Thursday, September 16, 2010

Color Me Brown Weekly Links

Color Me Brown is a weekly round-up of links that have to do with race and literature. They can range from discussion posts, rants, interviews with authors of color and book reviews.

The thoughts shared in these links may not be in exact agreement with the Color Online staff. BUT they do discuss issues we are devoted to discussing and fixing.

The School Library Journal has an article called Courageous Conversations: If we want every child to succeed, we need to talk about race

we took a long, hard look at our library's approach to improving African-American children's kindergarten readiness skills, and thanks to Ellen Fader, our director of youth services, we conceived a new project to reduce the achievement gap. Funded by an LSTA grant, our program, "Preparing African-American Children for Kindergarten Readiness," aims to help the local black community create a library plan that's tailored to its needs.

We next convened a group of community leaders and stakeholders to advise us. Six African Americans and four library staff—two white and two black—came together to talk. Conversations about race with our African-American colleagues were uncomfortable at times. Even the first question that we asked them took courage, "Which do you prefer to be called: African American or black?" But once we started, the questions came easier. No matter how clumsy our questions, though, the advisory group was pleased that the library was focusing on the needs of black children.

This achievement gap doesn't stem from a lack of ability; it comes from a lack of opportunity. We need to close the achievement gap that exists in the United States. We can't fail our black children any longer. The silence needs to be broken. As a black colleague said, "I think there are things that just should be put on the table—no matter how uncomfortable—to move the process along."

The VCFA Journal of the Arts had an article by Nikki Grimes, Color Me Perplexed

It’s 2010, but you’d never know it. I’m just back from ALA and I’m still hearing librarians say things like “I love your work! I only wish I had more African American students so that I could use your books.”


I wish I could tell you that such comments are rare. Sadly, they are all too common, and my question is why? What makes a librarian, or teacher, or a parent for that matter, assume that a book is inappropriate, or of diminished value to a child simply because the character on the cover is of a different race?

Let us, for a moment, follow the line of logic that says one should not share literature by and about people of a certain color with children who are of a different color. According to that logic, I would have to suggest schools with predominantly non-white student populations skip Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Old Yeller for starters. Forget Alice in Wonderland. Tom Sawyer is debatable. Diary of Ann Frank? I don’t think so. As for adult literature, let’s just say Shakespeare’s readership just shrunk significantly.

Are you gasping yet? Have the words “ridiculous” and “absurd” popped into your mind? I certainly hope so. And yet, the act of an educator who limits the use of books featuring characters of color is no less egregious, and his or her reasons no less absurd. The single most important question we should ask when considering a book for our classroom or library shelves is, is the book any good?

Also at the VCFA Journal of the Arts (Hunger Mountain) was an interview done by Kekla Magoon with Cheryl Willis Hudson (co-founder of Just Us Books). The whole September issue of Hunger Mountain rocks. I encourage you to check out all the articles.

KM: There’s been some discussion in the publishing industry about the “audience” for Black books. Yet, as a self-proclaimed publisher of Black-interest books, you’ve clearly found an audience. Are you responding to a niche market, or a population often overlooked by larger publishers?

CWH: There are a couple of forces working here. Our audience is anyone who reads our books—Black or White or Brown. What we targeted in the early days of marketing our press were African American children because of the obvious lack of variety in the offerings via traditional avenues. Our marketing efforts have always been broad-based: independent vendors, craft and street fairs, schools, libraries, barber shops, beauty shops, mail order catalogs, book clubs—all of these became avenues of access to get to our target audience. We experimented with as many venues as possible and carved out a niche market to sell our books via alternative routes because they were not readily available in most non-Black bookstores or retail outlets. I would say that “diverse books” about African American life and culture for children were extremely limited. Most published books were biographies of George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, etc.—institutional books that could be found in libraries. Most of these existing books were not written or illustrated by people of African descent. That is still the case today although the canon of contemporary Black writers and illustrators has indeed expanded over the past 40-50 years.

The short answer is Wade and I thought that larger publishers had obviously overlooked contemporary Black families and children. Just Us Books’ readers initially responded to our titles as a breath of fresh air—i.e., here are nice little books featuring positive African American children, not just more books about slavery or recycled biographies about the same historical Black personalities.

Author Jackson Pearce has a short but powerful post about why Islam Is Not My Enemy

I will not allow myself to hate Muslims I know and love or Muslims I’ve never met simply because men and women they’ve never met, with schools of thought they don’t support, hate me.

I would rather my hate be centered on those actually responsible for the terrorist attacks, not those building a youth center or those in my hometown and school.

But mostly, Islam is not my enemy because it is religious and cultural intolerance that enticed terrorists to destroy the twin towers nine years ago. Out of respect for those who died that day, I won’t allow myself to be religious or culturally intolerant. I don’t want to be anything like the terrorists who took their lives

Toni over at Sew Transformed, has a few book suggestions for National Yoga month and National Sewing month.

Now, ideally, I would like to commit to practicing yoga and sewing everyday, but as I'm notoriously lazy, I doubt that will happen but I will do my best. The one thing I can commit to doing is reading more about the subjects. You know I'm always down to read a good book. So here are my choices to commemorate this busy month...

Author Monica Brown's, Arizona Public Radio interview

Northern Arizona children's book author Monica Brown has just released a new bilingual book called Side By Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. Huerta and Chavez played a major role in the labor movement. On this Labor Day Monica Brown tells Arizona Public Radio the perception of the labor movement hasn't been very positive.

Summer (Summer Edward's Caribbean Children's Literature) makes an interesting obvservation about PoC adult authors vs. PoC children's authors.

I'm particularly interested in the phenomenon as it pertains to authors of color. The statistics tell us that authors of color -- and this includes Caribbean people -- have historically been underrepresented in children's literature in places like the United States and the UK, and on the international children's book market. Although much progress has been made, this continues to be the case, with children's writers of color finding it difficult to get their books published by mainstream, big name publishers, and those who do manage to get published, finding it difficult to get their books picked up by mainstream, big chain bookstores. Yet, authors of color like Danticat and Alvarez who have "made it" in the world of adult literature, don't face these hurdles when they transition to children's writing. Their children's books are readily embraced by publishers and sell well. I find myself wondering if this would have been the case if people like Danticat and Alvarez had started out as children's writers. This is an interesting question, no? Is it easier as a writer of color, to make it in the world of adult fiction than it is to make it as a children's writer. I tend to think so and I am wondering why this is. What is it about the children's book market that had made it so hard for authors of color to penetrate?

National Book Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary on September 25

The Festival, for which President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama are Honorary Chairs, regularly attracts more than 100,000 visitors who come to hear their favorite authors speak, get pictures taken with PBS costumed characters and more. This year’s Festival will take place in Washington, D.C. between 3rd and 7th Streets from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thank you for your post, especially for highlighting Summer's blog, which is new to me. I've just tweeted one of her links and will be sure to include it among my recommendations in my Friday round-up.

Anonymous said...

As co-editor of Hunger Mountain, thank you for posting Nikki Grimes piece Color Me Perplexed and highlighting Kekla's interview with Just Us Books. We value all our readers and the content and contributions keep exceeding our expectations.

MissA said...

@Cynthia-You introduce me to so many new blogs/new authors/new websites, I'm rather excited that we were able to introduce you to a new one :)

Thank you for spreading the word about Summer's blog and her post!

@BethanyHegedus-It's funny because I'm finally getting around to reading my copy of Multiculutral Review and it mentioned that you and Kekla were co-editors. I then remembered that Hunger Mountain had a new issue out and went to check the sight. This was truly one of my favorite issues (granted I haven't been reading it for that long!)

Keep up the great work =D