by strongly indicating that he does not recommend this book. He writes, “If it wasn’t Lane Smith’s name on the front cover, could we more easily see the problems inherent in There Is a Tribe of Kids? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that this is a book that I personally won’t be sharing with (human) kids.”

Lane Smith’s new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) by Debbie Reese (American Indians in Children’s Literature)
Reese details the picture book and focuses first on the word play and the repeated pattern of a child going through the natural world, mimicking behaviors of groups of animals, while garbed in leaves.  Reese then moves on to discuss the double spread that features a TRIBE of KIDS (children) and the specific images she finds objectionable.  She also delineates many counter-points to Rosanne Parry’s review of the book.  Reese uses words like “rolling your eyes” and “grinding your teeth” to express how irate she is with Parry’s proposed interpretation of the book’s images.

Rosanne Parry also wrote a blog post in response to Sam’s post: A Tribe of Book Reviewers (Writing in the Rain Blog). Parry writes to share her interpretation of this book and her disagreement with Sam’s take on the book as a reinforced negative portrayal of children “playing Indian.” Parry’s take on this book is in accordance with reviewers who see that there are multiple cultures represented in the book and that the book’s focus is on the importance of a sense of belonging and the warmth of acceptance in every child’s life, regardless of their origins or skin tones.  The final “snapshot” seems to encapsulate this sentiment — the kids of pale and dark skin tones locked in a friendly embrace to show their kinship and solidarity:tribehug

For those interested, here are links to all four starred reviews:

 

3 Comments

Filed under Book Notes, Views, WIWWAK

18th Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

It has become more and more apparent to me that the experience of an Asian person is so drastically different from that of an Asian American’s.

An Asian who grew up in her own country (like myself) didn’t have to struggle to be recognized or represented in books or other media.  In Taiwan where I was born and lived until my late 20s, the demographics were almost 100% ethnic “Chinese.”* Even if, like most young people, I experienced much self-doubt and dark days when constructing my own identity, dealing with my “ethnicity” was never part of that process.

On the other hand, my young Asian American students (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Indian) must contend with the fact that their ethnic backgrounds are a significant part of their identity forming process.  Even in a city that is highly diverse, they still belong to only about 12% of the total NYC population (and about 6% of the U.S. population.)  This means that if you evenly spread out all Asian Americans in NYC, there is about 1 person of Asian heritage per 10 people in any room.  We can further break down the population by ethnic groups.  For example, there are about 20,000 ethnic Japanese and 100,000 ethnic Koreans living in New York City (approx pop 8.5 million).  This means that you will have to put about 500 people in a room to encounter a single Japanese person and about 100 people to meet a Korean person.  It is then of little wonder that many things that do not bother me in the least might really offend my Asian American students: I was never under the threat as being “the other” nor would I ever have to explain or defend my culture to my peers.

Since I can only consider Asian American youth experiences,  as an “outsider,” the only way for me to learn is first to not impose my own past experiences onto them and then to keep listening to Asian American friends and students so hopefully I can gain some degree of understanding in order to act as a supportive and effective ally.

* Due to the complex modern history this accounting is not truly accurate: there are those who migrated from Mainland China in 1949 (14%), those who had migrated from Mainland China some 400 years ago (84%), and the aboriginal tribes, who were colonized and have lost most of their cultures and languages (2%).

1 Comment

Filed under Views, WIWWAK

17th Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Today is for celebration!  Celebrating one of my favorite Asian American authors – Gene Luen Yang.

Gene is generous. Gene is funny. Gene is wise. Gene is brave.

Gene is generous.

In 2013, he came to my school and met with high school students in the Asian Cultures and Science Fiction/Fantasy clubs to chat about graphic novels, Boxers & Saints, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and growing up as an Asian American nerd and answer many many questions — all on his own time, without charge!

Addendum: A friend of mine pointed out to me that such “free” visits are not the norm for most libraries or authors — my school is in NYC where Gene’s publisher is located, this was part of his promotional tour for Boxers & Saints, and I and the school I work for are frequently tapped by the NYC publishers to host informal author events like this.  This is yet another case of how one person’s view can be so influenced by the circumstances and thus limited without the reminder from someone else who has the view from a different vantage point.  That said, Gene’s generosity is not limited to “free visits” but is demonstrated his willingness to engage the students and freely shared thoughts and views.

geneyang2 geneyang1

Gene is funny.

I had the great pleasure to listen to Gene talking about Graphic Novels on a panel at last year’s USBBY Conference.  He used humor to drive home some serious considerations in a way that the audience would easily accept.

Gene is wise.

As a recently appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene has set up a great campaign for all readers to Read Without Walls with three simply stated but significant goals that will advance the scope of diversity in any young reader’s world:

RWW-Criteria

Gene is brave.

He spoke the hard truth publicly without skirting around the issues.  One such memorable speech was delivered at the National Book Festival gala in September 2014.  You can read the whole transcript at The Washington Post.  These words were not only wise, almost prophetic, they should be heeded ever more now that so many of us get our news and views from extremely short, often volatile, and sometimes sensationalized sound bites littering the edge-less world of the Internet.

But I have noticed an undercurrent of fear in many of our discussions. We’re afraid of writing characters different from ourselves because we’re afraid of getting it wrong. We’re afraid of what the Internet might say.

This fear can be a good thing if it drives us to do our homework, to be meticulous in our cultural research. But this fear crosses the line when we become so intimidated that we quietly make choices against stepping out of our own identities.

After all, our job as writers is to step out of ourselves, and to encourage our readers to do the same.

I offer three further thoughts inspired by Gene’s words:

First, I think this call for “doing homework” should not be limited to authors, illustrators, or editors and publishers.  The demand of meticulous cultural research must extend to all the critics of books — we must also do our homework before delivering verdicts to praise or condemn a literary work, especially when large swatches of the text contain cultural allusions unfamiliar to us.

Second, I think it is crucial for those who are promoting works about and by diverse creators to remember that simply “of a culture” does not guarantee any book creator having understanding of the multiplicity of the entire history or full scope of that specific culture.  Even those writing “within” a culture must do their homework!

Third, although book creators must heed Gene’s call for NOT fearing of where their creative hearts tell them to go, I feel compelled to call on critics and advocates to educate ourselves on informative and productive ways to critique literature so that we may uplift the whole field.  We must figure out ways to turn our initial anger and frustration into useful and illuminating insights and advices to help improve representation and authenticity in all future books for young people.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Views, WIWWAK

15th Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Starting today, I’ll post here and on other social media some articles and perhaps my own thoughts on media representations of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States.   Here Media include movies, tv shows, books, and games.

Today’s offering from the New York Times, an article by Keith Chow, first published on April 22, 2016.

Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?

The TL:DR version:

Even a modest hit like the “Harold and Kumar” trilogy, starring John Cho and Kal Penn, was able to quadruple its production budget after box office and home media sales. Meanwhile, films with white stars fail at the box office all the time. Chris Hemsworth, who stars in this weekend’s “Huntsman” sequel, has had many more box office flops than successes, yet he is considered a bankable movie star.

Such facts reveal Hollywood’s dirty little secret. Economics has nothing to do with racist casting policies. Films in which the leads have been whitewashed have all failed mightily at the box office. Inserting white leads had no demonstrable effect on the numbers. So why is that still conventional thinking in Hollywood?

And don’t forget to scroll through the

Whitewashing, a Long History slide show, featuring slides such as this one:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 4.49.11 PM

And they didn’t even touch on Tilda Swinton cast as a Tibetan (now Indian?) Mystic (The Ancient One) in Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange or Scarlett Johansson as Mokoto Kusanagi in the American Remake of a Japanese SciFi film, Ghost in the Shell. 

ancientoneghostintheshell

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports, Views, WIWWAK

Dear Ellen Oh, You Are Not Me!

I was going to challenge Ellen Oh’s use of “WE”  when I read the first paragraph of her blog post Dear White Writers because I had a knee-jerk reaction and found the use of this collective pronoun problematic. Indeed, I often find sweeping generalization of all kinds problematic.  And because I believe strongly that ANYONE CAN write about ANY topic and create ANY character they are passionate about as long as they have done diligent preparation, her proclamation of “Yes We Need Diverse Books. But that doesn’t always mean that we want YOU to write them” made me feel that I was not included in that general “We.”  My thoughts went immediately to these queries: What did she mean by “We”?  Who are the “We”?  Did she include me, a Chinese American librarian, when she used “We”?  Or did she mean only the people who are officially involved with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks organization?  (By the way, when I submitted my volunteer form through the site, I was informed that too many people were interested in being involved so that my request was denied.)  Or did she mean just the Korean American writers, like herself?   Or all the Asian American writers?  Or anyone that is not White?  Or simply all those who agree with her?  You see — the use of We is too imprecise and too absolute at the same time to not make me think of all the possibilities in one shot!

But I went on and read the entire post and found that I actually agree with most of her points, except perhaps this following accusatory sentiment.  She wrote,

Don’t do it because “you believe in diversity and want to help the cause.” Don’t do it because you think you are helping us. Because you’re not. The truth is, you’re only doing it for yourself. Because you think it is going to help you get published.

I think it is GREAT if all writers believe in diversity and want to help the cause — regardless of their skin colors.  Actually, I think many of such efforts could be very helpful.  In any kind of social movement, ally-ship between the insiders and the outsiders is crucial in its success.  So, I say, please do include diverse characters and address many topics in your books: whether you are white or a person of color and whether you are writing from an insider or an outsider lens.  Just be very aware of which lens you are using and do not presume that you know it all.  You just may be helpful.  I also feel very uncomfortable seeing a universal condemnation to an entire group (white writers, in this case) and accusing them all for wanting something (to be published) that is simply a natural desire for anyone in the field (children’s and YA lit world.)

Aside from this strong disagreement, I want to specifically endorse these following points.

Ellen wrote in her blog post:

We don’t want publishers to say, “Well, we already published a book about that,” and then find that it was a book that did not speak the truth about us but rather told someone on the outside’s idea of who we are.

And I cannot agree more!  “That” refers to topics or characters existing to fill a “diversity quota.”  There should not be a quota.  The publishers of children’s books must start examining their own output and ensure the widest possible diversity in character representations, subject matters, and book creators.  Diversity should not be something that needs policing and reminding.  It should be so natural that no publishing teams would think twice about offering all kinds of books and about all kinds of characters and experiences.  In fact, the publishers themselves should be the frontline champions of diverse books!

Ellen also wrote this paragraph that a white author who has been worrying about whether they are “allowed” to write POC stories should take to heart:

So here’s the truth that needs to be repeated again and again. Don’t write a POC’s story unless you need to tell it with such a burning desire that it will eat you alive and so you will come into our houses and walk in our shoes to get it right, and that way it isn’t written ONLY from a white lens. Don’t do it unless you are willing to invest in a whole lot of time and commitment and get into some heavy conversation about what it is like to live our lives, deal with racism and micro-aggressions and fear and hate. Don’t do it because you think it is a hot trend. Don’t do it because you think it will help you get published. Don’t do it because you just love Kpop and Kdramas and oh wouldn’t it be cool to bring it to an American audience? Don’t do it because your mama is 1/32nd Native American and somehow that gives you a pass to write about the culture (it doesn’t). Don’t do it because it is exotic, mystical, spiritual, etc.

Thank you, Ellen Oh, for proposing these sensible and achievable goals for your fellow writers.  Even though you are not me, WE (two) definitely share a lot of common expectations and aspiration.

5 Comments

Filed under Views, WIWWAK